Taliban talks likely on Karzai agenda in Pakistan
Afghan President Hamid Karzai said on Thursday he wants Pakistan to hand over a captured Taliban commander, and insisted Afghanistan is dedicated to pursuing peace talks with the militants despite lukewarm enthusiasm from the US.world Updated: Mar 11, 2010 12:49 IST
Afghan President Hamid Karzai said on Thursday he wants Pakistan to hand over a captured Taliban commander, and insisted Afghanistan is dedicated to pursuing peace talks with the militants despite lukewarm enthusiasm from the US.
The detention of Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, considered the top deputy to Afghan Taliban chief Mullah Omar, has been shrouded in mystery over Pakistan's true motivations.
Some analysts speculate Pakistan is trying to guarantee itself a seat at the negotiating table with the Taliban, but Karzai insisted he didn't know what Islamabad's agenda was or whether Baradar was involved in any talks so far.
"Overall, regardless of these arrests, the Afghan government is pursuing a fundamentally changed policy approach together with Pakistan toward stability in Afghanistan and Pakistan," Karzai told a group of reporters in the Pakistani capital.
Baradar's fate and what role Pakistan plays in any peace effort are among the many subjects Karzai is expected to discuss with top Pakistani officials during a two-day visit that began Wednesday.
Pakistan has made it clear it wants a part in so-called "reconciliation" efforts between the Taliban and the Afghan government.
Many Afghans resent Pakistan's involvement in their affairs, but Pakistan's history of links to the Afghan Taliban, a group it supported when the militants controlled Afghanistan in the 1990s, could make Islamabad an indispensable player.
While Britain has urged Pakistan to push ahead in the peace process, the US has been more cautious in supporting a peace plan and has instead preferred to highlight programs focusing on reintegrating disaffected Taliban fighters into broader Afghan society.
Karzai said Kabul is not as far ahead on reconciliation plans as some have speculated, but that it was committed to the process.
He said his government had contacts within the Taliban leadership "as high as you wish to go" but would not say if that included Omar. He reiterated his willingness to talk to Omar "as an Afghan to Afghan."
A conference in April is expected to lay out a way to pursue the peace effort and a "reintegration" program aimed at bringing lower-level Taliban fighters back into mainstream Afghan society.
"Our allies are not talking the same language from time to time," Karzai acknowledged Thursday.
"I'll be asking our allies to come to us with one mind."
Pakistan has long tried to influence Kabul so that it can strengthen its regional position with regard to its longtime rival, India.
New Delhi, too, is trying to curry favor with the Afghans, and both Pakistan and India accuse each other of funding militant groups to destabilize their countries, with Afghanistan often the stage for the strikes.
Karzai met with Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari on Wednesday and was to see Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani later Thursday. It is the Afghan leader's first trip to Pakistan since he was re-elected in a fraud-marred vote last year.