Pakistan backs Afghans in Taliban talks
KABUL, Afghanistan — Pakistan is backing the Afghan government’s demands that any negotiations with the Taliban be “Afghan-led and Afghan-owned,” a high-ranking Pakistani official said Sunday.
At a press conference, Sartaj Aziz, adviser to Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, said the two countries were hoping to improve their relationship under the Sharif administration that came to power in May, just weeks after Afghanistan and Pakistan traded gunfire over their disputed border.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai has demanded that the Taliban negotiate directly with the Afghan government and not with the Americans.
His opposition to Taliban attempts to talk with the U.S. in Qatar has stalled negotiations and drawn ire from many in the American government.
While supporting Karzai, Aziz on Sunday promised that Pakistan would not meddle in internal Afghan affairs, and would not choose sides in negotiations.
When it comes to communication between the Pakistani government and the Taliban, “there’s no point in our discussing one system [of government] or another. It’s for the Afghans themselves to decide,” he said.
When Afghan reporters questioned Pakistan’s sincerity, he pointed to Islamabad’s participation in peace negotiations in 1991, at the very beginning of the civil war.
“We are helpful,” he said, but added, “We cannot guarantee success. It [depends on] the stakeholders in Afghanistan.”
Pakistan has been accused of supporting the Taliban since Afghanistan’s civil war in the 1990s, but Aziz assured reporters that the Pakistani government has no control over the Taliban’s actions.
Afghanistan’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Zalmai Rassoul, welcomed Pakistan’s assurances, and said the Afghan government’s demands to lead negotiations have not changed.
“Our conditions for the peace process are very clear,” he said. “The peace process in Afghanistan must be Afghan-owned and Afghan-led.”
"[A]n Afghan-led and Afghan-owned peace and reconciliation process is the surest way to end violence and ensure lasting stability in Afghanistan and the region," the U.S. Embassy in Kabul said in a written statement. "We are thankful for the support of Pakistan for Afghan-led reconciliation."
Zubair Babakarkhail contributed to this report.