Karzai Arrives in Pakistan for Talks on Getting Taliban to Table

Afghan President Hamid Karzai arrived in Pakistan for his first visit in 18 months as he seeks the support of the new government to nudge Taliban insurgents toward peace talks.

Karzai is in Islamabad for a one-day visit and is due to meet Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to discuss the landscape for Afghanistan after 2014, when the U.S. plans to withdraw the majority of its combat troops, Pakistani Foreign Office spokesman Aizaz Ahmad Chaudhary told reporters earlier this month.

“The first agenda with Pakistan would be the peace negotiations,” Karzai told reporters on Aug. 24 in Kabul. “I will travel to Pakistan in a hope to get positive results out of it. I am not confident but I will only go with hopes.”

His visit takes place at a low-point in relations between the two neighbors over militants who foment trouble on both sides. Their 2,640-kilometer (1,640-mile) porous frontier, established by the British during the 19th century, is viewed by Pakistan as the international border, while Afghanistan claims territory held by its eastern neighbor.

Karzai and the U.S. are seeking assistance from civilian and military leaders in Islamabad to help facilitate talks with the Afghan Taliban, whose leadership they allege is hiding in and around the southwestern Pakistani city of Quetta in Baluchistan, a province that borders Afghanistan.

Pakistan’s Role

Pakistani leaders have let Taliban-affiliated militants from groups like the Haqqani Network operate from Northern Waziristan “due to their concerns that Pakistan will be left alone to confront an unstable, an unfriendly or an Indian-influenced Afghanistan on its borders” once U.S. troops leave, according to a U.S. Defense Department report last year.

Karzai, who is barred constitutionally from standing for a third term in elections due in April 2014, has said Pakistan is crucial to bringing the Taliban and other militant groups, which still control large areas of southern and eastern Afghanistan, into talks.

Secretary of State John Kerry, on a visit to Islamabad in early August, also pushed for a reset of U.S. ties with Pakistan. The countries’ strategic dialog last held in 2010, stalled after the U.S. discovered and killed Osama bin Laden in a Pakistani town, and a U.S. air strike on a military post near the Afghan frontier killed 24 Pakistani soldiers.

The Karzai talks in Pakistan come as the U.S. prepares for the departure of its combat troops at the end of next year. A Pentagon assessment of the war effort released in late July found Afghanistan’s security forces can’t go it alone once U.S. combat troops have left, noting the inability of Afghan security forces to operate and sustain complex battlefield technologies, air operations and logistics.

Prisoner Release

Sharif’s government, which won the May 11 general election, may free more Afghan Taliban detainees to help draw the Taliban into the peace process, and a list of names would be finalized during Karzai’s visit, The Express Tribune newspaper said Aug. 19, citing unnamed government officials.

Pakistan released more than two dozen members of the Afghan Taliban in November and January, including former regional governors and ministers. Former deputy leader and top military commander Abdul Ghani Baradar, detained in 2010 in Karachi, was not among those released.

Sartaj Aziz, adviser to Pakistan’s prime minister on security and foreign affairs, visited Kabul in July where he said the country would seek to persuade Taliban leaders to join negotiations with Karzai’s representatives, according to a report by state-run Radio Pakistan.

To contact the reporters on this story: Augustine Anthony in Islamabad at aanthony9@bloomberg.net; Eltaf Najafizada in Kabul at enajafizada1@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Rosalind Mathieson at rmathieson3@bloomberg.net

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