Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif heads to Afghanistan tomorrow to discuss security issues with President Hamid Karzai, whose reluctance to sign a pact to retain U.S. troops beyond 2014 has stoked concern in the region.
Sharif’s one-day trip will seek to promote peace in and around Afghanistan, Foreign Ministry spokesman Aizaz Ahmad Chaudhry said in a text message yesterday. Karzai has made shifting conditions for signing the accord, increasing the odds that the U.S. would remove all remaining forces next year.
“Our main interest remains a peaceful and stable Afghanistan as well as regional stability,” Chaudhry said. “Whatever arrangement is finally worked out between Afghanistan and the U.S., it should help to advance these objectives.”
Karzai has lobbied Pakistan in recent months to release prisoners to prod the Afghan Taliban to join peace talks in Kabul, while Sharif separately seeks negotiations with homegrown militants along the border. Both leaders rely on U.S. aid to support the economy, and oversee nations with vocal opponents to America’s military presence in the region.
“If there is no agreement and Americans leave, there will be grave implications for the region and Afghanistan,” Mehmood Shah, a former security chief in the Pakistan tribal region bordering Afghanistan, said by phone. “No peace in Afghanistan means there is no peace in Pakistan. That is why Pakistan fully supports this agreement to be signed and rapprochement with the elements which are not in the government -- the Taliban.”
Sharif and Karzai will discuss the Taliban peace process, Aimal Faizi, Karzai’s chief spokesman, said in a phone interview. As part of that they will talk about Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, the Taliban’s former second-in-command, he said.
Baradar directed daily operations as deputy to Taliban supreme leader Mullah Mohammad Omar before he was captured in Pakistan’s biggest city of Karachi in 2010. His whereabouts remain unclear after Pakistan announced in September that he would be released.
U.S. officials have been frustrated that Karzai refuses to sign the security pact even after a council of 2,500 tribal elders endorsed the draft agreement over the weekend. Without the accord, the U.S. won’t be able to keep some forces in the country to train local troops and conduct counter terrorism operation after its pull out by the end of next year.
Karzai has highlighted Pakistan’s importance during the talks with the U.S., which come ahead of April presidential elections that will determine his successor. During negotiations on the text of the security agreement, he had pushed for the U.S. to defend Afghanistan from attacks or cross-border incursions by militants from Pakistan.
“During my ten years of work, I’ve certainly come to know that peace in Afghanistan is in the hands of the U.S. and Pakistan,” Karzai said on Nov. 21 at the opening of the council known as a loya jirga. Term limits bar him from standing for election again and extending his 12 years as Afghanistan’s leader.
The Taliban, ousted by the U.S. after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks in New York and Washington D.C., have vowed to fight any agreement that keeps U.S. troops. The group last week sought to dispel concerns expressed by India, China and Russia that a U.S. withdrawal would threaten the region, saying in a statement that its armed struggle would continue until foreign military forces leave the country.
In Pakistan, cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan blocked cargo bound for NATO troops in Afghanistan since Nov. 23 to protest U.S. drone strikes in the region. He claimed to reveal the name of the U.S.’s top spy in Pakistan this week, escalating friction between the nations.
The U.S. and other international donors have pledged about $6 billion a year in economic assistance for Afghanistan through 2017. In addition, the U.S. has said it’ll pay about $4 billion annually toward the Afghan National Security Forces.
A complete withdrawal of U.S. forces may lead to increased terrorist-related violence in India and Pakistan, according to said C. Uday Bhaskar, a New Delhi-based analyst at the National Maritime Foundation. Afghanistan forces are not fully trained to maintain law, he said.
“Any increased turbulence in Afghanistan which gives radical forces the upper hand will have a negative consequence on India,” he said.
“At the end of the day, there will be an agreement,” said Vivek Katju, a former Indian ambassador to Afghanistan, referring to the Afghan-U.S. pact. “The continuing presence of the international troops in Afghanistan will be in India’s interest as it will help to stabilize the situation.”
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