Afghan President Hamid Karzai and Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif agreed to work to fight extremism, even as Karzai’s first visit in 18 months failed to win a promise to help coax Taliban insurgents to peace talks.
Karzai met with Sharif in Islamabad, where the two discussed working together to counter an insurgency that leaks into both their countries. Karzai, who was in Pakistan for a day-long visit, extended his stay for another day after being asked by Sharif to hold further discussions, according to a Pakistan foreign office statement late in the evening.
“I expressed on behalf of the Afghan people their desire for stability and peace in both our countries,” Karzai told reporters during a joint press conference with Sharif earlier in the day. There is “the expectation that the Pakistan government will facilitate and help” the peace process in “providing opportunities or a platform for talks between the Afghan high peace council and the Taliban movement,” he said.
Sharif “reaffirmed Pakistan’s strong and sincere” support for efforts to curb militancy, while stopping short of a specific offer to help convince the Afghan Taliban to take part in talks. The meeting was also attended by Pakistani army chief General Ashfaq Pervez Kayani and Lieutenant General Zaheer ul Islam, the head of the main spy agency, the army-run Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate, state-run PTV said.
“Karzai is in the last phase of his presidency and he wants to leave a legacy and if Afghanistan is to slide into an anarchy, then all sides suffer,” said Raza Rumi, director of policy and programs at the Islamabad-based Jinnah Institute. “This meeting was like getting to know Nawaz Sharif, kind of making the initial contacts because whatever will happen, will happen through back-channels and it will not happen in the glare of the media.”
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.
His visit took 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.
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.
“Pakistan is supporting the Taliban to further its own interest in Afghanistan,” Waheed Mujhda, a former Taliban official and now an independent political expert in Kabul, said by phone. “Karzai has been to Pakistan many times asking for help and each time nothing really changes.”
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 U.S. is preparing for the departure of its combat troops from Afghanistan 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. soldiers have left, noting the inability of Afghan security forces to operate and sustain complex battlefield technologies, air operations and logistics.
There was no immediate word on whether Karzai requested that Pakistan release Taliban prisoners.
Pakistan freed 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.
Sharif, who took charge of the government after victory in Pakistan’s general election in May, is struggling to revive a fragile economy amid a spike in violence from the Pakistani Taliban and sectarian groups.