Afghan President Hamid Karzai extended his visit to Pakistan in order to hold further talks with Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, as he seeks support to start negotiations with Taliban insurgents.
Karzai, who met Sharif in Islamabad yesterday, was asked by the Pakistani leader to stay on to “confer on matters of common interest in the bilateral and regional context,” according to a statement from Pakistan’s foreign office. Karzai is visiting Pakistan for the first time in 18 months.
Talks will continue on Pakistan’s role to bring Taliban to the negotiating table, release prisoners and remove misunderstandings between both countries, an Afghan presidential spokesman, Aimal Faizi, was quoted as saying by the Express Tribune newspaper. “We are hopeful that the talks will produce positive results.”
The two leaders in their first meeting yesterday agreed to work against extremism. Sharif stopped short of a specific offer to help convince the Afghan Taliban to take part in talks while reaffirming “Pakistan’s strong and sincere” support for efforts to curb militancy.
Speaking to reporters with Sharif after that meeting, Karzai had said there was “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”.
“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 militants, which still control large areas of southern and eastern Afghanistan, into talks.
His visit takes place at a low point in relations between the two neighbors. Karzai and the U.S. allege the Afghan Taliban’s leadership is hiding in and around the southwestern Pakistani city of Quetta in Baluchistan, a province that borders Afghanistan.
Sartaj Aziz, adviser to Pakistan’s prime minister on security and foreign affairs who visited Kabul in July, said at the time that Pakistan had some contacts with the Taliban but did not “control them”, according to a July 22 report by The News newspaper.
Pakistani leaders have let Taliban-affiliated militant 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 analyst 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.
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.