ISLAMABAD: Pakistan and Afghanistan agreed on Thursday to set up a joint commission for reaching out to Afghan Taliban, implying that Kabul has finally assigned a formal role to Islamabad in the reconciliation process — even though only that of a facilitator.
“Both sides agreed on the creation and operationalisation of a two-tier joint body headed by foreign ministers and deputy foreign minister/foreign secretary to support the peace and reconciliation process,” said a joint statement at the end of Pak-Afghan foreign ministers’ talks.
The proceedings were dubbed as ‘preparatory to the new Pak-US-Afghanistan trilateral process’, which begins next month in Washington.
The joint peace commission will include diplomatic, military and intelligence representatives from both countries, plus the deputy chairman of the Afghan High Peace Council.
Although both sides had been discussing the possibility of setting up a joint body for reconciliation for the past few weeks following a turnaround in their bilateral ties late last year, it was the American embrace of the reconciliation in the annual review that really encouraged the two sides to embark on the initiative.
For long Washington appeared unwilling to accept reconciliation and had instead been insisting on reintegration of foot soldiers of the Afghan insurgency.
It was precisely because of a lack of American support that a Pakistani initiative last summer to push some insurgent factions to make peace with the Karzai government could not succeed.
Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi made no bones of this reality at the joint press conference with his Afghan counterpart Zalmai Rassoul. “Now that the US has agreed to a political process, they have recognised the importance of reconciliation. It is important that we have in place a mechanism which will promote political engagement,” Mr Qureshi said.
He advocated the inclusion of military and intelligence elements in the joint body, saying “the new mechanism needs to be political-cum-military and intelligence” to make it a success.
The joint peace body and some of the other steps agreed at the FMs’ parleys, including a working group on trade and consultations on development projects, reflected the new-found bonhomie in Islamabad-Kabul ties after years of uneasiness.
An official told Dawn the talks went very well … there was complete harmony of views. “Both sides have realised that they shouldn’t allow others to make each other fight,” he noted.
This was very much reflected in the joint statement, which mentioned the two countries’ commitment to joining “hands in writing a new chapter in bilateral relations”.
The foreign ministers spoke about it in terms of strategic alignment between the two neighbours.
Both sides agreed to insist on development aspect in the upcoming trilateral engagement with the US.
A senior diplomatic source said Afghanistan and Pakistan would ask the US to work on development projects that could benefit both countries. Some of the areas identified for such projects were connectivity (communications), energy, water management and agriculture.
While Kabul and Islamabad have worked the broader contours of the strategy for next month’s trilateral meeting, Washington is sending the acting special Af-Pak envoy, Frank Ruggiero, for consultations.
With Pakistan, Afghanistan, and the US all set to launch a new trilateral process, Foreign Minister Qureshi appeared to discount the relevance of other regional processes in the coming days, including those with Iran, Turkey, Russia and Central Asian states.
He admitted that ‘friends’ helped Pakistan and Afghanistan to come close, but now, he said, their bilateral ties were in good shape. He emphasised that Pakistan’s strategists now believe that the core group should include Pakistan, Afghanistan and the US.
In order to pacify partners in the regional processes, Mr Qureshi hinted at a development role for them.
PRIME MINISTER GILANI
Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani called for uniting the efforts of both countries to effectively deal with the issues that have disturbed the peace, security and stability in the region.
He was talking to the Afghan foreign minister, who called on him.
Mr Gilani termed the enhanced interaction between Pakistan and Afghanistan as the most crucial factor in the past two and a half years which brought the two countries ever closer and served to enhance the level of trust and mutual respect for each other’s sovereignty and integrity.