A Pakistani cleric with ties to Afghanistan’s Taliban says he has met with Afghan President Hamid Karzai, who asked for his help in getting the insurgents to the negotiating table.
Maulana Samiul Haq said he told Karzai Saturday in Pakistan that he would help so long as it was clear what was wanted from the Taliban.
Haq runs a large seminary where many of the insurgent leaders once studied and reportedly still provides recruits for the Taliban fighting in Afghanistan.
Karzai’s meeting suggests he is pressing ahead with moves to contact the Taliban inside Pakistan.
Pakistan and Afghanistan relations
On Friday, Karzai called for action rather than words after a three-way summit hosted by Pakistan’s President Asif Ali Zardari, as Kabul seeks to enlist Islamabad’s assistance in bringing the Taliban to the negotiating table. Iran was the third country present.
Pakistan, the Taliban’s historic ally, was again forced to deny that it was playing a double game in supporting the militia, whose leaders are thought to have close ties to at least elements in the Pakistani military.
Pakistan has said it will do anything required by Kabul to support an Afghan-led peace process, but there is a wide degree of skepticism in Afghanistan and the United States about its sincerity.
“What we need now is to formulate a policy that is actionable and implementable and actually act upon it,” Karzai told the news conference.
Relations between Kabul and Islamabad are traditionally mired in distrust, but both sides have made overtures towards reconciliation to facilitate a political solution in Afghanistan designed to ease regional instability.
"Our meeting today at the tripartite of the three countries was one that was futuristically orientated with recognition of the opportunities and dangers around," the Afghan leader said.
Islamabad is moving towards a detente in its own relations with Washington, which took a drastic turn for the worse over last year’s covert American raid that killed Osama bin Laden and air strikes that killed 24 Pakistani soldiers.
“I deny this notion that any of our armed forces are directly or indirectly involved,” Zardari told a news conference when asked about evidence pointing to the involvement of Pakistani spies and high-level officials in the conflict.
“Yes I cannot deny that there is a residue in Pakistan of the war that was fought against the Soviet Union,” he said referring to Pakistan’s sponsorship of the mujahideen against the Soviets that ultimately gave rise to Al-Qaeda.
“The three presidents you see sitting together, we shall fight this menace. Nobody is more concerned or more involved in it than me personally,” he said.
Despite strong U.S. objections, Pakistan says it is pressing ahead with a multi-billion-dollar project to build a gas pipeline to import fuel from Iran.
Meanwhile, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad who was present in the summit, lashed out against foreign interference in the region at a summit in Pakistan designed to help chart a political solution in Afghanistan.
“All problems are coming from outside. In order to promote their goals and ambitions... they don’t want to allow our nations to develop,” Ahmadinejad told a news conference, in a clear but unspoken allusion to the West.
On Thursday, the White House confirmed it was taking part in an “Afghan-led” reconciliation process.
The Taliban had earlier dismissed the claim made by Karzai in an interview with the Wall Street Journal, adding to intrigue over exploratory contacts between the three sides that U.S. officials have said are under way.
“We have supported an Afghan-led process of reconciliation,” White House spokesman Jay Carney told reporters aboard Air Force One, noting that most insurgencies ended through a political settlement.
“We are obviously part of this process that is Afghan-led, we keep the Afghan government abreast of any conversations that we have,” said Carney.
“But it would not be helpful to the process to name individuals or get to (specific) about it.”
Washington has said it is open to a dialogue subject to certain conditions, namely that Taliban members who want to take part must lay down their arms, renounce Al-Qaeda and pledge allegiance to the Afghan constitution.
The Taliban said last month that they planned to set up a political office in Qatar ahead of possible formal talks with the United States, and Afghan and U.S. officials have said that exploratory contacts are already under way.
Obama’s administration has confirmed tentative talks with the Taliban on a possible transfer of five inmates from Guantanamo Bay to Qatar, and on potential local ceasefires with the militia.
The tentative contacts come as the United States and its foreign allies prepare to draw down their combat troop presence and hand full control of Afghanistan’s security to Afghan forces by the end of 2014.
Central to the summit was the 10-year war in Afghanistan, where the United States leads a foreign troop contingent of 130,000 and where all parties to the conflict now accept that negotiations are the only solution to the fighting.