Afghan efforts to negotiate with the Taliban need Islamabad’s help to be successful, the leaders of Afghanistan, Britain and Pakistan emphasised on Thursday, following three-way talks in Kabul.
British leader David Cameron and Afghan President Hamid Karzai met Pakistan’s new Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf for the first time, as British and Nato combat troops prepare to leave Afghanistan in 18 months’ time.
Karzai has long sought to negotiate with the Taliban, who have been fighting for a decade to topple his Western-backed government, but the militia has in public refused to deal with his administration, branding it an American puppet.
Earlier this year the militia also announced that it had abandoned contact with US officials in Qatar aimed at securing a prisoner swap.
During the talks, Karzai reiterated the “urgency” of a political solution. His office said Ashraf and Cameron reaffirmed support for such a process, “led and owned by Afghans, facilitated by Pakistan and other regional countries”.
Relations between Afghanistan and Pakistan traditionally suffer from distrust and mutual blame for the Taliban violence that plagues both countries.
Kabul has repeatedly asked Islamabad to assist efforts to broker a peace deal with the Taliban, whose leaders have traditionally had close ties to Pakistan.
But it remains unclear to what extent Pakistan controls core Taliban leaders and to what extent it can facilitate a peace process.
Pakistan’s oldest newspaper, Dawn, on Thursday counselled Pakistan to “begin to match its claims and demands with what it can actually deliver”.
“It will need to demonstrate at least a genuine effort to try to persuade the Taliban (which) it does have contact with, to talk to the Afghan government and the US - and turning over prisoners could be a first step,” the newspaper wrote.
It was Ashraf’s first visit to Kabul since being elected after his predecessor was dismissed last month for contempt of court.
An Islamabad government official said he would raise the issue of cross-border attacks on Pakistan from Afghan territory and press for increased security measures to prevent such incursions in the future.
Afghanistan shares a disputed and unmarked 2,400-kilometre (1,500-mile) border with Pakistan, and Taliban and other Al-Qaida-linked militants have carved out strongholds on either side.
According to the joint statement released by Kabul, the three leaders “reiterated their strong commitment to working together to eliminate” terrorism, which “poses the gravest threat to regional and international security”.
“They also emphasised the importance of peace in Afghanistan for the peace and security of Pakistan,” it said.
Cameron warned the Taliban at a joint news conference with Karzai earlier that the international community would continue to support the Afghan government after Nato troops pull out in 2014.
A Nato conference in Chicago and a donor conference in Tokyo had recently shown the West’s commitment to the war-torn country, he said.
“I think this sends a very clear message to the Taliban, that you cannot wait this out until foreign forces leave in 2014, because we will be firm friends and supporters of Afghanistan long beyond then.
“So now is the time for everyone to participate in a peaceful political process in Afghanistan.”
Karzai said the peace process was “the most important goal that we pursue”, adding that Thursday’s talks were “to see how we could intensify the Pakistan role in the Afghan peace process”.
Cameron also signed a deal to build an officers’ training academy modelled on Britain’s Sandhurst as Afghan forces take increasing responsibility for the fight against Taliban insurgents.
Britain has around 9,500 troops in Afghanistan, making it the second-largest contributor to Nato’s US-led 130,000-strong International Security Assistance Force.
Asked about reductions in troop numbers, Cameron said it would be done gradually, from 9,500 to 9,000 this year.
“I don’t want to see some cliff edge. I’m confident we are going to have a staged reduction and deliver a safe and secure situation.”