KABUL (Reuters) – Afghanistan will press Pakistan for access to Taliban leaders during a one-day visit to Kabul by Pakistan’s foreign minister, with Afghan officials hoping to ease cross-border strains and lay the ground for peace negotiations with the insurgents.
Hina Rabbani Khar will visit Kabul on Feb 1 to discuss reconciliation and nascent plans for peace talks ahead of a meeting between representatives of the Afghan government and the Taliban in Saudi Arabia.
Khar’s trip will mark the first high-level meetings between officials from the countries in months.
Pakistan is seen as critical to US efforts to stabilize Afghanistan before foreign combat troops leave in 2014.
“We hope it will mark a new phase in the relationship between both countries,” Afghan Foreign Ministry spokesman Janan Mosazai said yesterday.
Senior Afghan security sources told Reuters that Afghan officials would use Khar’s visit to press for access to Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, a co-founder of the Taliban captured in Pakistan in 2010, as well as other members of a Taliban council known as the Quetta Shura, after the Pakistani city of Quetta
where the leaders are said to be based.
Afghan officials want direct access to senior Taliban members and advisers because they are the main decision makers for the insurgency and will be crucial to winning support for the fledgling peace process.
Pakistan has consistently denied giving sanctuary to insurgents and denies the existence of any Quetta Shura.
Baradar, a close associate of al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden before the Sept. 11 attacks in the United States, had been ranked second to Taliban leader Mullah Muhammad Omar.
He was captured in Pakistan’s biggest city of Karachi by Pakistani and US intelligence agents in February 2010.
“When the Pakistan delegation visits here, we will be asking for direct access to the Quetta Shura, or access to Mullah Baradar, who has been in Pakistan custody, as a gesture of good faith,” said a senior Afghan security source.
“We want sincere cooperation from Pakistan in regards to peace talks,” said the source, who declined to be identified.
Ties between the neighbours were severely damaged after the assassination in Kabul last September of Afghanistan’s main peace negotiator, Burhanuddin Rabbani, by an insurgent messenger carrying a bomb concealed in his turban.