Afghan President Hamid Karzai, Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and British Prime Minister David Cameron on Tuesday reaffirmed their continuing commitment to the Afghan peace process as they gathered in London for a second round of trilateral talks.
The meeting is expected to extend over five days, but the leaders cut right to the chase on Wednesday and reportedly began to discuss economic cooperation and the Afghan-led peace process. With an underlying focus on improving relations between the estranged South Asian neighbors, the talks are expected to center on their shared interest in advancing regional peace, stability and prosperity.
Although a previous round of trilateral talks between the countries was held at Cameron’s home in Chequers back in February, the positive outcomes were not as significant as the leaders had hoped. Its ambitious six month timetable for a peace accord being struck between the Kabul government and Taliban has long come and gone.
This was the first meeting of the heads of three countries since Nawaz Sharif assumed office in Islamabad.
Reportedly, in addition to broader discussions on how to hasten the reconciliation process, Karzai intends to demand an explanation from Sharif on the issue of former Taliban second-in-command Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar’s release from prison.
Baradar, who was captured in Karachi in 2010, is considered a pragmatic negotiator who reached out to Kabul with a peace initiative before his detention and is expected to be a big help in getting talks back on track if released.
On Wednesday, officials from the Pakistani Ministry of Foreign Affairs confirmed that Baradar remained in the custody of their security forces.
The Afghan government has been pushing hard to get the Taliban to negotiate a peace deal before the end of 2014, but the Taliban has consistently refused to talk with the Karzai regime, referring to it as a puppet government.
The coalition forces are coming out of one of the violent fighting seasons since the war began twelve years ago. All just under a year away from the end of the NATO combat mission and withdraw of coalition troops.
There are currently around 100,000 foreign troops in Afghanistan, out of which around 68,000 are Americans. NATO forces are scheduled to leave by December of 2014, after which time the Afghan security forces – currently numbering at around 350,000 men – will take over full security responsibility of the country.