Officials of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MoFA) on Sunday said that President Hamid Karzai would soon depart for London to attend a second round of trilateral talks with Pakistan and Britain regarding the Taliban peace process.
Reportedly, in addition to broader discussions on how to hasten the reconciliation process, Karzai intends to demand an explanation from Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz 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 would likely to help get talks back on track if released.
After Karzai requested he be freed on a trip to Pakistan in August, officials in Islamabad announced that they would release him, signaling to many experts that relations were improving between the estranged South Asian neighbors and Pakistani officials were now more committed to advancing the Afghan peace process than they had been in the past. However, that optimism has since been called into question with recent reports indicating that Baradar remains in the custody of Pakistani authorities.
At the first round of trilateral talks hosted by British Prime Minister David Cameron in Chequers in February, Karzai met with Pakistani officials, though not the Prime Minister at the time Raja Pervaiz Ashraf. The leaders made a number of ambitious promises about negotiations including bringing a ceasefire to Afghanistan in six months.
But nine months later, reconciliation talks with the Taliban remain dead in the water and Afghan and 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.
British officials have assured that a more modest approach will be taken during the talks this time around so as not to set any unrealistic expectations.
However, many in Afghanistan are skeptical of anything productive coming out of the meeting in London.
“The government intends to achieve something for the peace process, but this trip will not yield any positive outcome just as it didn’t in the past,” said MP Abdul Wali Niazi on Sunday. “The government can’t seek solutions to the issues confronted by the country with such trips.”
Others were concerned that the Karzai government wasn’t focusing attention on the right issue at all.
“Considering the upcoming presidential elections, the government should pay more attention to the polling process and not inconclusive trips,” said Afghan political analyst Mir Ahmad Joyenda.
Nevertheless, Karzai has been clear in his intention to make progress on a reconciliation deal with the Taliban before he leaves office in April.
With foreign troops set to leave in December of 2014, no security pact yet signed with Washington and Afghan forces suffering a record number of casualties this year, it seems easy to understand why getting the Taliban militancy to leave the battlefield and come to the negotiating table would be seen as a time-sensitive priority.