x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 16 January 2018

Pakistan PM leaves for Qatar to discuss Afghan peace

Yusuf Raza Gilani will join peace efforts in Doha where the Taliban and US officials have begun preliminary contacts.

ISLAMABAD // The Pakistani prime minister, Yusuf Raza Gilani, left for Qatar to discuss Afghan peace efforts in the country where the Taliban and US officials have begun preliminary contacts.

"The prime minister reiterated stance of his government to support Afghan-led and Afghan-owned initiatives for a stable Afghanistan," his office quoted him as saying before his departure.

Pakistan, which last week sought to reach out to Afghanistan following a period of particularly bad relations over violence plaguing both countries, insists that any process to end the 10-year war be Afghan-led.

Both countries are reported to have felt sidelined by contacts between the United States and the Taliban, who are leading an increasingly deadly insurgency against his government and 130,000 US-led foreign troops.

Islamabad has officially billed Mr Gilani's three-day visit to Qatar as an opportunity to boost ties and maximise trade.

"He will meet among others the emir of Qatar, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani and Prime Minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim Bin Jabr Al Thani," the foreign ministry spokesman, Abdul Basit, said.

"The prime minister's visit is aimed at opening new vistas for enhanced mutual cooperation and activating the existing structured mechanisms and institutional linkages."

The Taliban confirmed last month that they planned to set up a political office in Qatar ahead of possible talks with the United States. Contacts between both sides have already begun, focused on a possible prisoner exchange.

"There are certain ideas and suggestions on Afghan reconciliation and when Prime Minister Gilani meets Qatar's leadership, these will certainly come under discussion," a Pakistani official said. "The Americans have been briefing us on all developments aimed at pushing forward the peace process in Afghanistan and we have clearly told them that Islamabad strictly adheres to a policy of non-interference."

Pakistan's role in Afghanistan is regarded with deep suspicion in the West given its long-standing ties to the Taliban, Haqqani network and other Islamist fighters, whose leaders are based in Pakistan.

But for the same reason, no peace in Afghanistan will be considered lasting without Pakistan's support and involvement.

Pakistan's foreign minister, Hina Rabbani Khar, said last week that Islamabad was willing to do whatever the Afghans wanted to end the war, but insisted the process should not be led by the Americans or any other foreign power.

The senior official said it was "important to engage all Afghan factions including Taliban in the process to achieve a lasting peace".