KABUL/ISLAMABAD: The professional head of Britain’s armed forces has been working to reset ties between Afghanistan and Pakistan, but the efforts will bear fruit only after Islamabad abandons support for the Taliban, a senior Afghan official said on Monday.
As part of his shuttle diplomacy, Gen. Sir Nick Carter, Britain’s chief of defense staff, accompanied Pakistan’s top security chiefs, including Army Gen. Qamar Javed Bajwa, for talks with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and other government leaders in Kabul, on May 10.
Lt. Gen. Faiz Hameed, Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence chief, accompanied Gen. Bajwa during the visit.
“Gen. Carter had come for the very purpose of mending ties between Kabul and Islamabad,” Dawa Khan Menapal, head of the Afghan government’s media center, told Arab News.
“Let us see what will happen, but the demand of Afghanistan’s government is clear that as long as terrorists are supported there (in Pakistan) and Pakistan does not practically and honestly take measures, such efforts will not reach a conclusion,” he added.
Pakistan has repeatedly denied ties with the Taliban in Afghanistan, but the militant group has been reportedly operating out of Pakistan’s border areas for years.
Pakistan was one of three countries to recognize the Taliban government until they were ousted from power in a US-led invasion in 2001 for protecting Al-Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden, the mastermind of the 9/11 attacks.
Carter’s high-profile visit coincides with a stalemate in US-sponsored intra-Afghan talks, which began in Doha over a year ago.
It follows a sudden uptick in Taliban attacks and rapid territorial gains by the group amid a drawdown of foreign troops from Afghanistan and concerns that, in the absence of a peace deal between the Taliban and Kabul, the war-torn country could descend into civil war once again.
US-led troops began withdrawing from Afghanistan on May 1, halting support for Afghan forces that had relied on them since 2001.
Pakistan played a crucial role in persuading the Taliban to ink a deal with Washington that pushed for the departure of the troops and the convocation of the intra-Afghan talks.
An Afghan official source, requesting anonymity as he is not authorized to speak to the media, said that the main aim of Carter’s meetings were “to see if Pakistan could be persuaded to use its leverage with the Taliban,” to bring the group back to the negotiating table as US-led troops exit Afghanistan by the end of August.
On Monday, Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi highlighted Pakistan’s role as a facilitator in the Afghan peace process and welcomed the recent negotiations in Doha.
“We are playing our role as facilitator in the peace process and tried to host an Afghan Peace conference in Islamabad,” Qureshi said, adding that Islamabad hoped the recent developments “will not affect the hosting of the Afghan peace conference in Islamabad which was earlier postponed.”
However, he refused to comment on Carter’s role in facilitating talks between Afghan and Pakistani leaders.
“I would not like to comment on this question as it is irrelevant,” he said in response to a question by Arab News during a press briefing in Islamabad on Monday.
Pakistan’s National Security Adviser, Dr. Moeed Yousaf, also refused to comment: “I am not in a position to answer.”
The British initiative dates back more than a year and has seen Carter shuttling between Kabul and Islamabad, organizing meetings between key Afghan and Pakistan officials in Bahrain, the Guardian reported on Sunday.
Describing Carter’s work as “discreet,” Dr. Abdullah Abdullah, Afghanistan’s top peace envoy, said the British Army chief was coordinating with “Ghani, who he knows well, and Abdullah himself,” the paper said.
Officials in Kabul could not confirm when Carter began the negotiations. Carter has a personal relationship with Ghani from his years as deputy commander of the NATO mission in Afghanistan.
Analysts, however, said the Taliban’s rapid gains since May have further soured ties between Kabul and Islamabad, which senior government leaders accuse of “having a hand” in the Taliban’s latest battlefield victories.
“Britain is trying to fill the vacuum that will be left behind with the US military exit from Afghanistan,” security analyst and former Afghan colonel Mohammad Hassan told Arab News.
“Carter has begun his efforts for this very purpose. But the latest deterioration of ties between Afghanistan and Pakistan, Taliban advances, shows that he has not been able to gain much.”