Pakistan recently pledged to support Afghan President Hamid Karzai's efforts to start peace negotiations with the Taliban. But analysts doubt Islamabad is willing to bring the militants to the negotiating table.
"In the past, I didn't have big expectations," Karzai said shortly before his latest visit to neighboring Pakistan on August 26. But after the change of government in Islamabad, he added, "I hope to accomplish more." However, Karzai's meeting with Pakistan's newly elected Prime Minister, Nawaz Sharif, on August 26 produced no concrete results.
The Afghan president wants the Pakistani leadership to help open a dialogue with the Taliban. Elements within the Pakistani state, including the Intelligence Agency, ISI, stand accused of supporting the militants by providing them with training, funding, munitions and supplies.
The Pakistani government, which has repeatedly denied the allegations, assured Karzai during the recent talks just north of Islamabad that it would "continue to extend all possible facilitation to the international community's efforts for the realization of this noble goal," Sharif also reaffirmed Pakistan's "strong and sincere support for peace and reconciliation in Afghanistan."
However, there were no specifics as to what Pakistan was prepared to do to help facilitate a meeting between the representatives of the Islamist Taliban movement and the Afghan government. Furthermore, there was no word on whether Pakistan would agree to the release of Taliban prisoners from jail, among them, a senior Taliban leader, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, who is reportedly willing to lead the peace talks.
An array of challenges
"Karzai came back empty-handed," Abdul Wahid Wafa, director of the Afghanistan Center at Kabul University told DW. The latest developments show that the president has been in a weak position since relations with the US began deteriorating a couple of months ago, he said. Even though the visit did not produce much of substance, it was cordial and diplomatic channels remain open, with Sharif now expected to visit Karzai in Afghanistan.
Experts, such as political analyst Toofan Waziri, head of the Milat Organization, say there is a chance the recent visit could push the peace process forward: "Pakistan is under pressure to solve the Taliban problem. The people want an end to the misery" caused by fear and terror the group spreads in the Afghan-Pakistan border region.
Karzai has been facing an array of challenges over the past couple of months. He was infuriated in June after the Taliban opened an office for negotiations in Qatar, followed by the United States' decision to engage in direct talks with the insurgents. More recently, Karzai publicly reprimanded Afghan Attorney General Mohammed Ishaq Aloko for having an unauthorized meeting with the insurgents in Dubai.
Key partner: Pakistan
By playing a key role in the peace negotiations with the Taliban, Karzai is seeking to regain political capital and his key partner to achieve this is Pakistan. Michael Kugelman, a South Asia expert at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, says that Karzai has realized that if there is to be peace in his country, Pakistan must be involved, because it is one of the few nations with real influence over the Afghan Taliban.
"And if Pakistan is to be involved in this process in ways that suit Afghan interests, then Afghan-Pakistan relations must become more cordial," Kugelman added. Should Karzai succeed in bringing the Taliban to the negotiating table, he could once again be regarded as the strong statesman who made the right decision at the right time.
However, experts doubt Islamabad is truly willing to fully cooperate. "Afghan-Pakistan tensions, while reduced now, continue to fester. Karzai is deeply disliked in Pakistan. Many within the Pakistani security establishment, in fact, have no interest in working with the president at all, much less in working on a grand goal like peace," says Kugelman. Furthermore, the Taliban have publicly refused all contact with the Karzai government accusing it of being a "US puppet."
'Slim chance of success'
Because of its decentralized leadership, it is difficult to know exactly what the Taliban's position is on the recent Karzai-Sharif meeting.
Kugelman is of the opinion that the more moderate factions within the Taliban, such as those that supported the Qatar-based peace process, may cautiously welcome it. More hardline factions, he argues, will likely dismiss its significance altogether.
Kugelman also believes that, at this point, the chances for successful talks are relatively slim. He points out there's no guarantee that any Pakistani attempt to bring the Taliban back to the bargaining table will succeed. Furthermore, "as long as Pakistani territory continues to be used as a sanctuary for Afghan Taliban militants that attack Afghanistan, then any talk of peace in Afghanistan appears to be premature at best."