Afghanistan, Pakistan agree to meeting with Taliban

Posted by Tom Hussain on October 29, 2013 

— The leaders of Afghanistan and Pakistan said Tuesday they would continue to work together for a negotiated political settlement in Afghanistan as U.S.-led international combat forces prepare to exit the war-torn country by December 2014.

A brief statement issued after talks in London hosted by the British prime minister, David Cameron, said they "continued their dialogue about Afghanistan's and Pakistan's shared interest in advancing regional peace," reported Pakistan's official news agency, APP.

The meeting in London was the second in as many months between Afghanistan's President Hamid Karzai and Nawaz Sharif, the Pakistani prime minister, after an 18-month freeze during which Kabul frequently accused Pakistan of sabotaging attempts to draw the Taliban into negotiations.

The relationship has markedly improved since Sharif's election in June. He has enacted a shift in foreign policy, under which Pakistan has declared its neutrality in the Afghan civil war and promised to use its influence with the Taliban to kick-start the negotiations.

After meeting Karzai late August in Islamabad, Sharif ordered the September 20 release from Pakistan's custody of the former Taliban second-in-command, Mullah Abdul Ghani Biradar, who was expected to press his colleagues into talking to an Afghan government-backed high peace council.

However, the Afghan government, as well as the Taliban, has since complained that Biradar remains closely guarded by Pakistan's security services, and unable to play the envisaged role in persuading the Taliban to negotiate with their Afghan rivals.

Ahead of this week's meeting, a spokesman for the Afghan president said Sunday he would seek an explanation from Sharif about Biradar's situation.

On Wednesday, Pakistan agreed to host a meeting soon between Biradar and Afghan negotiators, the Afghan presidency said.

The agreement was struck Tuesday in London between Karzai and Sharif, according to a written statement issued in Kabul.

It was agreed that representatives of Afghanistan's high peace council "will visit Pakistan and meet Mullah (Abdul Ghani) Biradar in the near future."

The meeting would be the first direct interaction between members of the government-backed council government and a Taliban commander as senior as Biradar since the Taliban was toppled from power in 2001.

Biradar was arrested by Pakistan's security services in January 2010 from the southern port city of Karachi, in a joint operation with the Central Intelligence Agency.

The Afghan government believes Biradar carries enough weight with the Taliban leadership to pull them into direct negotiations, although the Taliban has repeatedly said no talks would take place until the withdrawal of U.S.-led international forces from Afghanistan by December 2014.

Hussain is a McClatchy special correspondent.

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