Pakistan’s top foreign affairs official to encourage talks between Kabul and the Taliban in Doha.
Sartaj Aziz will meet Afghan President Hamid Karzai in Kabul on Sunday to discuss stalled talks with the Taliban in Qatar, a senior Pakistani official said Friday. The visit by Aziz comes after Karzai’s chief of staff claimed the Taliban’s office in the Qatari capital Doha was part of a plot to break up Afghanistan, orchestrated by either Pakistan or the United States.
Pakistan’s support is seen as vital to achieving lasting peace with the Taliban in Afghanistan. But relations between the two neighbors are rocky, with Kabul regularly accusing Islamabad of supporting the militants.
Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif kept the foreign affairs portfolio under his own control after winning the May general elections, but Aziz, an elder statesman who served as a minister in the 1990s, is effectively the foreign minister.
A senior official said Aziz would pay a day-long visit to Kabul on Sunday to hold talks with Karzai and other top Afghans. He said the talks “will primarily focus on ways to promote reconciliation in Afghanistan with reference to the Doha process.”
“We remain supportive of the reconciliation process in Afghanistan and want an Afghan-led and Afghan-owned mechanism to be in place enabling all Afghan groups to decide about their future,” the official said.
When the Taliban opened their office in Doha on June 18, it was hailed as a first step toward a potential peace deal, but a furious Karzai slammed it as an unofficial embassy for a government-in-exile. The Taliban said earlier this month that it had temporarily closed the office in Qatar, blaming “broken promises” by the Afghan government and the U.S.
Karzai’s chief of staff, Karim Khorram, claimed on Thursday that “the opening of the Qatar office, the way it happened was a plot and Afghanistan foiled that plot and this plot was aimed at splitting or breaking up Afghanistan.”
Aziz told reporters in Islamabad he hoped a row over the naming of the office and its use of a flag would be resolved.
Analyst and author Imtiaz Gul said Karzai’s rhetoric against Pakistan was an effort by the president to change the perception of him as a U.S. puppet as he prepares to leave office ahead of elections next year. “This visit basically aims to smoothen the relationship as well as prepare reciprocal visits by Sharif and Karzai,” Gul said. “Pakistan looks very uncomfortable at the moment with what seems to be a erratic and desperate Karzai.”