WASHINGTON: Pakistan was pressing forward with facilitating the peace process in Afghanistan and had showed no hesitation in enabling talks between Afghan and Taliban leaders, a senior US official said on Monday.
The official, while briefing the media on key US-Pakistan talks in Brussels on Monday night, noted that Pakistan, Afghanistan and the United States had already formed a group for providing safe passage to Taliban leaders for talks with Afghan officials.
Responding to a question from a journalist that Pakistan was reluctant to allow Pakistan-based Taliban leaders to join the reconciliation talks, the official said: “I’ve not sensed that at all. I’ve not sensed any Pakistani hesitation… the statements that they issued, the work they’ve been doing, I don’t think they’re holding back at all.”
The Pakistanis, the official said, were keen to help the process as they demonstrated in recent meetings with senior Afghan officials in Islamabad where they also released some Taliban prisoners.
“I think the Pakistanis actually are pressing forward because, like a lot of people in the region, they recognise that 2014 is not so far away. And so I don’t find any hesitancy at all,” he said.
The official told journalists that Pakistan and the United States were systematically identifying their shared interests so that they could act on them jointly.
“Our philosophy has been that it ought to be possible between Pakistan and the United States to systema-tically identify our shared interests and act on them jointly.”
The US official noted that in April this year, the Pakistani parliament underlined the fundamentals of US-Pakistan relations “and we found those to be very positive to start us to get back into business with them.”
At a meeting with President Asif Ali Zardari in Chicago in May this year, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton laid out four or five “very practical things to make 2012 a little bit better year than 2011”, the official said.
The five points included: enhancing counter-terrorism cooperation; work together on Afghanistan; reopening the ground lines of communications, focus on countering improvised explosive devices; and to move towards a relationship with Pakistan based more on trade, market access, and not aid.
Explaining each of these points, the official described a recent Pakistani decision to release some Taliban leaders as a very important step.
He also noted that the core group, which includes Afghanistan, Pakistan and the US, recently formed a sub-group for providing safe passage to Pakistan-based Taliban who “may wish to move someplace for a reconciliation conversation, peace conversation”. The core group was now working on how to manage that safe passage, he added.
The Pakistanis also played “a very good and constructive role” on another process, which brings the “region together to talk about a secure, stable, prosperous Afghanistan inside of a secure, stable, prosperous region,” the official said.
On bilateral relationship, the US and Pakistan agreed in May to get back into having some meetings and some working groups and instead of going into “dozens and dozens of working groups”, they chose four or five key areas, the official said.
The US official pointed out that since October, when Pakistan’s interior minister visited Washington to attend a working group; the two countries had held a series of such meetings.