WASHINGTON - Pakistan sees a chance to resume stalled peace talks that aim to end the long conflict in Afghanistan if Taliban militants are willing to engage with the Afghan government once President Hamid Karzai steps down, senior Adviser to Pakistani Prime Minister on National Security and Foreign Affairs Sartaj Aziz said on Tuesday.
“My own feeling is that after the election the Taliban will probably talk to the new government more ... than the present government,” Sartaj Aziz said in Washington. “So one should hope that before 2014 ends some kind of dialogue will be going on,” Aziz told an audience at Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies.
Aziz said his government had no objections to allowing a senior former Taliban leader now in Pakistan to facilitate renewed peace talks, possibly by permitting him to travel to a third country.
In a move that some Afghans hoped would help rekindle the peace talks, Pakistan announced in September that it would release Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, the Taliban’s former second-in-command, but the extent of his freedom remains unclear.
Aziz said Baradar’s fate remained sensitive because the United States saw him as a security threat.
While Aziz also repeated Pakistani concerns about the future instability in Afghanistan as foreign troops withdraw, he said he did not expect a ‘broad civil war’ as occurred in the 1990s, when the Taliban seized the Afghan capital and imposed strict Islamist governance on Afghanistan.
He said that if elections are held as planned, and the new government is able to manage the security threat, “the possibility of overrun by the Taliban is not very likely.” In any case, Pakistan could seek to shield itself from insecurity in Afghanistan “by having better border management,” Aziz said.
On specific issues of bilateral cooperation, Aziz said US assistance in energy sector, especially on Diamer-Bhasha and Dasu Dams was a priority for the government. Enhanced market access for Pakistani exporters in the US market was another area of immense interest. He expressed the confidence that there will be concrete forward movement on these areas in the days ahead. Aziz said that, as always, cooperation in the defence and security sectors will remain an important plank of the bilateral ties. He specifically pointed out the unilateral US drone strikes as an important issue for Pakistan that needed to be addressed.
In the regional context, Aziz said cooperation and coordination on the developments in Afghanistan will continue as a significant aspect of the relationship.
Aziz also expressed the hope that soon other areas of mutual interest like education, science and technology, and scientific research will also be added as areas of priority in the context of bilateral cooperation.
Aziz said the US-Pak relationship is back on a stable and positive trajectory. He said that this reflected the inherent resilience of the relationship and the mutual desire on both sides not to let transient irritants impact in any manner the core of the relationship that was rooted in the principles of friendship, cordiality and mutuality of trust and respect.
In a speech Tuesday at the Atlantic Council, a prestigious US think tank in Washington DC, Sartaj Aziz said economic development, internal security and improvement in relations with neighbors, especially Afghanistan and India were the main priorities underpinning the vision of Nawaz Sharif government.
Aziz dealt in detail with Pakistan’s vision for regional peace and prosperity.
On the internal security situation in Pakistan, the Adviser reaffirmed the government’s resolve to take this challenge head-on by working on multiple fronts. He said the government will announce a comprehensive counter-terrorism policy soon.
On Afghanistan, the adviser reiterated the government’s firm commitment to facilitate an inclusive, Afghan-led and Afghan-owned peace and reconciliation process to restore peace and stability in that country. He also highlighted some of the steps taken by the government that had resulted in improvement in ties with Afghanistan.
Aziz expressed the hope that India will reciprocate Pakistan’s sincerity by agreeing to start a comprehensive, sustained and meaningful dialogue to resolve all outstanding issues including the core issue of Jammu and Kashmir.
Aziz said trade relations with New Delhi were picking up. “But disputes remain to be resolved,” he said.
Separately, US National Security Advisor Susan Rice and Advisor Sartaj Aziz met at the White House Tuesday and reaffirmed the two countries’ mutual desire to work towards a comprehensive partnership.
They reviewed the ongoing Pakistan-US cooperation in security and non-security sectors and expressed satisfaction on the overall positive trajectory in the bilateral ties, according to the Pakistani embassy. Advisor Aziz and Susan Rice noted that 2014 would be a very significant year for the relationship both in the bilateral as well as regional contexts. They reaffirmed the mutual desire to work towards a broad based and comprehensive Pakistan-US partnership designed to achieve peace, security and prosperity for the two peoples.