ISLAMABAD - The crucial visit of the eight-member Afghan clerics delegation to Pakistan has failed to bear the fruit as its talks with its Pakistani counterparts to participate in the proposed peace conference scheduled to be held in Kabul have hit the snags.

Well-placed sources privy to the talks told TheNation on Tuesday that there has been no progress in the talks being held here because of the tough position both sides have taken on certain issues.

According to the sources, Pakistani clerics were reluctant to participate in the peace conference largely for the persistent distrust that has long marred the relationship between the two countries.

Both sides have pledged to step up cooperation in an effort to negotiate a peace deal with the Taliban to end over a decade of war in Afghanistan. But the dispute between the clerics illustrates how hard that may be in practice.  

The team of eight Afghan clerics was in Islamabad, on a seemingly simple mission to finalise plans for a conference of religious scholars (ulema) in Kabul next month where they would urge the militants to renounce violence and join peace efforts.

The two governments announced the plan for the conference in November as a sign of improving relations. But the talks that ended Monday seemed to do more to highlight longstanding disputes, especially over the Taliban.      

Maulana Tahirul Ashrafi, head of the All Pakistan Ulema Council, accused the visiting Afghan clerics of trying to use the upcoming conference to denounce the Taliban and elicit support for the Afghan government. He insisted the Taliban be invited to the event to advance the peace process.       

“During yesterday’s talks, we felt that they want to invite us to Kabul for next month’s conference to get an edict against the Taliban and to issue a statement in favor of Hamid Karzai,” said Ashrafi, who led Pakistan’s five-member delegation.    

He accused the Afghan clerics of being too close to the government and said they announced plans to hold the conference in Kabul on March 10 without the explicit consent of the Pakistanis on the date.

Ashrafi, who is seen as close to Pakistan’s security establishment, threatened his side would boycott the meeting because of these differences.        

On the other hand, the Afghan team refused to concede the demand of the Pakistani counterpart about inviting Afghan Taliban to the peace conference.

Afghan sources were still optimistic that both sides would soon overcome the challenges and would eventually succeed in evolving a common agenda and strategy about the peace conference.