The Pakistan Foreign Ministry has recently confirmed for the first time that the United States has shared initial information of its on-going talks with the Afghan Taliban in Qatar.
The statement came ahead of the three-day visit to Qatar by Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani, beginning of February 6, where he will also discuss with Qatari leaders the opening of the Taliban political office and their talks with the U.S.
Pakistan Foreign Ministry spokesman Abdul Basit confirmed that the U.S. has passed on some details of its talks with the Afghan Taliban. He did not offer more comments.
"The U.S. has informed Pakistan through diplomatic channels about talks with the Taliban as our diplomatic contacts with the U. S. are still intact," the spokesman said.
The move is thought to be an attempt by the U.S. to ease its months of tension with Pakistan. Pakistan, like Afghanistan, has been unhappy at the U.S. secret talks with the Taliban and the opening of their political office in Qatar. Pakistan has promised support to peace and reconciliation process but if it is Afghan- led and Afghan-owned and that is why both Pakistan and Afghanistan had shown lukewarm response to the development.
The U.S., which has never publicly commented on the talks, has now sensed the anger in Pakistan and Afghanistan and wanted to share with them certain information of the dialogue process.
NATO air raids on two Pakistani border posts in November, which had killed 24 soldiers, had brought bilateral relationship to the lowest ebb in years. Pakistan is now in the process of parliamentary review of future relationship with the U.S. The country will also redefine terms of engagement with the U.S. and NATO in Afghanistan as Islamabad insists that they have violated a Red Line.
Top level visits had also been almost stopped since the NATO strikes and Pakistan last week refused to receive the U.S. special regional envoy, Marc Grossman, who wanted to visit Islamabad. The U.S. officials had stated that Grossman wanted to consult Pakistan on the U.S. talks with the Taliban and opening of Taliban office in Qatar.
"The U.S. has shared with us some information of talks with the Taliban and we are hopeful to get more details when our relations with the U.S. are completely restored," Abdul Basit told the media.
When asked whether the Prime Minister will discuss with Qatari leaders the Taliban office and their talks with the U.S. in this Gulf state, the spokesman said the leadership of Qatar will definitely want to inform the Prime Minister about the Taliban office. "The Prime Minister will also inform the leaders of Qatar about Pakistan's talks with Afghan leaders," he said.
It is widely believed that Pakistan still has influence on Afghan Taliban but the Foreign Ministry spokesman said that Islamabad has a limited role and can play the role of a facilitator and will never intervene unless its role is defined by the Afghan leadership.
"Pakistan has a limited role in Afghan peace process and the people and leadership of Afghanistan will determine the role," he said, adding Pakistan has in principle decided not to interfere in internal affairs of Afghanistan.
Section of Pakistani media reported last month that Afghan Taliban have also shared with Pakistan their 'agenda' for talks with the U.S. and also sought if Islamabad has any 'objection'. The Foreign Ministry spokesman did not deny when his attention was invited to those reports.
The Taliban sharing of its 'agenda' with Pakistan and the U.S. move to pass on some information to Islamabad mean Pakistan is now on board to some extent as what is happening in Qatar.
Although many believe that the U.S. and Taliban are the two major parties in the over 10-year Afghan conflict, which has claimed lives of thousands of Afghans, the Qatar process has not shown any substantial progress due to its dubious nature.
Washington had earned the anger of Afghanistan for keeping it in dark on talks with the Taliban and Qatar also faced diplomatic embarrassment when Afghan government recalled its ambassador from Doha as a protest to allow Taliban office there. President Hamid Karzai still insists that the Taliban office should be opened either in Saudi Arabia or Turkey, the two important Muslim countries instead of Qatar.
Pakistan and Afghanistan have also restored their top diplomatic level contacts after a four-month deadlock in relationship with the assassination of Afghan peace envoy Burhanuddin Rabbani because both countries felt their differences have almost kept them out of the end game. The ties will further warm up when President Hamid Karzai will arrive in Islamabad on February 16 on a two-day official visit. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad will also join his Pakistani and Afghan counterparts at a trilateral visit in Islamabad.