Monday, May 21, 2018

New Pakistan outreach could aid Afghan peace deal

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — Pakistan has increased efforts to reach out to some of its biggest enemies in Afghanistan, a policy shift that could prove crucial to U.S.-backed efforts to strike a peace deal in the neighboring country.

The target of the diplomatic push has mainly been political leaders who have been at odds with Pakistan for years because of the country's historical support for the Afghan Taliban.

Many of the leaders fought against the Taliban when the fundamentalist Islamic group seized control of Afghanistan in the 1990s with Pakistan's help, and have accused Islamabad of maintaining that support.

Many experts agree that Pakistan continues to see the Taliban as an ally, albeit a shaky one, in countering the influence of archenemy India in Afghanistan. But the experts also say Islamabad no longer believes the insurgents can take over the country or wants them to.

"A Taliban victory on the other side of the border would give a huge boost to domestic militants fighting the Pakistani state," said Zahid Hussain, a journalist who has written extensively about Islamabad's war against the Pakistani Taliban, which is separate from the Afghan Taliban.

Pakistan is also worried that unrest in Afghanistan following the withdrawal of most foreign troops in 2014 could provide the Pakistani Taliban with greater space to establish sanctuaries across the border.

The Afghan Taliban and Pakistani Taliban are allies but have focused on different enemies. The Afghan Taliban battles local and foreign forces in Afghanistan, while the Pakistani Taliban mainly wages war against Islamabad.

These concerns have led Pakistan to the conclusion that a peace agreement that includes all Afghan groups is in its best interests, and contact with its traditional foes is necessary to achieve that goal, said Moeed Yusuf, South Asia adviser for the United States Institute of Peace.

One key Afghan leader who has met with the Pakistanis, Abdullah Abdullah, who was runnerup to Afghan President Hamid Karzai in the 2009 election, said he appreciated the country's recent attempt to reach out because it was done publicly.

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