Pakistan army chief makes peace in Afghanistan “top priority”
By Meena Haseeb - Sun Dec 23 2012, 11:32 am
According to Pakistani military officials and western diplomats, Pakistan’s powerful army chief General Ashfq Kayani has made reconciling warring factions in Afghanistan a top priority in yet another sign that Islamabad means business in promoting peace with the Taliban.
Commanders deployed in the region are saying that General Ashfaq Kayani is backing dialogue partly due to fears that the end of the U.S. combat mission in Afghanistan in 2014 could energize a resilient insurgency straddling the shared frontier.
A senior Pakistani military officer stationed in South Waziristan quoted by Reuters News Agency said, “There was a time when we used to think we were the masters of Afghanistan. Now we just want them to be masters of themselves so we can concentrate on our own problems.”
He told Reuters, “Pakistan has the power to create the environment in which a grand reconciliation in Afghanistan can take place.”
Speaking in the gritty town of Wana, about 30 km (20 miles) from Afghanistan, he said, “We have to rise to the challenge. And we are doing it, at the highest level possible.”
While speaking at a meeting of the top commanders at the army headquarters in Rawalpindi Gen. Ashfaq Kayani hammered home his determination to support a negotiated end to the war in Afghanistan.
A Pakistani intelligence official told Reuters, “He (Kayani) said Afghan reconciliation is our top priority.”
Pakistan is seen as an unreliable ally and Afghan officials question whether Kayani genuinely supports dialogue or is merely making token moves to deflect Western criticism of Pakistan’s record in Afghanistan.
The officials believe that Pakistan has long been funding and arming the Taliban and other militants groups in Afghanistan however major progress with Kayani’s help could enable U.S. President Barack Obama to say his administration managed to sway Pakistan to help achieve a top U.S. foreign policy goal.
Pakistan is seen a crucial gatekeeper in attempts by Afghan and US officials to reach Taliban and militants group leaders since Pakistan played a major role for the Taliban’s rise to power in Afghanistan during the mid 1990s.
However diplomats in Islamabad believe that Pakistan has begun to show markedly greater enthusiasm for Western-backed attempts to engage with Taliban leaders.
Meanwhile western diplomats are also saying that Islamabad is serious about promoting stability in Afghanistan.