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Taliban agree to discuss Afghan peace plan with Imran

By Our Correspondent 2019-07-26
WASHINGTON: The Taliban said on Thursday that they would go to Islamabad if invited for talks with Prime Minister Imran Khan on his proposal to engage with the Kabul government.

`If we get a proper invitation from Pakistan, we will go. We will go because Pakistan is our neighbour and a Muslim state,` Sohail Shaheen, a Taliban spokesman in Doha, Qatar, told BBC.

When the BBC correspondent reminded him that the Taliban were often accused of a being `proxy`for Pakistan and this visit would augment this allegation, the spokesman said that such allegations could not stop them from engaging with the neighbouring states as it`s in Afghanistan`s interest to do so.

In his speech to the US Institute of Peace (USIP) in Washington on Tuesday, Prime Minister Khan said he planned to meet Taliban leaders soon to persuade them to hold directs with the Afghan government.

But he also cautioned that securing a political settlement will not be easy.

`Now, when I go back ... I will meet the Taliban and I will try my best to get them to talk to the Afghan government, so that elections in Afghanistan must be inclusive where the Taliban also participate in it,` he said.

The prime minister spoke at the USIP a day af ter he met President Donald Trump at the White House where the two leaders agreed to work together to end the conflict.

`I think Pakistan is going to help us out to extricate ourselves,` President Trump told journalists af ter his meeting with PM Khan at the Oval Of fice. He said he preferred this option to his `plans on Afghanistan that if I wanted to win that war, Afghanistan would be wiped off the face of the earth. It would be gone. It would be over in -literally, in 10 days. And I don`t want to do I don`t want to go that route.

The Trump-Khan talks have definitely reduced the tensions that had bedevilled US-Pakistan relations since the Abbottabadraid in May 2011. But diplomatic observers in Washington say that the so-called `technical talks` between the military and security officials of the two countries were equally significant.

Army Chief Qamar Javed Bajwa, the director general of ISI and other military and security officials also accompanied the prime minister to Washington and continued meeting their US counterparts even af ter Mr Khan`s departure on Tuesday evening. The army and ISI chiefs also participated in summit-level talks at the White House and the CIA chief also attended one of these meetings.

The Taliban`s announcement that they are willing to hear from Mr Khan why they should engage with Kabul seems to have moved Pakistan a step closer to implementing the understanding the Pakistani delegation reached in Washington this week.

Michael Kugelman, deputy director of the Wilson Center, Washington, told Al Jazeera television that both sides appeared pleased with the results of the prime minister`s visit.

`Now, Washington hopes that the goodwill generated during Mr Khan`s visit will prompt Pakistan to do even more on the Afghanistan f ront,` he said.

`For Pakistan, the hope was to get the recognition that it feels it often doesn`t get for the assistance it has rendered to the US.

And that recognition was certainly there.

In his USIP speech, the prime minister also announced that Pakistan was no longer looking for the so-called `strategic depth`in Afghanistan, pointing out that this policy had done much damage to both Pakistan and Afghanistan.

`The fear amongst the Pakistan military establishment was always that there would be a two-front situation ... you know, the eastern front, which is India. And then if Afghanistan was also in the Indian sphere of influence, then Pakistan would be sandwiched between these two,` he said.

This, he said, was `the strategic depth` that Pakistan was seeking by influencing Afghanistan.

`But this has changed. Today...we feel that by interfering in Afghanistan in order to secure the strategic depth, we`ve actually done a lot of damage to our own country and ...we have become partisan in Afghanistan`s internal af f airs.