Hopes for peace talks slim as Pakistan hosts Afghan dialogue
Indian and Afghan officials are expected to attend a two-day conference in Pakistan. India’s Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj arrived Tuesday as the conference got underway.
Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and Afghan President Ashraf Ghani plan to jointly launch the main event, a ministerial conference, on Wednesday.
The “Heart of Asia” meeting, an annual gathering of Asian and other countries, comes months after the first, inconclusive talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban.
“The wave of terrorist activities, including those of Daesh in various parts of the region and the world, once again reminds us of the gravity of this menace confronting today’s humanity and the urgency for a united position against this evil phenomenon,” Afghan Deputy Foreign Minister Hikmat Khalil Karzai told the conference.
The two-day meeting will focus on energy, infrastructure and investment deals to shore up commitment to Afghanistan but the threat of an intensifying Taliban insurgency will hang over proceedings.
The Afghan Taliban and the government held inaugural talks in Pakistan in July, but the effort to end the 14-year insurgency stalled when after news leaked that Taliban leader Mullah Mohammad Omar had been dead for two years.
News of Omar’s death triggered a violent split in the Taliban, further undermining hopes for the negotiations.
But chances of a resumption of talks soon appeared remote given the turmoil within the Taliban. Pakistan denies being able to influence the militants who are fighting to expel foreign forces and bring down the Western-backed government in Kabul.
The first visit by India’s top diplomat to Pakistan in three years raises hopes that relations between the nuclear-armed rivals might improve. Their national security advisers met on the weekend in Bangkok, three months after canceling talks.
The two countries have fought three wars since independence from British colonial rule in 1947.
Their rivalry has spilled into Afghanistan, where Pakistan is deeply suspicious of increasing Indian influence.
India and many Afghans say Pakistan supports the Afghan insurgency to maintain influence there. Sharif and Ghani plan to jointly launch the main event, a ministerial conference, on Wednesday. Sharif was also expected to meet with Swaraj. Pakistan denies supporting the militants and says it wants a peaceful neighbor over its western border.