After a long time, as many as 18 prominent Afghan figures, including Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, Karim Khalili, Atta Noor Mohammad, Fouzia Kofi, Mohammad Mohaqiq, Mohammad Younus Qanooni, Ismail Khan and Hanif Atmar, former national security adviser, gathered in Pakistan for a one-day track II huddle at the hilly resort of Murree on June 23.
It is the same venue where the first round of the intra-Afghan talks had taken place in 2015. Titled the “Lahore Process,” the conference was an attempt to garner support for the fledgling peace process.
Even those Afghan politicians, who had been critical and skeptical of Pakistan’s role in the peace process agreed to participate in the meeting, according to Pakistani media reports.
Former President Hamid Karzai had also initially consented to attend but dropped out at the eleventh hour.
The event comes only a few days before Afghan President Ghani’s official visit to Pakistan on June 27. President Ashraf Ghani has previously said that his Pakistan visit is an effort to “improve bilateral relations that are often hampered by mistrust and reciprocal accusations”.
Ghani agreed to visit Pakistan after his meeting with Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan on the sidelines of the OIC summit in Saudi Arabia last month. This will be Ghani’s second trip since his last visit in November 2014, during which he had also visited the General Headquarters (GHQ) of the Pakistani armed forces south of Islamabad.
Interestingly, many Afghan participants in the “Lahore Process” had on different occasions publicly singled out Islamabad for “the mess Afghanistan is in.” But their presence at Murree signaled their willingness to engage with Pakistani interlocutors.
President Ghani was also among those who have often criticized Pakistan and alleged that Islamabad has been supporting militancy in Afghanistan. In August last year, President Ghani, alleged that militants were “coming from the Pakistani side of the border to participate in the fighting (in Afghanistan)”.
“General Bajwa, you signed a document with us and told me repeatedly in our conversations over the phone that when the elections [in Pakistan] are over you will pay attention to it. I need answers now. … From where they came and why are they receiving treatment in your hospitals?” Ghani had then asked.
However, visits by Afghan stakeholders for the Lahore Process, followed by President Ghani’s visit, suggest that the ice might finally be breaking between both the neighbors.
“The whole idea behind the Lahore Process was to bring all Afghan groups on the [negotiating] table to decide the future of their country,” a participant was quoted by the daily Express Tribune as saying.
Shamshad Ahmed, former foreign secretary and head of the Lahore-based think-tank that organized the Bhurban conference, said the initiative was meant to help start “intra-Afghan” dialogue.
There were no representatives of the Taliban at the conference. However, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, who struck a peace deal with Ghani’s government and was taken off a US “terrorist” list in 2017, attended the conference. Several Afghan delegates, especially Hekmatyar, praised Pakistan’s efforts for peace in Afghanistan.
“I praised Pakistan’s sincere efforts and I am sure they will continue its help to bring peace in our country. The Americans are also praising Pakistan’s role in bringing Taliban on the negotiating table” Hekmatyar said.
The meeting covered topics ranging from trade to economy, health and repatriation of Afghan refugees.
This article was first published in Matrix Mag and is being reproduced under a special arrangement. Click here to go to the original.