ISLAMABAD (AP) — Pakistan's prime minister will travel to Qatar next week to talk with leaders there about the prospect of a peace deal to end the war in Afghanistan, a government official said Saturday, a trip that suggests some progress in a process long stymied by mistrust.
The Afghan Taliban last month announced they would set up a political office in Qatar, which was seen as a major development in efforts to end an 11-year war that is taking an ever increasing toll on civilians. According to latest U.N. statistics, more than 3,000 Afghan civilians died in the war in 2011, the deadliest year on record for civilians in the Afghan war.
Neither side in the conflict, or regional governments with an interest in Afghanistan, have talked in detail about what shape any deal might take. The Afghan Taliban, far from defeated and convinced the U.S. and Western nations are losing the stomach to fight, will presumably demand a de-facto control over much of the country — assuming they agree to take part in substantive talks.
The trip by Prime Minister Yousuf Reza Gilani on Monday comes amid unease in Kabul and Islamabad over the Taliban decision to open the Qatar office. Officials in both countries have said they fear they are being left out of the early stages of the peace process.
Last week, Pakistan's foreign minister traveled to Afghanistan to talk about what is euphemistically termed in Washington, Islamabad and Kabul as "Afghan reconciliation."
"Our prime minister will have discussions connected to this with the Qatar leadership," foreign office spokesman Abdul Basit told a local television station. "He will also inform them of Pakistan's perspective in this situation."
Pakistan is an important player in moves to end the war because many of the leaders of the insurgency are said to be sheltering on its territory. The country's security forces are alleged to have links with the militants that could be useful in bringing them to the negotiating table.
Western officials, who have accused Pakistan of sponsoring militants behind attacks in Afghanistan, also says the country has the potential to wreck any peace deal if it is not involved. Pakistan's army wants to ensure that any post U.S regime in Afghanistan is hostile to India, which it regards as an existential threat.
The U.S. invaded Afghanistan after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in the United States, seeking to destroy al-Qaida and the hardline Islamist Taliban regime that harbored the network. Afghanistan is no longer a haven for al-Qaida, but the U.S.-led alliance has struggled to hold ground against the Taliban, which is supported by significant pockets of population in the south and east.