Pakistan has floated the concept of an Afghan power-sharing arrangement between Kabul and the Taleban as part of a peace talks “end game”, according to Afghan deputy foreign minister Ershad Ahmadi.
The idea – which met with outrage in Kabul – was raised in a Friday meeting between Pakistani national security adviser Sartaj Aziz and Afghan ambassador Umer Daudzai, Mr Ahmadi said. It involved a form of federalism, ceding power in some Afghan provinces to the Taleban.
The suggestion has dashed hopes of rapprochement in the relationship between Pakistan and Afghanistan following the election of Pakistani prime minister Nawaz Sharif last month. It also signals that a visit by Prime Minister David Cameron to the region at the weekend to promote the Afghan-Pakistan relationship as well as peace talks with the Taleban had failed before he had even arrived.
Mr Ahmadi said yesterday: “We believe this federalism is a means for the Pakistanis to achieve what they could not achieve through their proxy [the Taleban] on the battlefield.”
In Islamabad, Pakistani foreign ministry spokesman Aizaz Chaudry denied any suggestion of ceding territory had been made during the meeting.
He said: “It was a courtesy call during which the adviser and ambassador also discussed bilateral relations. No reference was made to ceding of provinces to the Taleban.”
Pakistan has considerable influence over the Afghan Taleban leadership, which is based in the south-western Pakistani city of Quetta. This relationship is seen as crucial to United States and Afghan efforts to promote peace in Afghanistan – a task that is gaining urgency as Nato troops prepare to withdraw from the country by the end of 2014.
Afghanistan has long accused Pakistan, which faces a Taleban insurgency of its own, makes public pronouncements about peace, but allows elements of its military to play a spoiling role.
Afghan president Hamid Karzai voiced his concerns during a Saturday news conference with Mr Cameron, saying “delivering a province or two to the Taleban” would be perceived as an invasion by the Afghan people.
Mr Ahmadi also said that the recent ceremonial opening of a Taleban office in the Gulf state of Qatar’s capital, Doha – which raised angry protests in Kabul claiming that the office had the appearance of a government-in-exile – was part of a Pakistani plan designed to increase the insurgents’ international prestige.
He said: “There are elements within the Pakistani government who have a grand design of using the peace process as a means to undermine the Afghan state and establish little fiefdoms around the country in which the Taleban – its most important strategic asset in Afghanistan – play an influential role.”
Before Afghanistan suspended the talks in Doha, US officials had said they would have stuck to an insistence that the Taleban break ties with al-Qaeda, end violence and accept the Afghan constitution, including protection for women and minorities.
During their 1996-2001 reign, the Taleban banned women from education, voting and most work, and they were not allowed to leave their homes without permission and a male escort.
Mr Ahmadi said despite hopes the new Sharif administration in Pakistan may curb meddling in Afghan affairs, Kabul now felt the civilian administration was aiding the double game played by the military and the country’s intelligence agency, the Inter Services Intelligence (ISI).
Part of the reason Kabul was so outraged by the opening of the Taleban office was the use of symbols, including the Taleban flag, that had not been approved as part of the peace deal.
Soon after that flag was taken down, Taleban delegates held a meeting with ISI officers in Doha, Mr Ahmadi said. “We do monitor these things,” he said.