The presidents of Afghanistan and Iran have convened in Pakistan for a three-way summit that is expected to focus on steps Islamabad can take to bring about peace talks with the Afghan Taliban.
Pakistan is seen as key to the peace process because of its historical ties with the Taliban and their feared ally, the Haqqani network. The leaders of both groups are believed to be based in Pakistan and in close touch with Pakistani intelligence officials.
One of the people Afghan President Hamid Karzai was scheduled to meet during his trip is Maulana Samiul Haq, known as the spiritual father of the Taliban because he runs an Islamic seminary in north-west Pakistan that has taught many of the group’s leaders. Haq has also supported the insurgency in Afghanistan.
Haq urged the leaders of Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iran to work together to push US-led forces out of Afghanistan.
“This is a time when the Taliban are defeating Western forces in Afghanistan,” Haq said. “A forceful stance by Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iran will bring peace and stability in this region by pushing out the foreign forces.”
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is also likely to focus in the meetings on a proposed pipeline that would deliver natural gas from his country to Pakistan. The US has opposed the initiative because of tensions with Iran over its nuclear programme, and has pushed for an alternative pipeline that would transport gas from Turkmenistan through Afghanistan to Pakistan.
But Pakistan is facing acute gas shortages and has pledged to go forward with the Iran pipeline, despite US threats of sanctions.
The summit comes at a time when momentum for peace talks with the Taliban seems to be growing.
The US and Afghan governments have begun secret three-way discussions with the Taliban, The Wall Street Journal quoted Karzai as saying. Karzai believes most Taliban are “definitely” interested in a peace settlement, the paper said.
The Taliban are setting up an office in the tiny Gulf state of Qatar in the first step toward formal negotiations.
Meanwhile a pair of missiles strikes has killed nine people in North Waziristan, Pakistani intelligence officials said.
In the first strike, a US drone fired two missiles at a house in Spalga village, killing six people. Later in the day, missiles hit a vehicle in Khaisur village, killing three militants.