Will Aziz visit help Afghan peace process?

Islamabad, July 22 (IANS) Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has sent his top adviser to Kabul to end the impasse with Afghanistan and to reenergize the peace and reconciliation process between the two countries.

Sartaj Aziz, adviser to the Prime Minister on National Security and Foreign Affairs, Sunday met Afghan Foreign Minister Zalmai Rssoul in Kabul where he delivered a formal invitation from Sharif for Afghan President Hamid Karzai to visit Islamabad, Xinhua reported.

Sharif invited Karzai to visit Pakistan when he called him last month but the Afghan president had proposed a visit by a Pakistani official first to discuss the agenda for his trip in order to make it result-oriented.

The visit of the Pakistani adviser is the first high-level exchange between the two countries after Sharif's assumption of office following the May general election.

The foreign ministry said Aziz will discuss with Afghan officials the preparations for a Sharif-Karzai summit as well as the venue.

Tensions between the two neighbours have heightened in recent months over certain issues, particularly the elusive peace, the opening of the Taliban office in Qatar, and a power-sharing scheme between the Taliban and the Afghan government reportedly hatched by Islamabad, Xinhua added.

Afghan leaders believe that Pakistan has deep influence over the Afghan Taliban and that it can encourage them to join the intra-Afghan dialogue. But Kabul feels Islamabad has not extended its "sincere cooperation" on the issue.

But Pakistan said it cannot force the Taliban to talk to the Karzai government and can only facilitate the peace process.

The tension escalated last month when the Taliban opened an office in Qatar and hoisted their white flag and displayed a plaque inscribed with the "Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan," the name they used during their brutal rule.

The Karzai government alleged that Pakistan and the US were behind the opening of the office in a style similar to "installation of a parallel government in exile", Xinhua reported.

Karzai and one of his top diplomats then angrily reacted to a proposal that Pakistan had allegedly floated for Afghanistan to cede some provinces to the Taliban as part of a power-sharing formula.

Afghan leaders said the concept was a move to divide Afghanistan and to impose a federal system of government. Pakistan denied this.

The Taliban have so far refused to talk to the Karzai government, describing the country as powerless and a "US puppet".

The Qatar office had raised some hopes for the opening of the peace process but Kabul refused to cooperate after raising objections over the Taliban flag and the plaque of Islamic Emirate.

The US had previously announced to hold direct talks with the Taliban in Qatar but Karzai's angry reaction to the opening of the Taliban office has removed the possibility of such talks.

The visit of Pakistani adviser to Kabul is seen as an important step to push for the reconciliation process with the Taliban, especially with the withdrawal of all foreign forces in Afghanistan by end of 2014.

Afghan leaders and analysts believe that Nawaz Sharif can help in achieving a political solution to the Afghan conflict as he had brokered a deal among the Afghan jehadi leaders in 1993 when he was prime minister.

A former Afghan minister, Farouq Azam, said the Pakistani leader was familiar with the developments in Afghanistan and was in a better position to help the Afghan leaders in achieving a peace deal.

Azam said with his fresh mandate, Sharif can now institute wide-ranging reforms in his country's relationship with Afghanistan.

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