Salahuddin who is the son of late Burhanuddin Rabbani arrived in Islamabad last night.
Pakistani officials said they hope to persuade Afghan insurgent groups to pursue peace but worry opposition from anti-Taliban groups within the Afghan’s government could mar their efforts.
Afghani officials will meet with high ranking Pakistani officials including President Asif Ali Zardari and Pakistan’s military Chief.
Rabbani called on Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf soon after his arrival in Islamabad.
“Mr. Rabbani was invited by Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar to visit Pakistan to hold talks with the relevant authorities with regard to the peace reconciliation process in Afghanistan,” read a statement from the foreign ministry.
The delegation is likely to give Islamabad a road map on how it wants its influential neighbor to help it end its war with the Taliban.
Similar talks were derailed last year in September after the assassination of Burhanuddin Rabbani, the former head of the High Peace Council by a suicide bomber who purported to be a Taliban peace envoy.
Afghan officials lashed out at Islamabad over the killing, saying the assassination bid had been planned in Pakistan and carried out by a Pakistani national carrying a bomb in his turban.
Pakistan denied the charges and blamed Afghan refugees living in Pakistan for the murder. The Afghan government later named Rabbani’s son, Salahuddin.
Efforts to end the Taliban insurgency in Afghanistan have become a high priority now that the US-led NATO forces are due to withdraw all combat troops out of the country by 2014.
Speaking just ahead of the Afghan peace council’s visit, Islamabad’s ambassador to Kabul Muhammad Sadiq told the press on Sunday Pakistan hoped to persuade Afghan insurgent groups, including the Haqqani network, to pursue peace. He expressed fears that resistance from political factions opposed to the Taliban could undermine such reconciliation efforts.
In an interview, the envoy noted: “The prime Minister of Pakistan had appealed to all insurgent groups to engage in negotiations. We will encourage all insurgents. We will encourage the entire armed opposition of Afghanistan to participate in peace negotiations with the Afghan government.”
He also suggested that America’s efforts be directed at engaging insurgent groups – rather than attempting to defeat them through military strikes against their leaders. “Afghans are much more united in wanting to join the reconciliation process than they were two years ago,” he said.
“But still there are very important people who fought against the Taliban and are not yet ready to talk and negotiate with the Taliban … And we are working with them.”
Sadiq is referring here to former members of the Northern Alliance, who toppled the Taliban in 2001. Some of its members now occupy high government positions, while others joined the opposition.
President Hamid Karzai set up the High Peace Council comprising members of diverse Afghan ethnic and political groups to try to ease mistrust between the Taliban and its traditional enemies and henceforth forge a peace deal.
The lack of progress and approaching 2012 deadline prompted fears of a looming civil war on Afghanistan. Many Afghanis actually fear that the Taliban is seeking to create such instability to seize power and affirm their hold over the country.
“The Afghani government has failed so far to secure direct talks with the Taliban and no significant progress is expected before 2014,” a senior Afghan official closely involved with reconciliation efforts told the press.
Afghan officials have often seen Pakistan as a reluctant partner in attempts to broker talks, saying Islamabad is long on promises and short on actions. Kabul also accuses Pakistan’s spy agency of using groups like the Haqqani network as proxies to counter its rival’s influence –India- in Afghanistan. Islamabad, which has a long history of ties with Afghan militant groups, denies the allegations.
The Haqqani faction, allied with the Taliban and allegedly operating on the northwest Pakistani-Afghani border is seen as the most dangerous Afghan militant group, blamed for high-profile attacks in Kabul and other cities.
Afghanistan said in August it believed a top commander of the group, Badruddin Haqqani, had been killed in a U.S. drone strike in Pakistan.
Pakistan has resisted U.S. pressure to pursue the Haqqanis – seen as the most implacable U.S. foe in Afghanistan – arguing that negotiations stand a better chance of delivering stability.
“I think that when it comes to insurgents, one thing is very clear; deaths have not weakened them because they replace commanders very quickly. They’re able to replace them in a day or so,” said Sadiq, suggesting that Americans should learn from Russia’s experience in Afghanistan in the 1980s. “They have people. By killing their people you cannot weaken them. The Soviets killed 1 million, 2 million people. It didn’t weaken the insurgency against them.”
Afghanistan is known to want access to Taliban leaders belonging to the so-called Quetta Shura, or council, named after the Pakistani city where they are believed to be based, an issue the peace council is likely to rise.
An official with the council explained it would also be pushing Islamabad to repatriate Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, the Taliban’s former second in command, in detention in Pakistan.
Afghan officials believe Baradar could serve as an effective conduit for negotiations with Taliban leaders if sent to Kabul. An Afghan official said that Pakistan has promised to hand him over in September.
Pakistan denies giving sanctuary to insurgents and says no Taliban leaders are in Quetta. Asked what Pakistan would be willing to do to push the struggling reconciliation process forward, Sadiq said:
“Expectations should be reasonable about what we can do. Pakistan does not control over the Taliban. We don’t control its leaders or militants, we don’t give them weapons, and we do not give them money.”
Sadiq added Afghanistan should strive to ensure its government is representative of the country’s political and social make-up, as to maintain stability and ward off civil instability.
“A representative government will automatically help in reducing the insurgency, reducing the tension among ethnicities, and as such it will go a long way in preventing a civil war.”