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Any effort to bring Pakistan and Afghanistan closer is welcome because peace in Afghanistan is impossible without the wholehearted help of its neighbour. For the same reason, the initiative taken by the British Prime Minister David Cameron to bring about a peace deal between Kabul and Islamabad deserves both praise and unstinted support. But the question is how committed the two sides are. Previous efforts for reconciliation and friendship between the two countries have failed to produce the desired results, leaving plenty of room for mediation.
Following talks hosted by Cameron, Afghan President Hamid Karzai and his Pakistani counterpart Asif Ali Zardari said in London that they would work to reach a peace deal within six months. Six months may look too ambitious a deadline to end more than a decade of war, but there is no harm in trying. The summit was the third trilateral meeting in a year following meetings in Kabul last July and New York in September -- but the first in which Pakistani and Afghan army and intelligence chiefs took part.
Efforts for peace in Afghanistan have acquired urgency as the country is preparing for the complete withdrawal of US forces. There is a lurking fear that the country will slide into chaos once the US troops withdraw, with doubts about the capability of Afghan troops to keep peace and fight a resurgent Taliban. Peace is the best option in such a scenario, and it’s natural that all sides are exploring all avenues to achieve the objective.
While a deal between Pakistan and Afghanistan will help create the background, peace will become a reality only if the Taliban are brought to the negotiating table. Progress on that front has been scant, though there is hope. Hectic efforts are being made to make peace with Taliban. The insurgent group has agreed to open an office in Doha and once that happens, peace talks will gather momentum. Pakistan and Afghanistan have a fractious relationship which has undermined efforts for peace, with both sides often making accusations against each other. Confidence-building between the two is a tough task, especially with insurgent groups bent on torpedoing reconciliation efforts. Karzai and Zardari will have to struggle to keep the atmosphere conducive for peace.
Karzai told the press conference he hoped in future to have “very close, brotherly and good neighbourly” relations with Pakistan, which has been regularly accused by both Kabul and Washington of helping to destabilise Afghanistan. Britain has sufficient clout to mediate because it has excellent relations with both Pakistan and Afghanistan. London is the second biggest contributor of troops to Afghanistan with 9,000 still based there, and has an interest in seeing peace prevail in the region because of the stakes involved.