BRUSSELS: Pakistan must play a positive role in bringing stability to Afghanistan as foreign troops prepared to leave the country in 2014, the head of Nato said on Tuesday, before a US-chaired meeting that would try to ease friction between often feuding neighbours.
US Secretary of State John Kerry will host talks between Afghan President Hamid Karzai and senior Pakistan officials in Brussels on Wednesday, with the aim of calming tension over border disputes and the stalled peace process.
“If we are to ensure long-term peace and stability in Afghanistan we also need a positive engagement of Afghanistan’s neighbours, including Pakistan,” Nato Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen told reporters as alliance foreign ministers met in Brussels to discuss Nato’s mission in Afghanistan.
Wednesday’s US-chaired meeting is part of a series of on-off discussions between Afghanistan and Pakistan at the behest of the United States.
US officials hope that Mr Kerry, who has a good relationship with Mr Karzai, can bring the parties back to the negotiating table and make constructive progress on an issue that has long-term security implications for Washington.
Mr Kerry said on Monday the aim of the meeting would be to “try to talk about how we can advance this process in the simplest, most cooperative and most cogent way, so that we wind up with both Pakistan’s and Afghanistan’s interests being satisfied, but, most importantly, with a stable and peaceful Afghanistan”.
The talks follow weeks of tension with Pakistan over their 2,600km border and stalled peace efforts.
Although there have been several meetings in western capitals over the past few months in which representatives of the Taliban have met Afghan peace negotiators, there have been no signs of a breakthrough.
As well as Mr Karzai and Mr Kerry, Wednesday’s meeting will include Afghanistan’s defence minister, Bismillah Khan Mohammadi, Pakistan’s army chief, General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, and Foreign Secretary Jalil Abbas Jilani, a US official said.
Nato-led forces are expected to cede the lead role for security in Afghanistan this spring to Afghan soldiers, 12 years after the United States invaded Afghanistan to oust the Taliban government harbouring Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, who masterminded the Sept 11, 2001 attacks on US cities.
Most foreign combat forces are due to pull out by the end of 2014, leaving a smaller Nato-led training mission behind and a contingent of US force to fight militants.
The White House has yet to decide how many US troops will remain in Afghanistan after 2014 and this could be a factor influencing both Taliban and Pakistani strategy. Much depends on progress in negotiations with Mr Karzai on a Bilateral Security Agreement to define the future legal status of US forces.
Nato defence ministers meeting in Brussels on Feb 22 discussed keeping a combined Nato force of between 8,000 and 12,000 troops. That compares to combined Nato forces of about 100,000 troops in Afghanistan now.
General James Mattis, the head of the US military’s Central Command, said in March he had recommended keeping 13,600 American troops in Afghanistan after 2014.