Pak denies blocking key Taliban figures from flying to Qatar

Hina Rabbani Khar
London, Feb 22: Pakistan has said it would not hinder the proposed US-driven initiative to open peace talks with Taliban in Qatar, refuting reports that it had blocked some key Taliban figures from flying to Doha to participate in the process.

Claiming that Islamabad would not participate in the Qatar talks until the move has the backing of Afghan government, Pakistan Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar strongly refuted reports that Islamabad had blocked some key Taliban commanders from proceeding to Qatar to participate in the talks.

She rejected Afghan pressure to allow Kabul officials access to top Taliban commanders, they believe to be in Pakistan.

Repeating long-standing Pakistani denials, Khar claimed that Islamabad had no idea on the whereabouts of Taliban leader Mullah Omar.

"I am not an authority on where Mullah Omar is, but I do know that Pakistani authorities do not know where Mullah Omar is," the Pakistan Foreign Minister, currently on a visit here, told Guardian in an interview.

"Pakistan's view is that everything the Afghans ask us which is doable, which is realistic, which is based on facts, we will do," Khar said.

The Minister did not comment on whether Afghan officials would be allowed to meet Omar's deputy Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, who is in Pakistani custody.

Her comments come in the wake of strong demands by Afghan President Hamid Karzai during his recent visit to Pakistan that Islamabad produce top Taliban commanders to hold talks with him.

Karzai had expressed frustration with the Pakistani policy, saying "impediments" in the relationship should be removed "sooner rather than later".

The paper said Pakistan's ambivalence over the effort to open a dialogue in Qatar has contributed to the poor state of nation's relationship with the US, which reached a new low in November when NATO cross-border fire from Afghanistan killed 24 Pakistani soldiers.

Khar is due to meet the US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, in London this week but she said she had no power to seek an improvement in the relationship until Pakistan's parliament had published the results of its own review.

She denied that her government was delegating a politically tricky issue, arguing that the parliamentary review of US policy was "something to be proud about" and would improve bilateral relations in the long term.

"I think this relationship has been missing a great deal of credibility and a lot of that is because the relationship has always peaked during dictatorships and because a lot of the terms of the relationship are not very transparent," she said.

"What this government is doing is trying to get some of that credibility back… Once you are able to do that I think we will turn out to be much more effective partnership."

By way of contrast, the minister praised Pakistan's relations with the UK, which she said worked well because they were "predictable", adding that Britain had been understanding over Islamabad's opposition to US drone strikes inside Pakistani territory.

In the interview Khar appeared to be holding out an olive branch to Kabul ahead of any talks in Qatar, saying "We are waiting for him (Karzai) to determine the course of action of his government and once that is done, we will want to be seen to be fully supporting it."


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