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AHEAD of general elections in Pakistan (2013) and Afghanistan (2014), and on the heels of the US presidential election, a high-profile reconciliation process between these three states and the Taliban was successfully initiated this week in Islamabad. The "chairman of the High Peace Council of Afghanistan", Salahuddin Rabbani, is in Pakistan and has secured the release of key Taliban prisoners from its jails and asked for the Afghan Taliban's number two, Mullah Baradar. This could be a turning point in the peace process before the US-led Nato troops withdraw from Afghanistan by end-2014. Post-2014, Pakistan's engagement will be a decisive factor in reshaping Afghanistan's destiny.
Daily Times reported on November 16: "'After releasing 13 Taliban, Pakistan promised to free Mullah Baradar if these releases prove effective in peace negotiations,' a senior Afghan official close to talks between Islamabad and Kabul said... Asked if Baradar would also be freed, a senior Pakistani Foreign Ministry official said that was possible if the release of the Taliban figures 'produced results'." Baradar was arrested in Karachi in 2010.
An editorial in Dawn analysed the fallout of Pakistan's involvement: "After months of apparent reluctance to help facilitate Afghan reconciliation, Islamabad's handing over of a handful of Afghan prisoners is a promising sign that Pakistan's thinking on the issue might be shifting... it has the potential to become a turning point in Pak-Afghan relations, creating the opportunity for future initiatives that could pay off even if these particular prisoners aren't able to do much... Also promising is how this move could boost Pakistan-US relations, even as America's role in this exchange... was wisely played down. The focus on the bilateral aspects of this particular agreement is important, a confidence-building measure between the two countries that will have to manage affairs once Western troops leave... But one thing we now know for sure: impeding peace in Afghanistan by trying to hedge our bets through proxies has been a losing strategy."
The Express Tribune added: "Both countries have agreed in principle that there will be no restrictions on the freed Taliban leaders and they can rejoin families either in Pakistan or go to Afghanistan or any other country under the 'safe passage' mechanism."
BIHAR Chief Minister Nitish Kumar was in Pakistan on a "goodwill visit" and spent most of his time in Sindh. When he went to Islamabad, he met the chairperson of one of Pakistan's anti-poverty, pro-women programmes introduced by the PPP government in memory of Benazir Bhutto, the Benazir Income Support Programme (BISP). Nitish told its chief, senior PPP leader Farzana Raja, that "Various interventions, including those in health and education sectors, have been introduced to uplift the living standards of underprivileged segments of society. India wants to learn from the experiences and success of BISP...". This was reported by Daily Times on November 14, adding that Raja offered to share BISP's experiences with India.
New Year Gift
PAKISTAN has promised India a New Year gift. A report headlined "India to get MFN status as New Year gift from Pakistan" stated: "There would be no delay on our commitment for implementing MFN status with India from January 1, 2013,' Federal Minister for Commerce said while addressing a news conference. The minister said that abolishing the negative list comprising 1,209 items would be done on December 31, 2012 and MFN status would be implemented from January 1." While India gave Pakistan the MFN status many years ago, reciprocation was being sought to formalise this all-important CBM. The deputy chief minister of Punjab, Sukhbir Singh Badal, also visited Pakistan earlier this month for a sports tournament but made his pitch for opening up the Wagah-Attari border for overland trade.
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