The last two weeks have been claim and counter-claim from both the Afghan and Pakistani governments regarding a reported meeting of Afghan officials with Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, a close relative of the Taliban leader Mullah Omar and widely considered to be number two in the Taliban movement. Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar is currently in jail in Pakistan. It is generally held that his very arrest in 2010 was because he was negotiating with the Afghan government.
It is not as if Kabul is insisting that the meeting took place, while Islamabad is denying that there has been a meeting at all. It is not as clear-cut as that. The official line in Pakistan is that the meeting did not take place, but a number of unofficial sources have been quoted in the press as saying that there was a meeting. Afghan official sources are also at odds with each other, some saying Afghan officials were allowed access to Mullah Baradar, some saying that such reports are baseless.
The end result of all these conflicting reports has been that people are left in the dark. People PACT Radio/The Saba Story spoke to in Jalalabad felt confused about the issue. They wanted a clearer picture of progress towards constructive talks for peace. Asmat-Ullah, a teacher in Nangarhar University, feels that the whole episode shows that the Pakistan government is not really sincere in seeking peace in Afghanistan.
One political observer in the city of Jalalabad, Babrak Khan, feels that it is not only Pakistan that is at fault in this regard: “There are people within the Afghan government who do not want peace negotiations. Such elements are even present in the High Peace Council.” He feels that the Peace Council should be composed entirely of people who have a national outlook.
A 24-year-old labourer working in Jalalabad by the name of Asif Wardak recalls the conditions under which Abdul Ghani Baradar was arrested in the first place: “He wanted to negotiate with the Afghan government. What did the Pakistan government do? They put him in jail. Now they stand in the way of anyone who is working for peace.”
So there is no question – whether the meeting with Afghan officials has taken place or not, there is doubting the fact that there are some in high places in both Pakistan and in Afghanistan who do not want peace negotiations. The question is how to overcome the difficulties these elements place in the path to peace. Kamil Khan, a 54-year old shopkeeper recalls the old borderland tradition of there being a peace-maker – a “dremgiray” (literally a third party) – in peace negotiations. “A third-party should come forward, not involved in the hostilities, to conduct the peace negotiations.”
Who might this third party be, acceptable to both parties? Those interested in peace, instead of blaming this side or that, would do well to start the search for such a “dremgiray”.