The world of international relations seems to have focused on Pakistan today: The president of Iran and the president of Afghanistan both made their way to the country just as tensions between Iran and Israel made the news and just as reports emerged that the U.S. and the Taliban were beginning secret talks.
The official agenda of the meetings is to discuss counter-terrorism and transnational organized crimes at a regional conference tomorrow in Islamabad.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai, who has in the past lambasted Pakistan for its alleged support of the Afghan Taliban, was given a warm welcome in Islamabad. Karzai held an important meeting with Pakistani Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani and other senior Pakistani officials, including the country’s chief of the army staff Gen. Ashfaq Kiyani and Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar.
Later the Afghan president met his Pakistani counterpart President Asif Ali Zardari. Under the Zardari-led Pakistan Peoples Party, government relations between Kabul and Islamabad have much improved. The two leaders have made a number of visits in the last three years.
Afghan affairs expert and journalist Rahim Ullah Yousufzai said that the Afghan president wanted Pakistan to facilitate talks between Kabul and the Taliban but Pakistan could not offer much help over this issue because Islamabad had been denying the presence of Afghan Taliban on Pakistani soil.
He said Pakistan was supporting the establishment of a Taliban political office in Qatar and wanted it to be successful. Yousufzai said after this success, Islamabad might use its influence to facilitate talks between the Taliban and the Afghan government but, he warned the Taliban have their own agenda and if they think that talks will benefit them, they will cooperate, otherwise, they will not.
Fearing isolation at the international level, Iran is also scrambling to find supporters in the region. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmedinjad also arrived in Islamabad on Thursday to attend a trilateral conference on counter-terrorism. But the visit is not confined to attending this conference.
Commenting about the Iranian President’s visit, defense analyst retired Gen. Talat Masud said, “Iran and Pakistan think stability in Afghanistan is in their interest, but while Iran may be interested in complete withdrawal of U.S. and NATO forces, Pakistan wants to see some sort of American and NATO presence in Afghanistan.”
He says that in case of any U.S. action against Iran, however, Pakistan will not try to harm Iranian interest.
“Any Pakistani support to U.S. action against Iran could create problems in Pakistan,” said Masud.
(Abdul Sattar reported from Islamabad for NPR.)