“I invite them to talk, and I tell them that if they keep on fighting, no roads or schools will be built and Nuristan will stay poor and backward,” Nooristani said last week. “But the key is working through our common tribal base. It was the tribe that negotiated my release last winter, and it is the tribes that can help us negotiate peace now.”
The High Peace Council has had a rocky two-year history, marred by controversy over appointees and the Taliban assassination of its leader, former Afghan president Burhanuddin Rabbani, 14 months ago. But today, the 70-member group has begun showing unexpected signs of progress and energy under its new head, Rabbani’s son Salahuddin, 41, a Western-educated diplomat who was most recently Afghan ambassador to Turkey.
Beyond its members’ success in wooing homegrown Taliban commanders to join the peace process, the council has made recent headway with a larger and cooler customer, the government of next-door Pakistan. Officials there have paid lip service to the peace process, but they have also maintained long-standing ties with the Taliban and are believed to provide sanctuary for anti-Afghan insurgents.
In November, a council delegation headed by Salahuddin Rabbani held four days of talks in Islamabad and came away with several accomplishments. First, Pakistan announced it was releasing nine Taliban prisoners and pledged to release more. It also agreed to grant Taliban negotiators safe passage to travel for peace talks, seek to exempt them from U.N. sanctions and hold a meeting of regional Muslim scholars.
Rabbani, who has been visiting Washington and New York for talks, characterized the gestures as a turning point in Pakistan’s attitude, saying officials there are alarmed by the toll militant attacks have taken on their country and worried about a spillover of violence after NATO forces leave Afghanistan in 2014.
A visit by Afghan Foreign Minister Zalmai Rassoul to Pakistan on Friday appeared to reinforce the progress made by the High Peace Council delegation. In a joint statement after high-level talks in Islamabad, both sides expressed support for a political settlement to the conflict.
On Saturday, Pakistan announced it would release more Taliban prisoners, reportedly in response to a request from Rassoul. Pakistan’s foreign ministry did not say how many detainees would be freed or when, only that the steps would be taken to promote peace talks and “urge the Taliban to renounce ties to al-Qaeda.”