ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani urged Taliban leaders and other Afghan militant groups on Friday to participate in negotiations to end the war in neighboring Afghanistan, and he pledged that Pakistan would do “whatever it can” to facilitate peace talks.
Gilani’s remarks represent the first publicly known effort by Pakistan to bring the Taliban into the nascent peace process — an important step given the nation’s history of sheltering militants, including Taliban chief Mohammad Omar, in its tribal regions.
The outreach followed efforts by Afghan President Hamid Karzai to involve Pakistan in starting direct talks with insurgents at war with Afghan, NATO and U.S. troops. Regional leaders have tried to accelerate reconciliation efforts in Afghanistan ahead of a scheduled U.S. combat troop pullout in 2014.
“It is now time to turn a new leaf and open a new chapter in the history of Afghanistan, to build peace and bring prosperity to Afghanistan,” Gilani said in a statement.
“I would like to appeal to the Taliban leadership as well as to all other Afghan groups, including Hezb-i-Islami, to participate in an intra-Afghan process for national reconciliation and peace,” he said.
Hezb-i-Islami, or Islamic Party, is a faction allied with the Taliban. Its leader, Afghan warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, has been designated a terrorist by the United States for supporting attacks against Western and Afghan troops.
A senior Hezb-i-Islami official said Friday that the party welcomed Gilani’s call for the Taliban and his group to come to the negotiating table.
“It’s a positive step and augurs well for peace and stability in our country,” Ghairat Baheer, the party’s head of political affairs and Hekmatyar’s son-in-law, told The Washington Post. But he added that the group opposes U.S. participation or any other “external interference or intervention” in that dialogue.
“We support any process in which all Afghan groups sit together and talk peace. It will be only through the dialogue between all Afghan groups that peace and stability will return to Afghanistan,” he said.
The stress on an “Afghan-led” and “Afghan-owned” peace process — terms used by top U.S., Pakistani and Afghan officials — comes as negotiations appear to have stalled amid reports of a division within the Taliban between those who are willing to talk with the United States and those bitterly opposed. The split in some cases has led to bloodshed.
Gilani, in his statement Friday, said Pakistan will support “an authentic Afghan process and is prepared to do whatever it can for its success.”
The peace appeal “is in itself an important development, but now it depends on the future course,” said Rahimullah Yusufzai, an expert on Afghan affairs who sees positive movement on both sides. “Earlier the Taliban called the Karzai government a U.S. puppet and Karzai was calling the Taliban a Pakistan proxy,” he noted.
Other observers caution that no matter what Pakistan’s civilian leadership pledges, the center of power lies with the country’s military and security services, which Washington and Kabul say have yet to break ties with all militant factions.
Within Pakistan, meanwhile, militants have continued to attack civilian and other targets. Early Friday, three Pakistani Taliban fighters wearing suicide vests and carrying assault rifles stormed a police station in Peshawar; three officers died on the scene and one succumbed later.
Taliban-affiliated spokesmen told the Associated Press that the attack was meant to avenge the killing of one of its commanders in a U.S. drone strike this month.
Special correspondents Shaiq Hussain and Haq Nawaz Khan contributed to this report.