By Dylan Welch and Hamid Shalizi
KABUL (Reuters) – Pakistan has floated the concept of an Afghan power-sharing arrangement between Kabul and the Taliban as part of a peace talks “end game”, Afghan Deputy Foreign Minister Ershad Ahmadi said on Monday, a suggestion met with outrage in Kabul.
The idea was raised in a Friday meeting between Pakistani national security adviser Sartaj Aziz and Afghan ambassador Umer Daudzai, Ahmadi told Reuters. It involved a form of federalism and ceding power in some Afghan provinces to the Taliban.
The suggestion dashed hopes of a reset in the relationship between the South Asian neighbors following the election of Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif last month.
It also suggests a visit by British Prime David Cameron to the region at the weekend to promote the Afghan-Pakistan relationship as well as peace talks with the Taliban had failed before he had even arrived.
“We believe this federalism is a means for the Pakistanis to achieve what they could not achieve through their proxy (the Taliban) on the battlefield,” Ahmadi said.
In Islamabad, Pakistani foreign ministry spokesman Aizaz Chaudry denied any suggestion of ceding territory had been made during the meeting.
“It was a courtesy call during which the adviser and ambassador also discussed bilateral relations. No reference was made to ceding of provinces to Taliban,” Chaudhry told Reuters.
Pakistan has a considerable influence over the Afghan Taliban leadership, based in the southwestern Pakistani city of Quetta.
It is seen as crucial to U.S. and Afghan efforts to promote peace in Afghanistan, a task that is gaining urgency as NATO troops prepare to withdraw from the country by the end of 2014.
Afghanistan has long accused Pakistan of playing a double game regarding the 12-year-old war, saying its neighbor, facing a Taliban insurgency of its own, makes public pronouncements about peace, but allows elements of its military to play a spoiling role.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai also voiced his concern about Pakistan’s motive in the peace process during a Saturday news conference with Cameron, saying that “delivering a province or two to the Taliban” would be perceived as an invasion by the Afghan people.
Pakistan was not immediately able to comment on what was said by Aziz or its view of Ahmadi’s assertions.
Ahmadi also said the ceremonial opening of the Taliban office in the Gulf state of Qatar’s capital, Doha, which raised angry protests in Kabul that the office had the appearance of a government-in-exile, was part of a Pakistani plan designed to increase the insurgents’ international prestige.
“There are elements within the Pakistani government who have a grand design of using the peace process as a means to undermine the Afghan state and establish little fiefdoms around the country in which the Taliban – its most important strategic asset in Afghanistan – play an influential role,” he said.
Before Afghanistan suspended talks in Doha, U.S. officials had said they would have stuck to an insistence that the Taliban break ties with al Qaeda, end violence and accept the Afghan constitution, including protection for women and minorities.
During their 1996-2001 reign, the Taliban banned women from education, voting and most work, and they were not allowed to leave their homes without permission and a male escort.
Ahmadi said despite hopes the new Sharif administration may curb meddling in Afghan affairs, Kabul now felt the civilian administration was aiding the double game played by the military and the country’s powerful intelligence agency, the Inter Services Intelligence (ISI).
“While we believe there are elements of the military and the ISI who endeavor to weaken the Afghan state, their narrative seems to be getting some kind of buy-in from other state institutions and that’s a major concern,” he said.
In particular, the ISI had played a significant role in the events in Doha, Ahmadi said. Part of the reason Kabul was so outraged by the opening of the Taliban office was the use of symbols, including the Taliban flag, that had not been approved as part of the peace deal.
Soon after that flag was taken down, some or all of the Taliban delegates held a meeting with ISI officers in Doha, Ahmadi said.
“We do monitor these things and we know there have been regular interactions,” Ahmadi said.
(Additional reporting by Katharine Houreld in Islamabad; Editing by Nick Macfie and Ron Popeski)