Pakistan's Overture To Taliban Concerns Afghans

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Afghan officials welcomed the release of Taliban prisoners by Pakistan in an attempt to jump-start a shaky peace process with the militant group. But many Afghans are wondering about the timing and the motive. They say mistrust born of decades of duplicity won't vanish with a few declarations or small gestures.

Secretary-General of the Afghan High Peace Council Mohammad Stanekzai was part of the delegation that recently traveled to Pakistan to discuss how the countries can cooperate and bring the Taliban to the negotiating table.

"There is an increasing realization that the continuation of the status quo is not in the interest either of Afghanistan nor Pakistan," Stanekzai says.

That's the key change, in his eyes: Pakistan now sees that it's not-so-clandestine support for the Taliban over the years hasn't exactly had a positive impact on Pakistan.

"Personally I have seen a difference from my last visit to this visit. I got the sense that there was more coordination and expression of a common language between all the different power bases. That is one of the reasons I am cautiously optimistic," Stanekzai says.

In addition to releasing at least nine Taliban prisoners, Pakistan signed onto a joint statement with the Afghan Peace Council calling on the Taliban to negotiate. But, despite his optimism, Stanekzai realizes that many Afghans remain suspicious of Pakistan's intentions.

"To change the whole perception of the Afghan people, their perception, their suspicion, that depends on the next steps that will be taken," Stanekzai says.

There is no lack of that suspicion on the streets of Kabul. Faizullah is visiting the capital from his native Helmand province.

"I heard it through media, that there are some efforts ongoing and Pakistan released some prisoners, and I think it's a good sign and I'm optimistic about it. But Pakistan may have another goal in Afghanistan, because if they really want peace, why all these past decades there were lots of problems?" he says.

Darwaish, a car dealer from the Panjshir Valley, says if there is strong pressure on Pakistan from the international community, then maybe Pakistan will behave.

But short of that, he says, "I don't trust Pakistan at all. They are our historical enemy, and we have a territorial dispute with them. They are not honest. They only see their interest."

On the streets at least, the prevailing attitude seems to be that whatever Pakistan is doing is purely for its own benefit. And it's not just the Afghan people who have to be won over — Afghan power brokers are also skeptical.

Secretary-General for the Rights and Justice Party of Afghanistan Abbas Noyan says, "Unfortunately, based on our bad experience with Pakistan, we hardly trust them that it is a kind of positive move toward cooperation with peace."

Noyan says if Pakistan wants to prove it's serious, it needs to do more than release some low-level Taliban prisoners. He says Pakistan must visibly end support for the Taliban and the allied Haqqani network. Only then will he start to take Pakistan seriously.

NPR's Aimal Yaqubi contributed to this report.

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