ISLAMABAD – Prime Minister Syed Yousuf Raza Gilani will travel to Qatar next week to talk with leaders there about the prospect of a peace deal to end war in Afghanistan.

The 3-day official trip beginning from Monday suggests some progress in a process long stymied by mistrust. The visit (February 6-8) also aims at strengthening bilateral ties with the Gulf state in multiple areas.

In an interview with Radio Pakistan, Foreign Office spokesman Abdul Basit said Prime Minister Gilani is going to Qatar and he will discuss recent reconciliatory efforts of Qatar for Afghan peace. Pakistan is playing very active diplomacy and “we want to talk with all those people who want to help resolve the issue”, he added.

The Afghan Taliban announced last month it would open a political office in Qatar, suggesting the group may be willing to engage in negotiations that would likely give it government positions or official control over much of its historical southern heartland.

Afghanistan has given its blessing to the move, but Kabul, wary of being sidelined in talks between the insurgents and Washington, has insisted on a central role in any negotiations.

Pakistan is seen as critical to US efforts to stabilise Afghanistan and is believed to have influence over militant groups which have been fighting to topple President Hamid Karzai’s government.

Ties between Islamabad and Kabul have been strained in recent months but Pakistani Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar said after a visit to Afghanistan last week that ill will had eased considerably between the two neighbours. Hina is expected to accompany Gilani on the Qatar trip.

Foreign Office spokesman told the radio channel that Foreign Minister Hina held useful talks with Afghan leaders in Kabul. He said: “Her (foreign minister’s) visit has great importance especially in the context with some coldness in our relations during previous months and as to how the recent reconciliation efforts in Afghanistan may be given boost”. Abdul Basit said Pakistan wants peace in Afghanistan and is ready for every possible help to the Kabul government to achieve the purpose as both countries are imperative for each other. He said that Pakistan is trying to hold talks with all representatives of Afghanistan so that Afghanistan may emerge as a peaceful country after withdrawal of coalition forces.

The spokesman said Pakistan has always avoided blame game with Afghanistan publicly and the foreign minister took up the issue during her talks in Kabul and said if issues arise between the two countries, they should be resolved amicably on table like two brothers, he added.

Replying to a question, he said our foreign minister is going to Russia next week and she will definitely discuss regional situation with Russian leaders. He said Pakistan being part of the region, knows the dynamics of the region and as to how durable peace may prevail here, he said. He said we have opened all channels and are pursuing every thing actively as peace in Afghanistan is in our own interest.

To a question about Pakistan’s role in the ongoing Afghan peace efforts, Basit said “External forces may help Afghan people to some extent to bring peace, but the main party is Afghan people and leaders themselves, who will decide as to what they want to see in their country, reconciliation and prosperity through stable government or God forbid, the situation like 90s.”

He said if Afghan people need Pakistan’s help, they should make it clear as to what type of help they want, as we do not want to get label that Pakistan is interfering in internal affairs of Afghanistan. Pakistan has always followed the policy to support Afghan owned reconciliation process, he added.

Replying to another question about Qatar talks, Abdul Basit said that America and Taliban are holding talks in Qatar and Pakistan is being informed about the talks through diplomatic sources.

He said all process with America regarding terrorism and Afghanistan is in standstill position and until our parliament gives us policy directions, our engagements with the US will not be restored. However, after restoration of engagement, the situation will be clear as to what Pakistan role may play. At present, “we have no (direct) engagement in the talk process”, he added.

Abdul Basit on Saturday told BBC that Pakistan’s role in Afghan peace talks was that of a facilitator and not meddler. He said Pakistan’s role was limited. “We have made a principled decision that we will not allow any interference in the internal matters of Afghanistan,” he added.

The spokesman stressed that the success of peace process in Afghanistan depend on the support of Afghans. According to Basit, “No reconciliation formula can prove sustainable unless it is acceptable to the Afghans and their leadership. Therefore, whatever the initiative is, and in whatever direction the affairs and dialogue process are moving, we are trying to ensure that it is supported by the Afghans.”

In reply to query whether Prime Minister Gilani will hold talks with Qatar’s leaders on the Afghan peace initiative, Basit said the Qatari leadership would certainly inform the prime minister on the present state of affairs and the premier would also inform them about the talks held by Pakistan with the Taliban.

The spokesman said Pakistan had repeatedly insisted that dialogue was the only way to resolve the Afghan problem. “We are happy that at last the world has seconded our stance,” he noted, adding that all the main players and the people in Afghanistan were now agreeing that talks should be pursued to resolve the issue.

Pakistan had always insisted on dialogue. No matter where the negotiations are held, if the process is aimed at peace and stability in Afghanistan, Pakistan would back every such endeavour for achieving the objective.

Basit said, “I don’t want to point to any specific initiative, because there are so many things involved in the affair, which are somehow interlinked,” adding that there was no reason for Pakistan to oppose the course of action, as all the Afghans were supporting the move.

Meanwhile, it has been learnt that Prime Minister Gilani during his visit will also hold talks with Qatar’s Emir and prime minister to further promote trade and investment ties to add substance to bilateral relations.

Gilani will discuss with the Qatari leadership the issue of import of Liquified Natural Gas (LNG) and finalisation of transnational formalities to import LNG at the earliest. Moreover, the two governments are likely to sign a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between Pakistan’s Water and Power Development Authority (Wapda) and Qatar’s energy ministry.

The prime minister will also take up the matter of absorbing Pakistani skilled labour into Qatar. The Ministry of Professional and Technical Education will expedite the imparting of technical training so that skilled labour can go abroad.

Gilani will also hold separate meetings with the Chief Executive Officer of Qatar Diar Real Estate Investors and the representatives of Qatari Business Association. He will address the Pakistani community living in Qatar and attend a prize distribution ceremony at Pakistan Education Centre.

PM to talk Afghan peace in Qatar