Islamabad: Pakistan has increased efforts to reach out to some of its biggest enemies in Afghanistan, a significant policy shift that could prove crucial to US-backed efforts to strike a peace deal in the neighbouring country.
The target of the diplomatic push has mainly been non-Pashtun political leaders who have been at odds with Pakistan for years because of the country`s historical support for the Afghan Taliban, a Pashtun movement.
Many of the leaders fought against the Taliban when the fundamentalist Islamic group seized control of Afghanistan in the 1990s with Pakistan`s help, and have accused Islamabad of maintaining support for the insurgents following the US-led invasion in 2001 -- allegations denied by the government.
Many experts agree that Pakistan continues to see the Taliban as an ally, albeit a shaky one, in countering the influence of archenemy India in Afghanistan. But they also say Islamabad no longer believes the insurgents can take over the country or wants them to, a common misperception in the West.
"A Taliban victory on the other side of the border would give a huge boost to domestic militants fighting the Pakistani state," said Zahid Hussain, a journalist who has written extensively about Islamabad`s war against the Pakistani Taliban.
Pakistan is also worried that unrest in Afghanistan following the withdrawal of most foreign troops in 2014 could provide the Pakistani Taliban with greater space to establish sanctuaries across the border.
The Afghan and Pakistani Taliban are allies but have focused on different enemies. The Afghan Taliban have battled local and foreign forces in Afghanistan, while the Pakistani Taliban have mainly waged war against Islamabad.
Pakistan`s concerns have led it to conclude that a peace agreement that includes all Afghan groups is in its best interests, and contact with its traditional foes among the non-Pashtuns is necessary to achieve that goal, said Moeed Yusuf, South Asia adviser for the United States Institute of Peace.
"I think the fundamental point here is that there is a serious realisation among some people who matter in Pakistan that they can`t continue to put all their eggs in the Taliban basket because it is too shaky," said Yusuf. "This is a major shift, and a shift that I think everybody should welcome."
The outreach comes as Pakistan, Afghanistan and the US have stepped up efforts to breathe new life into the Taliban peace process, which has been hamstrung by distrust among all the parties involved.