Islamabad:  Top Afghan peace negotiator Salahuddin Rabbani is due in Pakistan on Wednesday for a two-day visit to discuss Islamabad's possible role in the reconciliation efforts in the war-torn neighbouring country.

Diplomatic observers perceive Rabbani's visit as "extremely important" but cautious optimism prevails in Islamabad ahead of the trip.

Though the visit may help reconciliation efforts in Afghanistan, observers are not hopeful about something major coming out of it.

"The visit would mostly be about rebuilding confidence," one observer was quoted as saying. Small steps were being taken to improve atmospherics, he added.

Rabbani succeeded his father Burhanuddin Rabbani as chairman of the Afghan High Peace Council after the latter was assassinated by a suicide bomber last year. The killing had triggered a diplomatic row, with Afghan officials saying the bomber had come from Pakistan.

The peace council chief was invited to visit Pakistan by Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf last month. Rabbani has been making efforts to revive the reconciliation process that suffered a major setback with the assassination of his father by the bomber who had posed as a Taliban emissary.

Afghanistan had blamed a Pakistan-based Taliban faction for the murder. Pakistan and Afghanistan later launched a joint investigation into the killing but its findings are yet to be made public.

Relations between Pakistan and Afghanistan have been hit by a lack of trust. In recent weeks, the two countries have traded allegations over cross-border raids into Pakistan by Pakistani Taliban fighters based in eastern Afghanistan as well as the Pakistan Army's response to the attacks.

Afghan officials have accused Pakistani troops of intense artillery shelling that have killed Afghan citizens and displaced scores of families. The Pakistani military has alleged that Afghan and foreign troops are not acting against the Pakistani Taliban based in Kunar and Nuristan provinces.

During his meetings with Pakistani leaders, Rabbani is expected to seek their help to bring the Taliban leadership to the negotiating table and the release of Taliban leaders like Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, who Afghans believe could be helpful for the reconciliation process.

The government had in February made a public appeal to the Taliban and other groups fighting in Afghanistan to join an intra-Afghan process for national reconciliation and peace. Pakistani officials have said the government supports a peace agreement and noted that Islamabad had permitted some Taliban representatives to travel to the Gulf this year for talks.

The officials have also said that the Afghan strategy for carrying forward the peace process lacks clarity. Islamabad has also insisted that the peace process must be Afghan-led and Afghan-owned.


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