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Pakistan says stop "blame game" at U.S., Afghan talks
KABUL (Reuters) - Pakistan called on Tuesday for the "blame game" to stop as the United States, Afghanistan and Pakistan met to discuss security in the region amid a Taliban insurgency and heightened tensions over cross border shelling.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai has condemned the firing of 470 rockets from Pakistan into his country over the past three weeks. Islamabad says only that "a few accidental rounds" may have crossed the border when it pursued militants who had attacked its security forces.
The escalation of fighting on the border between Pakistan's ethnic Pashtun tribal areas and Afghanistan has underscored the difficulties the three countries face in working together to reach a political settlement to the 10-year Afghan war.
"We need to end this blame-game," Salman Bashir, Pakistan's Foreign Secretary, told a news conference after a meeting of three countries in Kabul, without making any specific reference to border shelling.
"We need to take ownership for our own affairs. This problem will not go away if we keep on pointing fingers at each other, we have done it for too long."
Afghanistan has often blamed elements within the Pakistan government for supporting the Taliban insurgency.
Pakistan blames Afghanistan for giving refuge to militants on its side of the border, particularly in eastern Kunar province, leaving it vulnerable to counter-attack when it chases them out of its own tribal areas.
In an interview with BBC radio aired on Tuesday, Karl Eikenberry, the U.S. ambassador to Kabul, criticized Islamabad's efforts to deal with militants, saying it dealt well only with those who were a direct threat to Pakistan.
"They have a very chequered track record, a bad track record, of going after insurgents and terrorists who they perceive are not a threat to the Pakistani state," he said.
"I believe that the notion that you can have snakes in your backyard and some of the snakes bite your own children but other snakes can be trained to only bite neighbors' children is not necessarily a sound way ahead."
The talks were formally aimed at mapping out plans for reconciliation with the Taliban, but the shelling had been expected to dominate the agenda.
The meeting, between U.S. envoy Marc Grossman and top diplomats from Afghanistan and Pakistan, followed President Barack Obama's announcement last week of a faster-than-expected troop withdrawal, accompanied by talks with the Taliban.
Top military commanders of Pakistan, Afghanistan and the United States met in Kabul on Monday to review the situation on the border, a Pakistan army statement said.
Pakistan, badly bruised after U.S. forces found and killed Osama bin Laden in the Pakistani town of Abbottabad on May 2, is keen to show it has a constructive role to play in helping the United States to bring stability to Afghanistan.
It has long wanted the United States to hold talks with the Taliban to seek a political settlement to the Afghan conflict which it says is fuelling its own domestic Islamist insurgency.
The United States has come some way toward sharing that view, opening its own preliminary talks with the Taliban.
Karzai has also been pushing for reconciliation with the Taliban and for the first time in the 10-year war, Pakistan, Afghanistan and the United States all share -- in theory at least -- a commitment to seek a political settlement.
(Reporting by Hamid Shalizi and Michael Holden in London; Writing by Alistair Scrutton; Editing by David Stamp)
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