Afghanistan, Pakistan to resume talks on Afghan peace
KABUL (Reuters) - Pakistan and Afghanistan agreed on Thursday to resume regular talks on Afghanistan's peace process, with the new Pakistani prime minister promising to help arrange meetings between Afghan and Taliban representatives.
Following day-long talks in Kabul, also involving Britain's visiting Prime Minister David Cameron, Pakistani premier Raja Pervez Ashraf and Afghan President Hamid Karzai said they had agreed to resume meetings of the two-track Peace Commission.
The commission, which drew together political and military leaders from both neighbors, was suspended last year following the assassination of former Afghan president and peace envoy Burhanuddin Rabbani. Afghan officials accused Pakistani intelligence of being involved in the killing.
Pakistan is seen as crucial to stability in Afghanistan as most foreign combat troops look to leave the country in 2014, given its close political and economic ties and because militants' sanctuaries straddle the mountainous border.
But Afghan officials have openly accused Islamabad of doing little to help them reach senior Taliban leaders that Kabul says are based in Pakistan. Pakistan denies this and also the existence of senior insurgents within its territory.
"Pakistan is playing the role of facilitator ... If Pakistan can facilitate in any manner, we will do it," Ashraf told reporters at Karzai's garden palace in Kabul.
Ashraf, a former water and power minister, was elected as Pakistan's prime minister a month ago, and his visit to Kabul on Thursday was his first in his new role.
"Let me assure you that Pakistan does not support any terrorists. It is not in our interest and we cannot afford it," he said.
Both leaders said Rabbani's son Salahuddin Rabbani - who replaced his father as head of Afghanistan's High Peace Council, the body tasked with reaching out to the Taliban - would travel to Pakistan for talks soon. It would be his first visit since his appointment in April.
"The peace process is the most important of pursuits for Afghanistan. It remains the highest priority," Karzai said.
British Prime Minister Cameron, who signed a deal with Karzai to fund a new Afghan military academy dubbed "Sandhurst in the sand" following a visit to British troops in south-west Helmand province, said the Taliban could not wait out NATO.
He also urged Pakistan and Afghanistan to join forces in the fight against insurgents in both countries, warning they must be "together in one single fight."
"The terrorists that are trying to wreck Afghanistan are by and large the same terrorists that are trying to wreck Pakistan. This is one fight that we all need to be engaged in," Cameron said.
Violence in Afghanistan is at its fiercest since U.S.-led Afghan troops overthrew the Taliban government in 2001, and as foreign soldiers progressively hand over to Afghan security forces.
But hopes of establishing peace talks between Karzai's government and the Taliban this year faded after the militants' reclusive leadership suspended participation in preliminary discussions run by U.S. diplomats.
That setback refocused attention on nascent efforts by the Afghan government to open its own channels with insurgent intermediaries, despite the fact the Taliban publicly says it will not talk to what it deems an illegitimate "puppet" government.
Some foreign soldiers will remain in Afghanistan in an advisory and training role after 2014, while special forces troops from several countries are also expected to stay on.
The militant Haqqani network poses an ongoing threat and has been blamed for several high-profile attacks in the Afghan capital, including an assault last month on a hotel resort on Kabul's fringe in which 20 people were killed.
Also underscoring Islamabad's importance is that supply routes crucial to NATO forces in Afghanistan also run through Pakistan, and only recently re-opened after a seven-month freeze caused by the deaths of 24 Pakistani soldiers in a NATO strike.
(Additional reporting by Mohammed Abbas and Hamid Shalizi; Writing by Rob Taylor; Editing by Pravin Char)