January 30, 2010 / 7:08 PM / 10 years ago

Pakistan must play bigger Afghanistan role-Merkel

* Pakistan could have big role

* Reconciliation depends on international community-Karzai

* Withdrawal without reaching goals "irresponsible"-Merkel

(Adds Karzai quotes, background)

BERLIN, Jan 30 (Reuters) - Pakistan should be more closely involved in solving the Afghan conflict, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said in a newspaper interview due to be published on Sunday.

"There will be no peace in this region unless Pakistan carries its share of responsibility," Merkel told German weekly Welt am Sonntag.

"For a comprehensive solution, we need a much greater involvement of Afghan authorities and the inclusion of neighbouring countries, in particular Pakistan."

Pakistan’s involvement has been limited because after decades of involvement in Afghan affairs, Pakistan intelligence is viewed with deep suspicion by both Kabul and the Taliban.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai, who this week invited the Taliban’s leaders to a peace council as part of efforts to end years of fighting, uses the former Taliban ambassador to Pakistan as a go-between with insurgents.

In an interview with news magazine Der Spiegel, he said it was important for Afghanistan’s neighbours and the international community to be involved in an Afghan plan to reintegrate rank-and-file Taliban fighters.

"(The political leaders of the Taliban) have their own relations to other countries, to al Qaeda and other terror networks," Karzai said.

"Therefore our neighbours and the international community have to also participate in the reconciliation process."

Karzai said it was an "indispensable precondition" for insurgents to break off all contacts with terrorist networks in order to qualify for the new reintegration programme.

Germany has said it is committed to boosting troop levels in Afghanistan and nearly doubling civilian aid to create the conditions to start a withdrawal from next year. [ID:nLDE60P0YJ]

But Merkel has refused to set a date for the withdrawal of troops, saying this could encourage the Taliban to lay low for a while and then launch a big attack.

"A withdrawal without reaching our goals and a unilateral German pull out would not be a handover of responsibility but an act of irresponsibility," she said.

Polls show that a sizeable majority of Germans favour an immediate withdrawal from Afghanistan. According to NATO figures, Germany had 4,280 soldiers in Afghanistan as of December last year.

(For a Q+A on what Pakistan wants in Afghanistan, double click on [ID:nSGE60Q06T] )

(Reporting by Sarah Marsh; editing by Michael Roddy)



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