June 6, 2008 / 11:11 AM / 11 years ago

Pakistan tries to assure Afghans over Taliban talks

KABUL (Reuters) - Pakistan’s foreign minister sought on Friday to allay Afghanistan’s concerns that peace talks with Pakistani Taliban would lead to more militant attacks on the Afghan side of the border.

Pakistan's Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi (L) shakes hands with his Afghan counterpart Rangeen Dadfar Spanta during a news conference in Kabul June 6, 2008. REUTERS/Ahmad Masood

“We will not engage with terrorists, we will not compromise with terrorists. And those who would take up arms and guns are neither your friends nor our friends,” Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi told a joint news conference in Kabul.

The United States and NATO commanders share doubts about Pakistan’s proposed peace pact with Baitullah Mehsud, the leader of the Pakistani Taliban, based in South Waziristan.

NATO says Taliban attacks have jumped up along the border areas since the start of talks in recent weeks.

The Pakistan army carried out an operation in January to bottle up Baitullah Mehsud’s forces in their mountain fastness, after the country had reeled from a wave of suicide attacks in the previous six months.

Pakistan’s new government, sworn in at the end of March, followed up by negotiating with elders of the Mehsud tribe in a bid to bring the Taliban leader to heel.

But Baitullah Mehsud has said he would carry on fighting Afghan and foreign forces in Afghanistan whatever the outcome of the peace talks.

Standing alongside Afghan Foreign Minister Rageen Dadfar Spanta, Qureshi said the new government in Islamabad wanted to build a relationship with Kabul, based on “trust and understanding.”

Relations between Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf and Afghan President Hamid Karzai, two crucial U.S. allies in the war on terrorism, have frequently been fraught.

But Musharraf’s power has been dwindling since the civilian government was sworn in, and Pakistan political analysts say he may soon step down.

Aside from age-old disputes over the border, the Pakistani military had supported the Taliban militia when it seized control of Afghanistan in the mid-1990s.

Musharraf, who was then army chief, only withdrew backing for the Taliban after coming under intense pressure from the United States in the wake of al Qaeda’s September 11 attacks.

Afghans suspect that elements within the Pakistani military have allowed the Taliban’s leadership to operate secretly from the southwestern city of Quetta, in the hope that one day, after Western forces have gone, they will be able to help form a pro-Pakistan government in Kabul.

Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore

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