Britain, Pakistan back bid for Afghan peace

Afghan efforts to negotiate with the Taliban need Islamabad's help if they are to be successful, the leaders of Afghanistan, Britain and Pakistan emphasised Thursday, following three-way talks in Kabul.

British leader David Cameron and Afghan President Hamid Karzai met Pakistan's new Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf for the first time, as British and NATO combat troops prepare to leave Afghanistan in 18 months' time.

Karzai has long sought to negotiate with the Taliban, who have been fighting for a decade to topple his Western-backed government, but the Islamist militia has in public refused to deal with his administration, branding it an American puppet.

Earlier this year the Taliban also announced that it had abandoned contact with US officials in Qatar aimed at securing a prisoner swap.

During the talks, Karzai reiterated the "urgency" of a political solution. His office said Ashraf and Cameron reaffirmed support for such a process, "led and owned by Afghans, facilitated by Pakistan and other regional countries".

Relations between Afghanistan and Pakistan traditionally suffer from distrust and mutual blame for the Taliban violence that plagues both countries.

Kabul has repeatedly asked Islamabad to assist efforts to broker a peace deal with the Taliban, whose leaders have traditionally had close ties to Pakistan.

But the extent to which Pakistan has control over core Taliban leaders -- and how far it can go to facilitate a peace process -- remains unclear.

In a separate joint declaration by Afghanistan and Pakistan, the two leaders "expressed the hope that Pakistan's support to the Afghan peace process would contribute to durable peace and stability in Afghanistan".

"The Pakistani side... underlined its determination to redouble efforts in facilitating direct intra-Afghan contacts and negotiations," the statement said.

Pakistan's oldest newspaper, Dawn, on Thursday counselled Pakistan to "begin to match its claims and demands with what it can actually deliver".

"It will need to demonstrate at least a genuine effort to try to persuade the Taliban (which) it does have contact with, to talk to the Afghan government and the US -- and turning over prisoners could be a first step," the newspaper wrote.

Afghanistan shares a disputed and unmarked 2,400-kilometre (1,500-mile) border with Pakistan, and Taliban and other Al-Qaeda-linked militants have carved out strongholds on either side.

According to the tripartite statement, Cameron and the other two leaders "reiterated their strong commitment to working together to eliminate" terrorism, which "poses the gravest threat to regional and international security".

"They also emphasised the importance of peace in Afghanistan for the peace and security of Pakistan," the statement added.

Cameron warned the Taliban at a joint news conference with Karzai that the international community would continue to support the Afghan government after NATO troops pull out in 2014.

A NATO conference in Chicago and a donor conference in Tokyo had recently shown the West's commitment to the war-torn country, he said.

"I think this sends a very clear message to the Taliban, that you cannot wait this out until foreign forces leave in 2014, because we will be firm friends and supporters of Afghanistan long beyond then.

"So now is the time for everyone to participate in a peaceful political process in Afghanistan."

Karzai said the peace process was "the most important goal that we pursue", adding that Thursday's talks were "to see how we could intensify the Pakistan role in the Afghan peace process".

Britain has around 9,500 troops in Afghanistan, making it the second-largest contributor to NATO's US-led 130,000-strong International Security Assistance Force.

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