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PM Nawaz pledges support for Taliban peace talks

01 December, 2013

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KABUL: Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif said on Saturday he supported Afghan efforts to seek peace with the Taliban and would help negotiators meet a former senior insurgent commander.

Visiting Kabul for talks with President Hamid Karzai, Nawaz repeated that his government had released former commander Mullah Baradar, who is seen by Afghanistan as important to bringing the Taliban to the negotiating table.

"Anybody who is sent by the (Afghan) president to Pakistan to talk to Mullah Baradar... we will make sure that such meetings would take place," Nawaz told a press briefing.

The one-day visit was Nawaz's first to Afghanistan since he took office in May and came as Karzai is locked in a public dispute with Washington over a security deal covering the role of US soldiers who remain in the country after next year.

"The key to sustainable peace in Afghanistan in 2014 and beyond is an inclusive political settlement," the prime minister said.

"It is imperative to reverse the destructive cycle of conflict... Pakistan will continue to extend all possible facilitation for the Afghan peace process."

Pakistan is seen as crucial to peace in neighbouring Afghanistan as it was a key backer of the 1996-2001 Taliban regime in Kabul and is believed to shelter some of the movement's leaders.

Karzai has previously identified Taliban safe havens in Pakistan as the root cause of the insurgency.

"There is no doubt that since (Nawaz) has taken office... cooperation and relations with Afghanistan has expanded," Karzai said after their meeting.

"Today we talked on how to proceed with the peace process, the American role in the peace process, and on how America, Pakistan and Afghanistan can jointly cooperate," he added, giving no further details.

Nawaz was also due to meet the Afghan High Peace Council, which is seeking to open negotiations with the Taliban insurgents fighting US-led NATO and Afghan forces.

Baradar was arrested in 2010 but freed from jail in Pakistan in September as part of efforts to boost Afghanistan's peace process.

Since his "release" he is reported to have been kept under house arrest by Pakistani authorities.

Afghanistan's peace process has been at a standstill since a Taliban office opened in Qatar in June, enraging Karzai as it was styled as an embassy for a government-in-exile.

The Taliban have refused to have direct contact with Karzai or with the High Peace Council, dismissing them as puppets of Washington.

Karzai, who is due to step down next year, has been stalling over the bilateral security agreement (BSA) that would allow some US troops to stay in Afghanistan for training and counter-terror missions after the NATO combat mission ends.

Washington is keen to complete the deal, but accuses Karzai of introducing new, last-minute conditions despite a "loya jirga" assembly that he convened voting for him to sign the agreement promptly.

The Afghan president has been bitterly critical of the United States, and on Friday rounded on NATO forces over an air strike that he said killed a two-year-old boy in the southern province of Helmand.

Afghan officials say that Afghanistan expects Pakistan to stop militants crossing the border to launch attacks in the run-up to the April presidential elections for Karzai's successor.

The Pakistan government has recently explored possible peace moves with the Pakistani Taliban, who are separate but linked to the Afghan group.

Karzai had visited Pakistan in August on the invitation of Prime Minister Nawaz.

End.

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