South Asia News
Pakistan formally urges Taliban to join Afghan peace process
Feb 24, 2012, 11:47 GMT
Islamabad - Pakistan on Friday formally called on militants in Afghanistan to shun violence and join the national reconciliation process.
The appeal by Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani marks a departure for Pakistan, which has shown limited support for the government of Afghan President Hamid Karzai, and has long-standing ties to the Taliban.
'It is now time to turn a new leaf and open a new chapter in the history of Afghanistan,' Gilani said. His statement was a response to a request by Karzai on Tuesday.
'It is our sincere hope that the Taliban leadership, Hizb-e-Islami and all other Afghan political leaders will respond positively to my appeal and agree to enter into direct negotiations in the framework of an intra-Afghan process for reconciliation and peace in Afghanistan,' Gilani said.
Islamabad is believed to wield influence over the militants fighting international and Afghan troops from sanctuaries across the border in Pakistan.
The links date back to the 1990s when Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence spy agency, supported by the United States, trained and equipped Taliban fighters to take over Kabul.
Many analysts believe Pakistani agents maintained links with the militants even after their ouster by the US-led invasion of Afghanistan in 2001, despite criticism from Washington and Kabul.
Last week, Karzai visited Pakistan for a tripartite meeting with the Pakistani and Iranian presidents, where the three sides promised to work for an Afghan-led peace process.
A heated exchange reportedly occurred when Karzai asked Pakistani leaders to produce Taliban leaders for negotiations.
Gilani's statement came as Pakistan's and Afghanistan's relations with Washington have cooled, possibly drawing Islamabad and Kabul closer, according to some observers.
Karzai has been under increasing pressure to distance himself from the United States as civilian casualties have increased resentment of foreign troops.
US-Pakistan relations have been strained since 24 Pakistani border troops were killed by NATO forces in November, and by ongoing US drone strikes on Pakistani territory.
Both Afghanistan and Pakistan objected to the Taliban's establishment of an office in Qatar in January, and the insurgents' subsequent direct contact with US authorities.
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