Turkey to try to smooth relations between Afghanistan and Pakistan

Hopes for success at the Istanbul talks are low, given the level of violence in the region and bitter accusations between Kabul and Islamabad.

Afghan Army troops patrol the streets near the scene of a suicide attack Monday that killed five people in Kandahar during a raid on UN and US charity offices.
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ISTANBUL // Turkey will try to calm tensions between Afghanistan and Pakistan in two days of high-level talks in Istanbul that start today and form part of international efforts to map out a future for Afghanistan after the departure of Western troops in 2014.

Hopes for a success of the Istanbul talks are low, given the level of violence in the region and bitter accusations between Kabul and Islamabad 10 years after the start of the war in Afghanistan, officials said yesterday.

"The purpose is to stop the ongoing acrimony between the two sides," a Turkish official said, briefing reporters ahead of the talks and speaking on condition of anonymity.

Turkey wanted to facilitate frank discussions between Afghan and Pakistani officials and "stop them from talking to each other via the media", the Turkish official said. The official added that Turkey was hoping for some kind of "modest cooperation protocol" between Kabul and Islamabad to be signed in Istanbul.

The talks will include a summit of the presidents, key ministers and top military officers of Turkey, Afghanistan and Pakistan as well as a separate foreign minister conference of almost 30 countries. In a sign of the low level of expectations, officials said the mere fact that the meetings were taking place could already be counted as a success.

"The environment is not the most favourable environment," one Turkish official said in reference to the recent violence in Afghanistan. "But there is an overall consensus that something has to be done. Just because the situation is deteriorating, you can't just sit back. We are trying to stop and maybe reverse the course."

With the US-led Nato mission already locked into troop reductions that are scheduled to bring all foreign combat troops home by 2014, Pakistan, the chief diplomatic backer of the Taliban when the group was in power before 2001, is regularly accused by both Kabul and Washington of helping destabilise Afghanistan.

Rejecting the accusations, Asif Ali Zardari, the Pakistani president, told the Turkish newspaper Hurriyet in an interview published yesterday that his country had suffered more from terrorism than any other. "Nobody must doubt our determination and our intentions," Mr Zardari said.

Yesterday, suicide attackers in Kandahar blew up a truck bomb and raided UN and US charity offices, killing five Afghans. The bombing came two days after 17 people died in the deadliest attack yet in Kabul against the US-led Nato mission, including 10 Americans, and three days after a US-run base in Kandahar was targeted.

It is not clear whether the issue of negotiations with the Taliban and other insurgents in Afghanistan would come up in Istanbul. According to TheNew York Times, the US is trying to secure the help of the Pakistani intelligence service to organise reconciliation talks in Afghanistan. The newspaper reported overtures are taking place just a month after the US accused Pakistan's spy agency of secretly supporting militants.

News reports said the Afghan president, Hamid Karzai, will use his visit to Istanbul to announce a second wave of areas that will soon be handed over from Nato to Afghan control.

That will mark the second stage of a transition that began in July and is scheduled to see Afghans take responsibility for national security by 2014.

Hillary Clinton, the US secretary of state, is expected to promote her New Silk Road project linking the economies of Afghanistan and Pakistan with other Central and South Asian countries as part of a long-term plan to boost regional peace and stability.