Talks with Taliban loom over Pakistani-Afghan summit

A plan to reach out to insurgents is likely to dominate talks between Afghanistan and Pakistan today.

ISTANBUL // The leaders of Afghanistan and Pakistan will seek closer co-operation in the fight against militants during a summit in Istanbul today, but a plan to reach out to Taliban insurgents will likely dominate the talks. The Afghan president Hamid Karzai and Pakistani president Asif Ali Zardari meet ahead of a London conference where Afghanistan and the international community are set to agree a framework for the Afghan government to take responsibility for its own security.

The two men were due to hold talks on the sidelines of a summit with Turkey, which has been working behind the scenes to repair relations between Islamabad and Kabul, notably over negotiations with the Taliban. Pakistan has long played an important role in Afghan affairs, having nurtured the Afghan Taliban during the 1990s, but Kabul remains suspicious that Islamabad is pursuing its own agenda in the country to the detriment of Afghanistan.

Masood Khalili, Afghanistan's ambassador to Turkey, told the state news outlet Anatolian the aim of the meeting was to "forge co-operation that might lead to reconciliation in the region. Everybody in the region is thirsty for peace". Mr Karzai, under intense pressure from his Western backers to strengthen Afghanistan's security forces at a time of worsening violence, is preparing a programme to reintegrate some Taliban insurgents in order to encourage them to lay down arms.

Pakistan is seeking to play a role in that process. The Foreign Ministry said on Saturday it was reaching out to "all levels" of the Afghan Taliban in a bid to encourage peace in its neighbour. Signalling Nato was open to a political solution even as the US president Barack Obama sends an extra 30,000 US troops, the commander of Nato forces in Afghanistan said he hopes increased troop levels will weaken the Taliban enough that its leaders will accept a peace deal and bring the war to an end.

Mr Karzai met the Turkish president Abdullah Gul, whose country has increased its diplomatic role in the Muslim world since the ruling AK Party took power in 2002. Mr Gul was to hold separate talks with Zardari later. Military and intelligence officials from Afghanistan and Pakistan, which have a history of mutual distrust, were attending the talks. * Reuters

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