Kabul: Afghan presidential hopeful Ashraf Ghani says rapprochement with the Taliban`s old backers Pakistan, along the lines of France and Germany after World War II, is key to ending instability in his conflict-torn nation.
The race to succeed President Hamid Karzai has narrowed to a two-way fight between Ghani and former foreign minister Abdullah Abdullah following the release of early partial results on Sunday.
Former World Bank academic Ghani told AFP he wants to end years of suspicion and mistrust with Pakistan and forge a "special relationship" with the nuclear power.
There is lasting bitterness among many Afghans at Pakistani interference in their country -- Islamabad historically supported groups in Afghanistan it regarded as favourable to its ends, including the Taliban during their 1996-2001 rule.
In an interview with AFP, Ghani said Afghanistan`s eastern neighbour had changed and a more harmonious relationship was critical for the region and the world.
"Pakistan is a different country. In the past, there was a distinction made between `Good Taliban` and `Bad Taliban`," he said, referring to Islamabad`s one-time backing of the militants in Afghanistan while clamping down on fighters at home.
But Pakistan`s Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, elected in May 2013, "sees extremism as the fundamental challenge", Ghani said.
"The goal is a special relationship between Afghanistan and Pakistan that would resemble that of France and Germany after World War II," he added.
As well as backing the Taliban regime before its fall in a US-led invasion in 2001, Pakistan is still believed to be sheltering the group`s leadership.
Both countries frequently accuse each other of supporting cross-border terror attacks, and Ghani`s position would mark a departure from their presently sour ties.