Britain involved in Taliban talks: Hague
Islamabad: Britain is involved in talks with the Taliban, Foreign Secretary William Hague said on Thursday, days after the United States revealed it was in negotiations to end the Afghan war.
"Contacts do take place, but this is an Afghan-led process and Britain will assist and facilitate," Hague told a news conference in Islamabad following a three-day visit to Afghanistan.
"Britain is connected to those events but I don`t want to say any more than that. Any such contacts in any case are at a very preliminary stage," he said.
Seven months ago, Western efforts to contact the Taliban were humiliated when an alleged senior Taliban commander, reportedly groomed by Britain`s MI6 intelligence agency, was exposed as a lowly shopkeeper from Quetta.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai said on Saturday that the United States was holding talks with the Taliban, and US Secretary of Defence Robert Gates confirmed the following day that US officials were in "outreach" negotiations.
Hague, the former Conservative party leader, had earlier told The Sun newspaper: "We are connected to what happens, we will assist where we can and we are strongly supportive of it."
US President Barack Obama, who revealed on Wednesday that he would pull out 33,000 troops from Afghanistan by next summer, said he believed progress could be made in the talks but said they had to be "led by the Afghan government".
Hague said in a press conference in Kabul that Britain would remove all its combat troops from Afghanistan by 2015.
Britain has around 9,500 troops in Afghanistan, making it the second largest contributor of troops to the NATO force in Afghanistan after the United States.
London welcomed Obama`s announcement, adding that "sustained pressure" would be applied to Afghan insurgents despite a troop cutback.
Hague pointed out that even after the American withdrawals, there would still be approximately 100,000 international troops based in Afghanistan.
He called on Pakistan to play a constructive role in reconciliation efforts in Afghanistan and welcomed improved ties between the two neighbours, whose relations are traditionally shrouded in mutual distrust.
Karzai visited Pakistan less than two weeks ago. "There is clearly improved atmosphere in relations and cooperation between the two countries," said Hague.
"Pakistan has an important and responsible role to play in Afghanistan," he said. Taliban and al Qaeda-linked militants have strongholds in Pakistan`s semi-autonomous tribal belt from where they cross into Afghanistan to attack.
Western officials accuse Pakistan`s military establishment of maintaining links to militant groups in order maximise influence in Afghanistan.
Pakistan denies the charges, and was humiliated by a US raid that killed al Qaeda terror chief Osama bin Laden in a military town on May 02.
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