Pak, Afghan, US resume contact to facilitate endgame

Afghanistan, Pakistan and the US agreed to explore ways to arrange safe passage for Taliban militants wanting to join the Afghan reconciliation process.

Islamabad: Afghanistan, Pakistan and the US on Friday agreed to explore ways to arrange safe passage for Taliban militants wanting to join the Afghan reconciliation process as the three countries resumed contacts to facilitate the endgame in the war-torn nation.

Senior officials of the three countries decided to form two new sub-groups to push the peace and reconciliation process in Afghanistan.

One sub-group, comprising officials from permanent missions at the United Nations, will coordinate activities at the world body while the second will examine the issue of safe passage for Afghan Taliban militants who give up violence.

Deputy Foreign Minister Jawed Ludin, who led the Afghan team at the meeting of the "Core Group" of the three countries, said Kabul expected Islamabad to facilitate contacts with the Taliban.

Safe passage for militants taking part in talks will have a cascading effect and encourage other rebels to join the peace process, he said.

"We need to be able to find those who are willing to talk wherever they are... We need to provide safe passage and an environment where they feel safe and confident that they can engage in peace talks without any consequence," said Ludin.

The American team at the talks was led by Special Representative Marc Grossman while Foreign Secretary Jalil Abbas Jillani headed the Pakistani side.

The Core Group of the three countries met in Islamabad for the first time since September last year as part of efforts to revive stalled talks with the Taliban and to resume cooperation for the endgame in Afghanistan.

"We really welcome this initiative of the safe passage, which will mean our experts can meet and take this process further," Ludin said.

Foreign Secretary Jillani said the formation of the sub-group to examine safe passage was an "important" development.

Cooperation between Pakistan and Afghanistan stalled after the assassination last year of Afghan High Peace Council chief Burhanuddin Rabbani, which officials in Kabul had blamed on elements based on Pakistani soil.

Relations between Islamabad and Washington hit a low after a cross-border NATO air strike killed 24 Pakistani soldiers in November last year.

The US has been keen to rope in Pakistan`s support for the Afghan peace process ahead of the withdrawal of most foreign troops from Afghanistan by 2014.

Pakistan wants a larger role in Afghanistan to reduce what it perceives as India`s growing influence.

During their interaction with the media, Grossman, Ludin and Jillani expressed the hope that the three countries would continue close cooperation in the Afghan peace process.

They agreed to work collectively on the basis of mutual respect and interest.

Jillani said Pakistan has reiterated its support for an "Afghan-led and Afghan-owned peace process."

He said, "Peace and stability in Afghanistan is the core national objective of Pakistan."

Grossman said the US will only open the doors of dialogue to those Taliban elements that have been cleared by the Afghan government.

Ludin said Afghanistan wants to engage in direct talks with the Taliban and other groups to achieve the objective of reconciliation.

The Core Group also discussed issues like improved border management and illicit drug trafficking.

The three sides exchanged views on several bilateral and regional economic projects.