Pakistan urges Afghan Taliban to enter peace talks
Islamabad: Pakistan on Friday urged leaders of the Afghan Taliban movement to enter direct peace negotiations with the Kabul government, a possible sign that Islamabad is stepping up support for reconciliation in neighbouring Afghanistan.
Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani said in a statement that it was his "sincere hope" that the Taliban and other groups respond to the appeal.
Regional power Pakistan is critical to efforts to bring the Afghan Taliban to the negotiating table because of its historical ties to the group.
Both Afghan and US officials have long accused Pakistan of using militant groups as proxies in Afghanistan to counter the influence of rival India, allegations Islamabad denies.
Gilani said Pakistan was "prepared to do whatever it takes" to help the Afghan reconciliation process succeed.
His comments indicate Pakistan may now be willing to try to persuade Afghan insurgent groups to pursue peace, as the United States attempts to stabilise the country before foreign combat troops withdraw at the end of 2014.
Afghan officials are holding talks with the Afghan Taliban in Pakistan, the head of a provincial peace council in the insurgency's heartland Kandahar said on Tuesday.
Kandahar peace council head Ata Mohammad Ahmadi said the officials had been meeting for "some time" with mid-level Taliban commanders in the southwest Pakistani city of Quetta, where the leadership of the militant group is said to be based.
It is unlikely that any meetings between Afghan officials and Taliban commanders could take place in Quetta without the knowledge of Pakistan's pervasive intelligence agencies.
Pakistan may have stepped up its cooperation with the Afghan government by allowing the meetings in Quetta.
Afghanistan is known to want access to Taliban leaders belonging to the so-called Quetta Shura, or council, named after the city where they are believed to be based. Kabul believes they would be the decision makers in any substantive peace negotiations aimed at ending the war now in its eleventh year.
Pakistan has consistently denied giving sanctuary to insurgents and says no Taliban leaders are present in Quetta.
Ties between Pakistan and Afghanistan were strained for months after the assassination in September of Afghan peace envoy and former president Burhanuddin Rabbani.
Afghan officials blamed Pakistan's intelligence agency, allegations angrily denied by Islamabad.
But Pakistani Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar said after a recent trip to Kabul that a lot of the ill will between the neighbours had faded.