Turkish President Abdullah Gul (L), his Pakistani counterpart Ali Atif Zerdari (C) and Afghan counterpart Hamid Karzai (R) leave Ciragan Palace for a lunch on November 1, 2011 after their meeting in Istanbul before a trilateral summit between Turkey, Afghanistan and Pakistan. – AFP

ISTANBUL: Afghanistan and Pakistan held their first talks on Tuesday since the assassination of an Afghan peace negotiator, in a meeting hosted by Turkey to heal a rift undermining prospects of ending the Afghan war.

Hamid Karzai and Asif Ali Zardari met along with Turkish President Abdullah Gul while their army chiefs consulted ahead of an international conference on Afghanistan.

Afghanistan accuses Pakistan's Inter-Service Intelligence (ISI) agency of supporting Taliban insurgents who have launched a string of dramatic attacks in recent months as foreign troops prepare to pull out most combat troops by 2014.

It broke off talks with Pakistan after the assassination in September of Afghan peace negotiator Burhanuddin Rabbani, which it blamed on Taliban insurgents it said were based in the Pakistani city of Quetta.

“Now is perhaps the time to try to reverse the course,” a Turkish official said on the eve of the talks between Karzai, Zardari and Gul.

“We sense that they have a genuine wish to talk to each other because they realise this trend is not helping either of them,” he said.

Islamabad, which denies supporting the Taliban, has complained in turn that insurgents from the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), or Pakistani Taliban, have been using Afghanistan as a base from which to launch attacks in Pakistan.

With the United States and its allies hoping to hand over responsibility for security to Afghan forces by 2014, the rift between Islamabad and Kabul has stoked fears Afghanistan will face an escalating civil war as foreign troops pull out.

PAKISTAN ARMY CHIEF AT TALKS

With Pakistan's foreign and security policy set largely by the Pakistan Army, its chief, General Ashfaq Pervez Kayani, was holding separate talks in Istanbul with Afghanistan army chief General Sher Mohammad Karimi and the head of the Turkish military.

The trilateral talks will be followed by a regional conference on Afghanistan to be attended by Indian Foreign Minister S.M. Krishna and their counterparts from France and Germany, among others.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton cancelled her trip because of the ill health of her mother.

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