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Aziz seeks to allay Afghan concerns

July 22, 2013

KABUL, July 21: Pakistan is willing to help jumpstart long-stalled peace talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban to try to end the more than 12-year war in Afghanistan if the parties request its help, Sartaj Aziz, Special Adviser on National Security and Foreign Affairs, said here on Sunday.

He said during his daylong visit to Afghanistan that Pakistan had in the past helped persuade some Taliban factions to discuss peace and also had played a role in helping the group’s representatives travel to Qatar before those efforts stalled.

“In the future, to the extent we are requested, we can play the same role but at the appropriate time and in consultation with other interested parties.”

Mr Aziz said Pakistan was again prepared to ease the movement of Taliban negotiators and release more detainees belonging to the organisation should the Afghan government request it.

“I have brought a message of cordiality and goodwill for Afghanistan,” he said at a news conference after meeting the Afghan foreign minister.

“The main purpose of my visit, as some of you may know, is to convey a formal invitation from Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to President Karzai to visit Pakistan,” he said.

“For us, a peaceful, stable and united Afghanistan is in the interest of Pakistan,” he said, calling for a “close relationship” and reiterating Pakistan’s support for an “Afghan-led” peace process with the Taliban.

Mr Aziz denied perceptions that Pakistan controlled the Taliban and said it could only help bring about a deal and not impose one.

“We have some contacts with the Taliban because of the past but we don’t control them.”

He said Pakistan had eased the movement of negotiators and released 26 Taliban detainees at the request of the Afghan government.

Mr Aziz denied allegations of trying to break up Afghanistan or planning to end the Afghan war with a power-sharing role for the Taliban.

He said Pakistan wanted a reset on diplomacy with Afghanistan after a sharp deterioration triggered by botched efforts to aid US efforts to start peace talks with the Taliban in Qatar.

“Without peace and security in Afghanistan, peace and security in Pakistan cannot be ensured,” he said.

Mr Aziz said Pakistan had facilitated travel to Qatar by Taliban representatives at the request of Afghanistan’s High Peace Council. “It is for Afghans themselves to decide what system and what kind of post-2014 arrangement they would like to have.”

He said that Pakistan would extend its full support and cooperation in holding intra-Afghan talks for peace and stability in Afghanistan.

However, he said any peace talks must be Afghan-owned and Afghan-led.

“The PML-N government wants to expand relations with Afghanistan,” he said.

He said Pakistan wanted to remove all barriers in the way of trade between the countries. He said expansion in trade would bring prosperity for the people of both countries, besides improving the economy.

Afghan Foreign Minister Zalmai Rassoul said efforts on both sides to strengthen relations, fight terrorism and ignite peace talks “have not been successful”.“I hope the new government of Pakistan will open a new chapter in Pakistan-Afghan relations,” he said.--Agencies