ISLAMABAD: Afghan President Hamid Karzai asked Pakistan on Monday to help arrange peace talks between his government and Taliban insurgents, and called for a joint campaign against extremism in both countries.
The two leaders in a one-on-one meeting at the Prime Minister House in Islamabad that lasted for an hour, focused on issues of common interest including strengthening of bilateral ties and the evolving situation in the region.
Karzai acknowledged that the “continued menace of terrorism” was a primary concern for people in Pakistan, where thousands have been killed in the last decade, as well as in Afghanistan.
“It is this area that needs to have primary and focused attention by both governments,” Karzai said.
“It is with hope on this that I have come to Pakistan... to advance the course of action together... but also by having a common campaign against extremism, (to) make sure that the two countries are safer and prosperous towards a secure future.”
Sharif wished Afghanistan well in the transition from Nato to Afghan security control and reiterated support for peace and reconciliation to be “Afghan-owned and Afghan-led”.
“I assured President Karzai that Pakistan will continue to extend all possible facilitation to the international community's efforts for the realisation of this noble goal,” he said.
“I also reaffirmed Pakistan's strong and sincere support for peace and reconciliation in Afghanistan.”
Analysts say Pakistan can encourage and provide logistical support for Taliban peace talks, but cannot force them to negotiate against their will.
The Taliban have publicly refused to have any contact with Karzai's government, branding it a puppet of the United States.
Afghan government peace negotiators accompanying Karzai have called for the release of the most senior Taliban figure detained in Pakistan, former deputy leader Abdul Ghani Baradar.
No mention was made about prisoner releases in the short statements made by Sharif and Karzai. Questions were not allowed.
Pakistan released 26 Taliban prisoners late last year, including the militants' former justice minister Nooruddin Turabi.
Afghan officials believe the releases can encourage former detainees to talk to the Kabul government, although observers say there is little evidence those hopes have been realised. Several prisoners are also understood to have returned to the battlefield.
The one-on-one meeting between Sharif and his Afghan counterpart was followed by delegation-level talks.
The Afghan delegation included Foreign Minister Dr Zalmai Rassoul, National Security Advisor Dr Rangin Dadfar Spanta, Minister for Finance Hazrat Omer Zakhilwall, Minister for Commerce Dr Anwar ul Haq Ahady, Deputy Foreign Minister for Political Affairs Ershad Ahmadi, Chairman Transition Coordination Commission Dr Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai, Chairman High Peace Council Salahuddin Rabbani and Afghan ambassador to Pakistan Muhammad Umer Daudzai.
The Pakistan side comprised Minister for Finance Muhammad Ishaq Dar, Minister for Interior Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan, Advisor to PM on National Security Sartaj Aziz, Special Assistant to PM on Foreign Affairs Tariq Fatemi, Chief of the Army Staff General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, DG ISI Gen Muhammad Zahir ul Islam, Foreign Secretary Jalil Abbas Jilani and Secretary Commerce Qasim M Niaz.
Later on Monday, Afghan and Pakistani officials told news agency AFP that Karzai had extended his one-day visit in the hope of having fresh talks with Sharif on Tuesday.
He would spend the night at the Pakistani hill resort of Murree, a short drive from the capital and popular with holidaymakers for its balmy summer climes in the mountains, Pakistani officials said.
He extended his trip for another day at Sharif's request, an official in Karzai's office told AFP. “He was asked to stay by Nawaz Sharif for more talks,” he added.
Pakistani foreign ministry spokesman Aizaz Ahmed Chaudhry told AFP that Karzai was in Murree and would return to Kabul on Tuesday.
“We expect him to meet Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif tomorrow in Murree. The confirmation of this expected meeting and schedule of other activities will be available tomorrow,” said an official in Sharif's office.
Karzai has made 19 trips to Pakistan but this was his first meeting with Sharif since Sharif's landslide election win in May.
He is due to step down at presidential elections in April, while Pakistan's new government is still grappling with policy and its army is preparing to change its commander later this year.