ISLAMABAD, Oct 22: Afghanistan admitted on Wednesday it had held talks with the Taliban, but said the peace process could go ahead only with those who are ready to reconcile and live peacefully.

“We are at the beginning of the peace process and we are ready to talk to all those elements that are ready to begin a peaceful life in Afghanistan …. and lay down their arms,” Afghan Foreign Minister Dr Rangin Dadfar Spanta said at a joint press conference with his Pakistani counterpart Mr Shah Mehmood Qureshi, after their talks at the Foreign Office.

“The two conditions of the Afghan government for the talks are respect for the country’s constitution and a sincere desire to renounce violence,” the Afghan minister added.

The confirmation came a day after Saudi Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal confirmed that his country had facilitated talks last month between the Afghan government and the Taliban at the request of President Karzai.

Mr Spanta’s confirmation of the peace initiative was the first by one of the parties to the talks.

US Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs Richard Boucher had during his visit to Islamabad earlier this week expressed a partial support for the peace process.

The Afghan foreign minister said that a comprehensive approach needed for effectively tackling terrorism and supported all initiatives to bring peace to Afghanistan and the region.

Foreign Minister Qureshi said: “I have been informed by Mr Spanta that there was an informal engagement between clergymen from the Afghan government and elements from the country’s previous set-up.”

He said the new Afghan policy was a vindication of Pakistan’s initiative of politically engaging militants in its tribal belt which had been criticised by both Afghanistan and the West.

“The world is now coming much closer to our point of view. We call it a multi-pronged strategy while they describe it as a comprehensive approach,” he added.

BILATERAL TIES: The Spanta-Qureshi meeting decided to strengthen relations between the two countries.

“We have been able to overcome the hiccups in the past,” Mr Qureshi said and announced complete resumption of ties which had been strained after the bombing of the Indian embassy in Kabul.

The two sides agreed to hold strategic talks regularly and oversee the working of a specialised commission comprising experts from political, economic and security sectors.

Mr Qureshi shared with Mr Spanta a draft declaration on “Directions of Bilateral Cooperation”, which suggests cooperation for establishing transport and communication corridors, setting up trans-border economic zones, improving connectivity through rail and collaborating in energy and mineral development projects.

The two ministers discussed an agreement reached on modalities for holding mini-jirga (jirga gai) in Islamabad on Oct 27-28.

They expressed satisfaction over the preparatory work for holding the 7th Joint Economic Commission in Kabul in November and the 3rd Regional Economic Cooperation Conference on Afghanistan in January next year in Islamabad.

ANTI-TERROR COOPERATION: The two ministers agreed to collaborate closely to combat extremism and militancy which posed a great threat to the regional and international peace. In this context, the two sides decided to have regular contacts on political, military, security and intelligence fronts.

Mr Spanta said dealing with terrorist activities was a common responsibility and called for destruction of all terrorist sanctuaries, training facilities and ‘ideological reproduction centres’, which propagated the message of hate, violence and intolerance.

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