At a news conference here, Mr Gilani and Afghan President Hamid Karzai said an upgraded Afghanistan-Pakistan Joint Commission comprising top-ranking officials was being set up to accelerate and promote a peace process. — AP Photo

KABUL: Pakistan stands strongly behind efforts to make peace with the Taliban and that while the US will play a role in any reconciliation, Kabul should set the parameters for any talks to end the war, Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani said on Saturday.

At a news conference here, Mr Gilani and Afghan President Hamid Karzai said an upgraded Afghanistan-Pakistan Joint Commission comprising top-ranking officials was being set up to accelerate and promote a peace process.

Mr Gilani, Army chief Gen Ashfaq Parvez Kayani and Inter Services Intelligence Gen Ahmed Shuja Pasha flew to Kabul at a time when US relations with both countries are under strain. Political observers attached great significance to the presence of Pakistan's “power elite” at the Afghan presidential palace at the same time.

The two countries announced the upgradation of a joint commission for peace in an attempt to end militancy in Afghanistan.

Prime Minister Gilani said he and Burhanuddin Rabbani, a former Afghan president and chief of the Peace Council, would lead talks involving the military and intelligence chiefs from both sides for the first time.

Mr Gilani and Mr Karzai, who held exhaustive talks at the presidential palace, described the parleys as “historic”, saying that “the two countries stand together as they have shared destinies”.

“Today's visit, I believe, has been one of the most historical and unprecedented meetings because all the stakeholders were with us,” Mr Gilani said at a joint news conference with Afghan President Hamid Karzai.

The original commission was set up in January.

Mr Karzai said he had discussed the move with US counterpart Barack Obama during a phone call last week, and the upgraded commission had the full backing of the United States. “We welcome the participation of the US in this tripartite arrangement...We have recently seen more interest by the US in the peace process,” he told the news conference. But both Mr Gilani and Mr Karzai were keen to emphasise that the peace process would remain “Afghan-led and Afghan-owned”.

“We firmly believe that this process must have full Afghan ownership,” Prime Minister Gilani said, adding that it was for the Afghan nation to determine the parameters on which a reconciliation and peace process would be shaped.

“Conditions, qualifications or demands at this stage, in our view, may not be helpful,” he added.

In reply to a question about President Asif Ali Zardari's recent statement in which he warned that a destabilised Afghanistan could have a negative impact on Pakistan, Mr Gilani said he fully endorsed the views. He said his visit was aimed at working out a common strategy to jointly fight terrorism as it was a threat to both the nations.

Asked whether the United States was on board regarding the joint peace initiative, the prime minister said “the US is on board. That's our core group and whatever will be decided, will be between Pakistan, Afghanistan and the US”.

In reply to a question about Al Qaeda's presence in Pakistan, Mr Gilani said: “It is your country's (Afghanistan's) problem and you have to decide and set parameters.”

About the role of the United States in Afghanistan, the premier said “whatever is the policy of the US on Afghanistan, Pakistan will support Afghanistan”.—Agencies Inside

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