ISLAMABAD: Afghanistan and Pakistan on Saturday held the first meeting of a joint peace commission, vowing to fight terrorism and cooperate towards establishing peace in the violence-wracked region.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai was in Islamabad for a second day of talks, just weeks after US Navy SEALs killed Osama bin Laden in Pakistan, heightening calls within the United States for a peaceful settlement in Afghanistan.
Relations between Kabul and Islamabad are often shrouded in distrust and mutual recriminations over the violence plaguing both their countries.
But the presence of Taliban havens in Pakistan and Pakistan's reputed ties to insurgent leaders in the Afghan Taliban and Haqqani network make its involvement vital in any sustainable peace deal in Afghanistan, experts say.
The Pakistani military said CIA chief Leon Panetta, who has been nominated to replace US Defense Secretary Robert Gates on July 1, was also in town, although there was no immediate word on whether he met Karzai.
The army said he held talks with Pakistani military and intelligence officials on ways to strengthen intelligence sharing in the fallout of the bin Laden raid, which severely strained the already troubled US-Pakistani alliance.
The Taliban-led insurgency in Afghanistan is now into a 10th year with violence at record levels. Pakistan is also fighting a homegrown Taliban insurgency in its northwest and there are near daily militant bomb attacks.
Karzai and Pakistani Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani led the first meeting of a joint commission for reconciliation and peace, pledging that the body would meet again in Kabul but without announcing a date.
They committed to an Afghan-led process of reconciliation and peace, and called for the support of all Afghanistan's international allies, the Pakistani foreign ministry said.
Both sides committed to work “closely together” for reconciliation and peace in a “holistic and comprehensive manner”, and to intensify intelligence and military cooperation, it added.
“We are fighting our own war,” Zardari told reporters with Karzai on Friday.
“We support the people and the government of Afghanistan. We support them.
We cannot expect peace in the region without peace in Afghanistan,” he added.
Karzai said the relationship between the “twin” countries had improved.
“The struggle (to fight terror) is the struggle of all and the victory will be in the interests of all,” he said.
Former Afghan president Burhanuddin Rabbani, who heads Karzai's High Council for Peace, urged Pakistan to help end the conflict in Afghanistan after talks with pro-Taliban cleric Fazlur Rehman, who heads a prominent Islamic party.
Karzai set up the council last year to seek talks with the Taliban in return for them laying down their arms and accepting the constitution.
The Taliban have rejected peace overtures in public, although some experts believe the death of bin Laden, whom Taliban supreme leader Mullah Omar refused to surrender after the September 11, 2001 attacks, could be a spur.
Pakistan was a main ally of the Taliban until it joined the US-led “war on terror” following the attacks on New York and Washington and subsequently started fighting a homegrown Taliban insurgency along the Afghan border.
But its feared intelligence services are thought to maintain links to Afghan insurgents with strongholds on its territory, namely the Haqqani network, one of the staunchest US enemies in Afghanistan, and Afghan Taliban leaders.
Fighting between the Taliban and US-led Nato troops in Afghanistan has become deadlier each year since the 2001 invasion, with Washington sending an extra 30,000 American troops last year in order to deliver a decisive blow.
The 130,000 international troops today in the country are due to start limited withdrawals from July with the Afghan police and army scheduled to take control of security gradually before the end of 2014.
In Pakistan, more than 4,400 people have been killed in attacks blamed on Taliban and other extremist networks based in the tribal belt since government troops stormed a radical mosque in Islamabad in 2007.