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Karzai Stresses Pakistan's Role In Afghan Reconciliation


Pakistani Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani (right) meets with Afghan President Hamid Karzai in Islamabad.
(RFE/RL) -- Visiting Afghan President Hamid Karzai says Islamabad has an "important" role to play in Kabul's proposed reconciliation talks with Afghan insurgent groups.

In a joint press conference today with Pakistani Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani, Karzai tried to shun speculation that Kabul is attempting to sideline Pakistan while reaching out to Afghan Taliban leaders.

Without Pakistani cooperation, he said, "Afghanistan cannot be stable or peaceful."

"There is a recognition now -- I am certain, in both nations -- of the opportunities together and on the dangers that we have faced together," Karzai said. "And that it is upon both of us a responsibility towards our own nations and towards the future generations that we notice the dangers and that we work together to remove them, to take them away from amongst us, and to work together toward stability and peace in both countries."

During his visit, Karzai made visible efforts to convince Islamabad that Kabul would not allow India to use its soil against Pakistan. The effort is an attempt to challenge Pakistani strategic thinking, which experts say emphasizes supporting Afghan extremist groups to counter the influence of its South Asian archenemy in Afghanistan.

Afghanistan, Karzai told journalists, did not want to become a battleground for power struggles between major regional or world powers.

"Afghanistan does not want any proxy wars on its territory. It does not want a proxy war between India and Pakistan on Afghanistan. It does not want a proxy war between Iran and the United States on Afghanistan," he said. "It does not want any big or small country, nearby or far, to engage in any activity against another nation in Afghanistan."

'Double Game'

Karzai's comment also comes after Iran and the United States this week traded accusations of double dealing over the conflict in Afghanistan.

There needs to be much greater effort to reach out, not just to disaffected Afghans, but to the country's neighbors and near neighbors.
On March 10, Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad used a trip to Kabul to lambast Afghanistan's Western allies, including an accusation that it was Washington -- not Tehran -- who was playing a "double game" in Afghanistan.

Experts suggest that the key aim of Karzai's visit is to press for the transfer of key captured Taliban leaders, including the group's operational chief Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, who was captured in the southern Pakistani seaport city of Karachi last month.

Gilani reiterated his country's support for Afghanistan, saying Pakistan placed "its full weight behind the agenda and vision outlined by the Afghan people and their elected leadership."

But on the extradition issue, Gilani said Islamabad's hands were tied by a court decision last month barring it from handing over recently arrested key Taliban leaders.

"We have our own judiciary and they are quite active," he said. "And we are consulting with the legal experts, too, and we will sit with them and discuss it and we will get back" to Karzai.

In a sign of increasing cooperation, Islamabad and Kabul on March 10 were reported to have agreed on reviving the stalled peace jirgas or tribal councils during a meeting between Karzai and his Pakistani counterpart, Asif Ali Zardari.

Pushed Toward Reconciliation

The two sides reportedly agreed on a road map under which they will hold a jirgagai, or small meeting, after a domestic Afghan peace jirga on April 29. That meeting is meant to set out the Afghan government's plan of reconciling with moderate Taliban members and get the backing of the entire Afghan political spectrum.

A follow-up loya jirga, or grand assembly, will then be held in Islamabad later this year. The first peace jirga between the two neighbors was held in Kabul in 2007.

Despite Ahmedinejad's controversial remarks, Western leaders appear to be keen on pushing Kabul toward reconciliation with its domestic foes and developing good relations with its neighbors. In a major policy speech in the United States on March 10, British Foreign Secretary David Miliband outlined Western thinking.

"If Afghanistan is to have a more peaceful and prosperous future, it needs not just a new internal political settlement but also an external one," he said. "There needs to be much greater effort to reach out, not just to disaffected Afghans, but to the country's neighbors and near neighbors."

That greater effort, some argue, needs to be matched with money and political support.

On March 10, Zardari called for a "Marshall Plan" for Pakistan and Afghanistan to rid the countries of Taliban militancy, referring to the U.S. initiative to rebuild Western Europe after World War II.