(AFP) – Oct 28, 2008
ISLAMABAD (AFP) — Pakistani and Afghan officials and tribal leaders agreed Tuesday to make contact with Taliban militants in an attempt to end the raging insurgent violence along their porous border.
The declaration came after two days of talks in Islamabad aimed at finding a lasting solution to the unrest which has wracked the region since the US-led toppling of Afghanistan's Taliban regime in 2001.
It follows the revelation that the Afghan government met with former members of the Taliban government for talks in Saudi Arabia and comes amid reports that Washington is also ready for a change in strategy.
"We agreed that contacts should be established with the opposition in both countries, joint contacts through the jirgagai (mini-tribal council)," said former Afghan foreign minister Abdullah Abdullah, the leader of the Afghan side.
Asked whether that included the Taliban and other militants, Owais Ghani, leader of the Pakistani delegation, said: "Yes, it includes all those who are involved in this conflict situation."
The meeting of 50 officials and tribal elders from both sides of the Afghan-Pakistan border was a follow-up to a larger "peace jirga" held in Kabul in August 2007.
Violence has soared on both sides of the rugged frontier in recent months, with Washington and Kabul urging Islamabad to tackle militant "safe havens" in Pakistan's tribal belt from which attacks in Afghanistan are launched.
The United States has stepped up missile attacks on militant targets in Pakistan in the past two months, killing dozens of people and further inflaming the already tense situation on the border.
Despite US and Afghan opposition to peace deals that Pakistan struck with militants in 2005 and 2006, the idea of engaging the Taliban in talks has gathered pace this year.
Saudi Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal said a week ago that the kingdom has been sponsoring talks between the government of Afghanistan's President Hamid Karzai and the Taliban militia.
The Wall Street Journal reported on Tuesday that the United States was also considering taking part in talks with elements of the Taliban in a sharp change in tactics in Afghanistan.
Ghani, who is the governor of Pakistan's insurgency-hit North West Frontier Province, said that the process of making contact with the militants "to some extent is already under way. We need now to speed it up."
He added: "We will sit, we will talk to them, they will listen to us and we will come to some sort of solution. Without dialogue we cannot have any sort of conclusion."
Abdullah said that the mini-jirga had advised both governments "to deny sanctuary for the terrorists and militant elements which are a threat to all of us for both countries."
"At the same time one new recommendation of the peace jirga was to expedite the process of peace and reconciliation," he said.
The joint declaration said there was an "urgent and imperative need of dialogue and negotiations with the opposition groups in both countries with a view to finding a peaceful settlement of the ongoing conflict, upholding the supremacy of the constitutions of both countries."
The next meeting would be in Kabul in two or three months, the officials said.
The Wall Street Journal report said the new approach was contained in a draft recommendation in a classified White House assessment of US strategy in Afghanistan.
Talks would be led by the Afghan government, "but with the active participation of the US," it said on its website.
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