Karzai, Zardari Pledge to Reach Peace Settlement
Related Report by Henry Ridgwell in London
Afghan President Hamid Karzai and his Pakistani counterpart Asif Ali Zardari have pledged to reach a peace settlement for Afghanistan within six months.
The two presidents made their promise in a joint statement issued by British Prime Minister David Cameron's office. The three leaders met near London, the third meeting in a series of summits that started last July in Kabul.
Monday's talks were the first to involve senior military and intelligence officials of Afghanistan and Pakistan, in addition to the political leaders.
Prime Minister Cameron joined the two presidents in expressing support for the opening of an office in Qatar for holding peace talks with the Taliban and urging the insurgents to enter into a dialogue.
"The progress we have achieved today sends a very clear message to the Taliban," said Cameron. "Now is the time for everyone to participate in a peaceful, political process in Afghanistan."
Britain wants the two neighbors to work together to promote regional stability as it prepares to withdraw thousands of troops from Afghanistan by the end of next year. The British troops have been fighting a years-long Taliban insurgency as part of a NATO mission aimed at helping Afghan security forces take control of their country.
Afghan President Karzai told British media Sunday security in Afghanistan's southern Helmand province was better before the arrival of British and U.S. troops in 2006, and questioned whether international forces are fighting in the wrong place. He says Afghans just want to rebuild their country and are not concerned with whether the West considers its mission there a success or failure.
Afghan presidential spokesman Aimal Faizi told VOA the Afghan and Pakistani military and intelligence officials met informally Sunday before the summit. Faizi said summit participants would discuss how to promote a fledgling Afghan peace process in which President Karzai has proposed holding talks with Taliban militants to end the insurgency.
Faizi said Afghanistan wants to ensure Pakistan plays a constructive role in the peace process. Kabul has long accused Islamabad of providing a safe haven to Taliban fighters who cross into Afghanistan to carry out attacks. Pakistan denies the charge.
Pakistan freed about 20 Taliban prisoners in recent months to enable them to represent the Islamist group in negotiations. An Afghan High Peace Council created by Mr. Karzai had requested the prisoner releases. But the whereabouts of some of those former prisoners is unknown.