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Pakistani, Afghan Delegates Agree to Talks With Taliban

Pakistani and Afghan political and tribal leaders meeting in Islamabad Tuesday have agreed to seek talks with Taliban insurgents in a bid to limit violence along their shared border. The announcement came after a two-day meeting described as a mini-jirga in the Pakistani capital. VOA's Barry Newhouse reports from Islamabad.

The two-day "mini-jirga" in Islamabad ended with pledges to create new committees in both countries that will try to establish contact with Taliban groups.

Afghanistan's former foreign minister Abdullah Abdullah said those committees will work independently from any other peace talks being pursued by the two governments.

"We agreed that contacts should be established with the opposition," he said. "Apart from whatever else is happening in that regard, joint contacts will be established through jirga-gai by using other influential figures through the opposition groups in both countries."

Representatives of the Islamabad jirga said the term "opposition groups" refers to all those involved in the armed conflict in both countries.

Officials said the names of the representatives seeking talks with militants will be kept secret because of security concerns.

The governments in Islamabad and Kabul have repeatedly proposed holding peace talks with Taliban factions if the militants agree to recognize the governments' legitimacy. Militants have rejected those conditions.

When asked how the latest proposal for talks is different from previous ones, Northwest Frontier Province Governor and leader of the Pakistan delegation, Owais Ahmed Ghani, said both countries believe the only way to resolve the conflict is through negotiation.

"That is what dialogue is all about," he said. "We will sit, we will talk to them, we will listen to them, they will listen to us. And we will come to some sort of a solution to this situation. Without dialogue we cannot arrive at any sort of conclusion."

This week's meeting in Islamabad follows last August's so-called "grand jirga" where more than 600 Pakistan and Afghan tribal leaders pledged to confront militancy, improve border security and try to "expedite" dialogue with Taliban groups.

Since then, the Taliban insurgency has strengthened in Afghanistan and taken over larger parts of Pakistan's tribal region.

Afghan delegation leader Abdullah said the current situation in both countries creates an even greater imperative for talks.

"This war and insecurity has lingered on for so long and through the jirga gai we have just opened it wider for peace and dialogue with the groups," he said.

Representatives seeking contact with the Taliban are expected to report on their progress at the next jirga meeting scheduled in two or three months.