Afghanistan, Pakistan and Turkey agreed on Friday to hold joint military drills next year as part of Ankara’s bridge-building efforts between troubled neighbors Kabul and Islamabad.
“As a result of the work that our armed forces have done so far, a joint exercise will be held in April 2011,” Turkish President Abdullah Gul said in televised remarks.
Gul was speaking after trilateral talks in Istanbul with his counterparts Aghan President Hamid Karzai and Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari.
It was the fifth such meeting since 2007 when Turkey, NATO’s sole Muslim-majority member, launched the initiative to push Afghanistan and Pakistan to enhance cooperation against Islamist insurgents and improve ties poisoned by the insecurity plaguing their rugged border.
Gul said the three countries’ interior and foreign ministers, as well as intelligence and military officials, held separate cooperation talks during and ahead of the gathering in Istanbul.
Gul did not elaborate on the planned drills, but a joint statement issued after the talks said a “trilateral military live exercise on urban warfare” had been scheduled for March 19 to March 27 in Istanbul.
Relations between Afghanistan and Pakistan have been plagued by mutual suspicion, although bilateral ties have recently improved.
Taliban insurgents fighting against the Western-backed government in Kabul have rear bases in Pakistan, where Afghan and US officials say their leaders enjoy at least some measure of protection from Pakistan.
The powerful Pakistani military is often accused of continuing to foster the Afghan Taliban it spawned during the 1980s resistance to the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan.
Islamabad flatly denies any collusion and says more than 2,420 of its soldiers have been killed fighting Islamist militants since 2002.
The three presidents agreed to set up “a trilateral direct video-telephone conference line in support of increased dialogue,” the statement said.
Turkey also pledged to organize joint programs for counter-narcotics officers from Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Responding to a reporter’s question, Karzai spoke of suggestions that the Taliban open a representation office in Turkey or another impartial country “to facilitate reconciliation” in the war-torn country, Anatolia news agency reported.