Mon, Dec 05, 2011 - Page 7 News List

Afghan leader says Pakistan is stalling talks with Taliban

AFP, BONN, GERMANY

Afghan President Hamid Karzai has accused Pakistan, which is boycotting an international conference on Afghanistan starting today in Bonn, of undermining all negotiations with the Taliban.

“Up until now, they have sadly refused to back efforts for negotiations with the Taliban,” Karzai told Der Spiegel weekly in comments due to be published today.

The Bonn meeting seeks to chart a course for Afghanistan after the NATO withdrawal in 2014, but a boycott by Pakistan has dealt a blow to already fragile hopes for a road map.

Pakistan is seen as vital to any prospect of stability in the war-ravaged country a decade after US-led forces ousted the Taliban, who had offered safe haven to al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden.

However, Islamabad pulled out after 24 Pakistani soldiers were killed in cross-border NATO air strikes, although sources close to the German foreign ministry said it would be kept informed of progress at the conference.

The US has voiced regret over the strikes, but has stopped short of issuing an apology while the US military conducts an investigation. Islamabad has so far refused to take part in the probe, exacerbating fears of a prolonged crisis between Pakistan and the US.

Pakistan, reacting to fury from its people over the attack, shut down NATO’s vital supply line into Afghanistan and boycotted the Bonn conference.

US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton on Saturday called Pakistani Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani to offer condolences over the strike.

Clinton “reiterated America’s respect for Pakistan’s sovereignty and commitment to working together in pursuit of shared objectives on the basis of mutual interest and mutual respect,” the US Department of State said.

A statement from Gilani’s office said he told Clinton that Pakistan’s non-attendance at Bonn was not open to review since it had received the backing of parliament’s national security committee.

Pakistan’s decision deals a blow to hopes for drawing up a road map for Afghanistan’s future. As a neighbor with historic ties to the Taliban, Pakistan is considered integral to ending the decade-long conflict.

Diplomats had hoped the conference would help broker peace with the Taliban, but the September assassination of Kabul peace envoy and former Afghan president Burhanuddin Rabbani derailed those efforts.

Karzai appealed for continued aid to his war-ravaged nation after 2014, when the last NATO troops are scheduled to pull out after handing security to Afghan forces.

Afghan Foreign Minister Zalmai Rasoul also appealed on Saturday for international support after NATO troops withdraw.

“After 2014, we will continue to need long-term support from our friends in the international community,” Rasoul said at a discussion forum in Bonn.

His German counterpart, Guido Westerwelle, vowed at the forum that the world would not abandon Afghanistan.

In the Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung yesterday, Westerwelle voiced regret over the Pakistani boycott.

“Pakistan has more to gain from a stable and peaceful Afghanistan than any of its neighbors,” he said.

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