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Pakistan-Afghanistan to talk for peace

ISLAMABAD — Pakistan and a visiting delegation of Afghan officials charged with trying to broker peace with the Taliban have agreed to hold a peace “jirga” between the two countries, Islamabad said Thursday.

Pakistan’s foreign minister Abdul Basit said the decision was made during a visit to the capital by two dozen members of Kabul’s High Committee for Peace, led by its chairman, former Afghan premier Burhanuddin Rabbani.

“Both parties agreed to convene a peace jirga with representatives of both countries in the coming months,” Basit said, without elaborating on the location and date.

Basit said both sides discussed the opening of an Afghan Taliban representative office in Turkey, an idea recently floated by Afghan President Hamid Karzai to kick-start stalled negotiations with the rebels.

“We have no problem with that if Afghanistan and Turkey agree. We agree with any effort made by the Afghan government to bring peace,” said Basit.

“The two countries are looking forward to closer cooperation that can favour peace and stability in the region,” he added.

Since arriving in Islamabad on Tuesday, Rabbani has held talks with Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani, army chief General Ashfaq Kayani and the governor of Pakistan’s northwest border province Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Owais Ahmed Ghani.

He is expected to meet with President Asif Ali Zardari on Saturday before returning to Kabul, said Basit.

The visit marks the beginning of a new phase in Kabul’s attempts to woo Taliban rebels to negotiate peace after nine years of war in Afghanistan and as US and NATO-led coalition forces plan to send some troops home this year.

The HCP was set up last summer by Afghan President Hamid Karzai who appears more willing to include Pakistan in talks, after accusing its neighbour for years of sponsoring the insurgency to defend strategic interests in the region.

The Taliban and Al Qaeda’s headquarters are believed to lie in Pakistan’s remote tribal regions on the mountainous border with Afghanistan.

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