Afghan president: Pakistan crucial to peace talks

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By HEIDI VOGT, Associated Press

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — Pakistani support of negotiations with the Taliban will be "crucial" to the success of any peace talks, Afghan President Hamid Karzai said Tuesday as he repeated a call for the neighboring country to facilitate meetings.

Pakistan is considered a key player in any peace talks with the Taliban because Islamabad has a history of involvement with the insurgent group and because most of the top Taliban figures, including leader Mullah Mohammed Omar, are believed to be based there.

The Pakistani government however has always denied that its territory is a safe haven for Taliban leaders and said it has no ties to the group — a stance that may explain why Karzai's attempts to enlist Islamabad has so far been rebuffed.

The Afghan president's new appeal comes after an acrimonious visit to Pakistan last week during which he asked the Pakistani government to help bring Taliban leaders to the negotiating table. Pakistani officials called it "preposterous" to suggest that they would be able to do so.

Since that visit, Karzai has discussed the issue in phone calls with both U.S. President Barack Obama and Pakistani Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani, according to issued statements.

Gilani's office said that he assured Karzai in their call Tuesday that Pakistan "would wholeheartedly support a peace process in Afghanistan which is Afghan-owned and Afghan-led."

But Karzai's statement suggested that he was still pushing for a more concrete commitment from Pakistan to help get negotiations going. He once again invited the Taliban to take part in direct talks with the Afghan government and stressed the need for Pakistan to "support and facilitate our direct negotiation."

"Pakistan's support to the peace process will be crucial to its success, as well as a significant contribution to the security and stability of Afghanistan and the entire region," Karzai said in the statement.

Though Karzai did not give details on what sort of facilitation he was expecting, Afghan officials have previously asked for Islamabad to promise safe passage for Taliban representatives going to meeting sites outside of Pakistan. They also want access to certain Taliban prisoners in Pakistani prisons.

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