Top Afghan, Pakistan officials hold talks in Kabul

April 17, 2011 - 0:0

KABUL (AP) – Peace with the Taliban, trade and security issues top the agenda of President Hamid Karzai's talks Saturday with high-ranking officials from neighboring Pakistan -- a meeting that comes at a time when U.S. relations with both nations are deeply strained.

Pakistan's Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani, army chief, Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani and spy chief Gen. Ahmed Shuja Pasha and other officials flew to Kabul in two Pakistan Air Force planes. The trio of Pakistan's power elite, which typically do not visit Karzai at the same time, also are to meet with Afghan businessmen and members of the government-appointed peace council.
A long-term strategic partnership agreement that Afghanistan is negotiating with the United States also is expected to be discussed.
Before leaving for Kabul, Gilani told reporters in Pakistan that he was taking a “message of love for the Afghan people” and would extend complete support to Afghanistan to ensure peace and security in the region. The Pakistani delegation was greeted at the airport by Afghan security forces standing astride a red carpet. They made no public statements before driving to the palace.
Without naming Pakistan, Karzai has repeatedly said that the war in his country should not be fought in Afghan cities and villages but in places outside the nation where militants have their hideouts. Taliban, al-Qaida and other extremist groups launch attacks on Afghan, U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan from sanctuaries on the Pakistan side of the border.
At the same time, Karzai needs Pakistan's help to foster peace negotiations with the Taliban to find a nonmilitary solution to the nearly decade-old war.
So far, the Taliban has publicly said that it will not negotiate a political solution to end the war until foreign forces have left Afghanistan. Any solution to the Afghan conflict would likely require the support of Pakistan, and in particular elements of its security forces that are believed to have links to insurgents in Afghanistan. Washington supports a political solution to the nearly decade-old insurgency.
U.S. relations with Karzai have soured over the issues of civilian casualties, night raids by special forces and anti-American sentiment among Afghan citizens, who have lost faith in the international effort to improve their lives and end years of fighting.
Anti-American fervor only deepened when a Florida church publicly burned a Quran. The incident sparked deadly protests across the country, including one that left four Nepalese guards and three international U.N. workers dead at their compound in Mazar-i-Sharif in northern Afghanistan.
U.S.-Pakistan relations frayed after the Jan. 27 arrest of CIA contractor Raymond Allen Davis for killing two Pakistanis he said were trying to rob him. The incident stoked anti-American sentiment in Pakistan and led to one of worst rifts between the two governments, with high-level contacts suspended for weeks.
The unpopularity of American airborne drone strikes on terror targets across the border in Pakistan also has made cooperation more difficult.