Pakistani army chief visits Kabul to discuss peace talks

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KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — Afghanistan and Pakistan agreed on Sunday to meet with U.S. and Chinese officials in the first weeks of the new year to discuss "peace-related issues," a move that could re-invigorate a stalled peace process with the Taliban, the Afghan president's office said.

The development came as Pakistan's powerful army chief Gen. Raheel Sharif met with senior officials in the Afghan capital, including President Ashraf Ghani and Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah.

The visit focused on the possible revival of peace talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban, which stalled this summer. The Taliban have been waging a vicisou insurgency since the 2001 U.S.-led invasion overthrew their regime.

According to Pakistan's military spokesman Lt. Gen. Asim Saleem Bajwa, the army chief had travelled to Kabul with "sincerity and optimism" about the peace process and also planned to discuss better border management between the two neighbors.

Bilateral ties had suffered in recent months, and Ghani has lately blamed Pakistan for much of the violence in Afghanistan, saying Islamabad supports and harbors the Taliban in Pakistani cities close to the Afghan border — a charge Pakistan denies.

Then, two weeks ago, a regional conference in Islamabad called for the resumption of the Afghan-Taliban peace negotiations. Ghani attended the meeting, as well as U.S. and Chinese representatives. Washington and Beijing have a keen interest in moving the peace dialogue forward.

The Taliban-Kabul talks have been on hold since July, when Afghanistan announced the death of Taliban leader Mullah Mohammad Omar and the Taliban called off its participation. A subsequent power struggle and clashes between rival Taliban factions have raised questions as to who will represent the insurgents if the talks with Kabul are revived.

But analysts have cautioned that despite the rapprochement, any substantive talks are still months off.

The statement from Ghani's office after Sharif's departure, however, struck an optimistic note, saying "both sides discussed the mutual interest issues" and agreed that Afghanistan, Pakistan, the U.S. and China would "hold their first meeting on peace-related issues in January 2016, under the leadership of Afghanistan."

In a statement late Sunday, the Pakistani military said both sides agreed to pursue peace and reconciliation with Taliban groups willing to join the process. "Elements that still continue to pursue violence will be dealt with under a mutually worked-out framework," it said.

Sunday's talks in Kabul considered "effective ways to stop or avoid the activities of terrorist groups who are using the soil of two countries for their activities," Ghani's palace statement also said. It added that the two sides emphasized the need for more security meeting between Afghanistan and Pakistan to foster a better exchange of information.


Ahmed reported from Islamabad.

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