Taliban claims responsibility for suicide bombing near UN offices in the southern Afghanistan city.
The Afghan president has urged Pakistan to help his country negotiate with the Taliban, despite a series of high-profile assassinations and attacks that have diminished peace prospects and intensified suspicions that Pakistan supports and shelters the fighters.
Hamid Karzai’s appeal on Wednesday came in the Turkish city of Istanbul during a one-day conference on Afghanistan that drew regional players as well as Western powers.
“Our hope is that, with help from our brothers in Pakistan, we will manage to wean away the Taliban leadership from some of the long-established networks of support they enjoy outside Afghanistan and integrate them into the peace process,” Karzai said on Wednesday.
Karzai said a peace process cannot succeed without the participation of the top leadership of the Taliban, which he alleged was based in Pakistan.
Pakistan denies that the Afghan Taliban’s major leaders are based on its territory. It has rejected US and Afghan accusations it plays a double game, fighting some groups while supporting others it views as potential useful proxies in future conflicts with archrival India.
India and Pakistan were among 14 countries that attended the conference. Others included the US, Britain, China, France and Russia. The summit intended to chart the way ahead for Afghanistan, with the US-led NATO mission already locked into troop reductions that are scheduled to bring all foreign combat troops home by 2014.
While a successful show of solidarity, the gathering also underscored how much is left to do in Afghanistan as international combat forces prepare to leave by the end of 2014.
The gathering took place a day after a trilateral summit hosted by Abdullah Gul, the Turkish president. It was attended by Karzai as well as Asif Zardari, the Pakistani president.
Endorsing the transition
Delegates delivered speeches promising support for Afghan sovereignty, and endorsed a transition to Afghan security leadership, efforts for a political solution to the war, and economic development.
“The terrorism, extremism, as well as drugs and human trafficking that Afghanistan is struggling against are not problems that one country can deal with on its own,” Gul said.
William Burns, the US deputy secretary of state, cited an October 29 suicide lorry bombing in Kabul that killed 17 people, including a number of Americans, as an example of US sacrifice in Afghanistan.
He said regional powers had often acted “in ways that make things worse,” instead of co-operating to solve problems.
Rhetoric alone was not enough to achieve stability, Burns said. “It doesn’t have to be this way,” he said. “While outsiders cannot impose a solution, we should facilitate contact and provide support.”
The US also pushed economic co-operation as a way to wean Afghanistan off international assistance and undercut the appeal of extremism.
Amnesty International, the UK-based rights group, said Afghanistan should work with its neighbours to protect human rights in the run-up to NATO’s withdrawal and afterwards.
Sam Zarifi, Asia-Pacific programme director for the group, said progress had been made since the US-led invasion that toppled the Taliban in 2001, citing a decrease in discrimination against women and better access to education and health care.
But advances have faltered in justice and policing, and in improving conditions for some 450,000 people displaced by the conflict, Zarifi said.
Afghanistan is still mired in poverty despite the billions of dollars poured into the country since US-led forces toppled the Taliban from power in mid-November 2001. Half of its 30 million population lives below poverty line, according to the UN.