Pakistan hosts neighbours for summit talks

Afghan and Iranian leaders due to meet Pakistani president in Islamabad for meeting focused on regional co-operation.

    The leaders of Afghanistan, Iran and Pakistan are expected to discuss regional peace efforts [Reuters]

    The leaders of Iran and Afghanistan are meeting Pakistani officials in Islamabad for summit talks aimed at bringing about a lasting peace in the region.

    Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad lashed out against foreign interference in the region, while his counterpart Hamid Karzai called for action rather than words.

    "All problems are coming from outside. In order to promote their goals and ambitions ... they don't want to allow our nations to develop," Ahmadinejad told a news conference."We are here to strengthen the steps in order to solidify cooperation among the three nations. We are going to move towards removing the problems... and we should deny others the opportunity to interfere."

    Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari was also participating in the talks.

    Pakistan says the summit will focus on co-operation on counter-terrorism and transnational organised crime including drug and human trafficking, border management and trade issues.

    "Multifaceted co-operation among Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iran, being close neighbours, was essential to address the challenges and exploit opportunities in the region," Zardari was quoted as saying ahead of the talks.

    The meeting comes at a key juncture in peace efforts with the Taliban and amid rising tensions between Iran and Israel.

    Negotiating with Taliban

    Afghanistan's Karzai, who arrived in Islamabad on Thursday, appealed for Pakistan's help in negotiating a peace deal with Taliban fighters.

    He told the Wall Street Journal newspaper in an interview published on Thursday that talks among his government, the US and the Taliban had taken place in the past month.

    If true, it would mark a significant development because until now the Taliban had said they would only negotiate with the Americans, contending that Karzai was a puppet leader and that their movement was the legitimate ruler in Afghanistan.

    Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid denied Karzai's comments that negotiations had already taken place. "The Taliban did not talk with the Kabul government anywhere," he said in a statement.

    Strained relations

    The remarks come amid strained relations between the Afghan and Pakistani governments.

    Pakistan is regarded as a key player in any peace process due to its historical ties with the Taliban, which mean Islamabad could help bring them to the table or complicate relations.

    Karzai has said Pakistan's support is "critical to the success" of an Afghan-owned and Afghan-led peace process and reconciliation.

    His office said talks with Zardari and Yousuf Raza Gilani, Pakistan's prime minister, would focus on expanding relations, economic ties and "enhanced co-operation" on ending 10 years of war in Afghanistan.

    Pakistan, whose intelligence agency allegedly backs elements of the Taliban, says it will do what is required by Kabul to support an Afghan-led peace process, but there is a wide degree of scepticism in Afghanistan and the United States about its sincerity.

    Facing 'tremendous challenges'

    Tajjudin Millatmal, an Afghan analyst in Kabul, told Al Jazeera that Afghanistan would need its neighbours to get on board with any decision it mad towards achieving lasting peace.

    "It is very important for the sustainable peace in Afghanistan that the neighbouring countries will be comfortable with the decision that has been taken," he said.

    However, he said Afghanistan would face "tremendous challenges".

    "They have to realise the interests of the neighbouring countries and consider those. However, if they give up too much to those neighbouring countries that will create a huge backlash within the country against the government.

    "If they keep the negotiation process [as it is], then the neighbouring countries will continue their interference in Afghanistan and continue the current situation. So this is a very sensitive issue."

    Iran, which neighbours Afghanistan and Pakistan, is also important to the future stability of Afghanistan and in the past has supported campaigns against the Taliban.

    However, Ahmadinejad's trip coincides with rising concerns from the West over Tehran's disputed nuclear programme.

    Meanwhile, tensions between Israel and Iran are also rising following an attack in India on an Israeli diplomat, an attempted bombing in Georgia and a botched bomb plot in Thailand - all of which Israel has blamed on Iran.

    Iran has denied any links to the incidents.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and agencies


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