Taliban talks begin ahead of summit

Taliban talks begin ahead of summit

Taliban talks begin ahead of summit

Afghan President Karzai (4th L) talks with Pakistani PM Gilani (R) at the prime minister’s house in Islamabad as Pakistani foreign minister and army general look Karzai. AP photo

The presidents of Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iran convened in Pakistan yesterday for a three-way summit that is expected to focus on specific steps Islamabad can take to facilitate peace talks with the Afghan Taliban.

Pakistan said the trilateral summit will focus on cooperation on counter-terrorism and transnational organized crime including drug and human trafficking, border management and trade issues.

Soon after his arrival, Afghan President Hamid Karzai went into talks with Pakistani Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani, Pakistan’s army chief General Ashfaq Kayani and senior government ministers, officials said, Agence-France Presse reported. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is also likely to focus in the meetings on a proposed pipeline that would deliver natural gas from his country to Pakistan. The U.S. has opposed the initiative because of tensions with Iran over its nuclear program, and has pushed for an alternative pipeline that would transport gas from Turkmenistan through Afghanistan to Pakistan.

Secret three-way talks begin: Karzai
The summit comes at a time when momentum for peace talks with the Taliban seems to be growing. The U.S. and Afghan governments have begun secret three-way talks with the Taliban, Karzai told the Wall Street Journal, in a move that could bolster U.S.-led efforts to convene fully fledged peace talks within months.

Karzai’s government had previously been excluded from early, exploratory contacts between the Taliban and the United States, with the insurgents seen as resisting the involvement of a local administration they regard as a puppet of Washington. But the Journal quoted Karzai yesterday as saying the Taliban were “definitively” interested in a peace settlement to end the 10-year war in Afghanistan, and that all three sides were now involved in discussions.

“People in Afghanistan want peace, including the Taliban. They’re also people like we all are. They have families, they have relatives, they have children, they are suffering a tough time,” Karzai said. The Taliban are setting up an office in Qatar in the first step toward formal negotiations.

Contrary to Karzai’s words, the Afghan ambassador said yesterday that the Afghan Taliban and the U.S. have made only exploratory contacts for possible reconciliation which do not involve Afghanistan. “I must emphasize that word ‘exploratory’. They are not talks,” Umar Daudzai told Reuters. “When there are talks, it’s supposed to be between the Afghan government and the Taliban. We have not reached to that stage although we wish to reach to that stage.”

NATO to buy five US-made drones

BRUSSELS - Reuters

NATO is to buy five U.S.-made unmanned drone aircraft capable of countering Afghan insurgents, hunting pirates off Somalia or monitoring arms embargoes, an alliance official said Feb. 15. The drones are part of the Alliance Ground Surveillance (AGS) project, scheduled to begin operating between 2015 and 2017. The project reflects NATO efforts to cooperate more closely with its member states on defense costs and capabilities at a time of financial constraints. NATO has said last year’s Libya conflict exposed shortcomings in the alliance’s surveillance ability.