Pakistan tells Britain it backs Afghan peace efforts

West pushing for talks with Taliban ahead of NATO withdrawal

AFP-JIJI, AP

Pakistan assured Britain’s visiting prime minister Sunday that it would promote peace efforts in neighboring Afghanistan as the West pushes for talks with the Taliban ahead of NATO’s troop withdrawal.

David Cameron’s talks in Islamabad were conducted as three attacks in northwest Pakistan killed 52 people, underscoring the Islamist militant violence plaguing both sides of the Afghan border.

His two-day visit to Afghanistan and Pakistan was part of a Western push to end a 12-year Taliban insurgency after recent efforts to start peace talks collapsed in ignominy over the manner in which the militants opened an office in Qatar on June 18. The West considers Pakistani support vital to any peace deal in Afghanistan although relations between Kabul and Islamabad are traditionally mired in distrust.

“We hope that the U.K. will continue these efforts to seek sustainable peace and stability in Afghanistan,” new Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif said at a joint news conference with Cameron in Islamabad.

He assured that Pakistan was “resolved to tackle the menace of extremism and terrorism with renewed vigor and close cooperation with our friends,” while echoing Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s position that any peace process should be “Afghan-owned and Afghan-led.”

“I have assured Prime Minister Cameron of our firm resolve to promote the shared objective of a peaceful and stable Afghanistan, to which the 3 million Afghan refugees currently living in Pakistan can return with honor and dignity,” said Sharif.

Cameron welcomed Sharif’s remarks about the “vital importance of the relationship between Pakistan and Afghanistan.”

“I profoundly believe that a stable, prosperous, peaceful, democratic Afghanistan is in Pakistan’s interest, just as a strong, stable, peaceful, prosperous and democratic Pakistan is in Afghanistan’s interest,” Cameron said, “and I know that you and President Karzai will work together towards those ends.”

“The enemies of Pakistan are enemies of Britain, and we will stand together and conduct this fight against extremism and terrorism together,” he said, stressing the battle against terrorism needed “a tough and uncompromising security response” as well as investment in education and tackling poverty.

The search for a peace deal is an urgent priority as 100,000 U.S.-led NATO combat troops prepare to withdraw next year and Afghan forces take on the fight against insurgents.

While Britain’s prime minister was in the capital pledging to help to fight extremism, bombings killed 52 people in three different areas of Pakistan on Sunday.

In the deadliest of the attacks, twin blasts near a Shiite Muslim mosque in Quetta, the capital of southwest Baluchistan Province, killed 30 people. Dozens of others were wounded. The militant group Lashkar-e-Jhangvi claimed responsibility.

In the northwest, a car bomb exploded as a convoy of paramilitary troops passed through the outskirts of the city of Peshawar, killing at least 18 people and wounding dozens of others. Elsewhere, a roadside bomb struck an army convoy and killed four soldiers in the North Waziristan tribal area, the main sanctuary for Taliban and al-Qaida militants.