Pakistan, Iran seek "Afghan-led" peace as US criticized

Pakistan, Iran seek "Afghan-led" peace as US criticized

Pakistan and Iran on Friday assured Afghan President Hamid Karzai that they would fully support him in an "Afghan-led" peace process for creating stability in the war-torn country.

He, Pakistani Prime Minister Asif Ali Zardari and Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad pledged to work together towards regional peace and prosperity at a summit in Islamabad while also targeting the United States for many of the area's problems, DPA reported.

Without naming the US, Ahmadinejad criticized it for trying to dominate the region and accused it of being the root cause of regional problems.

"These problems have been imposed on the region," he said at a joint press conference. "All problems are coming from outside."

Zardari said his country's relations with Iran could not be "undermined" by any international pressure, a reference to a planned multibillion-dollar Iranian-Pakistani gas pipeline that is opposed by the US.

The three leaders said in a joint statement that they "reiterated their full support for an Afghan-led and Afghan-owned inclusive process of peace and reconciliation" and promised to extend full cooperation for any initiative that had "authentic Afghan ownership."

The summit came at a crucial juncture when the prospects of talks with the Taliban were becoming brighter after they opened a political office in Qatar following initial contacts with US officials.

Before the summit began, Karzai blasted the US for ignoring his government in Washington's talks with Taliban militants.

The US could not unilaterally hold such talks and the Afghan government should decide about talks with the militants, Karzai told local media in Islamabad.

The Afghan leader said in an interview published Thursday in The Wall Street Journal that his government had been talking with the Taliban along with the United States, but Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid refuted it, saying the militants would not talk to "an American puppet."

Afghanistan's neighbours are important to any prospects for peace. Islamabad has influence over the Taliban, whom it supported during their rise in the late 1990s. Its Inter-Services Intelligence spy agency is believed to continue to harbour militants even after the Taliban's ouster from power in a 2001 US-led invasion.

Tehran also can play a major role as it has sway over the anti-Taliban Northern Alliance, which Iran supported during Taliban rule.

Zardari said Friday that Pakistan would provide all its support against terrorism but also criticized Afghanistan for allowing drugs to multiply. Proceeds from Afghanistan's poppy crop fuels its insurgency.

Karzai emphasized the need for greater cooperation and said all impediments to peace and cooperation should be removed "sooner than later."

The summit was the third for Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iran after 2009 and 2011 meetings in Tehran. The next meeting is planned by the end of this year in Kabul.

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