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Sharif in Kabul pledges support for Taleban talks

KABUL, Afghanistan: Pakistan’s prime minister said Saturday that the recent release of a senior Taleban leader shows he is committed to helping bring peace to Afghanistan.
Nawaz Sharif said after meeting in Kabul with Afghan President Hamid Karzai that an agreement had been reached for a mechanism to allow members of an Afghan peace council to continue talks with Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, who was released from Pakistani detention last September. He did not provide details.
The Taleban’s former No. 2 was set free after years in detention and some officials hope he can help jumpstart the peace process, while others have their doubts. An Afghan delegation met with him last week, officials said, the first such encounter since his release.
“A few days ago Salahuddin Rabbani, the head of the peace council, visited Pakistan so we once again discussed the peace process,” Karzai said after meeting Sharif. “We discussed how Afghanistan, Pakistan and the United States can work together to bring peace to the region.”
Both men made very short remarks after their meeting and provided no other details. Both expressed their general desire for closer ties, trade and regional peace and agreed to work toward those goals.
Pakistan is beset by its own Taleban insurgency that has claimed the lives of thousands of soldiers and civilians in recent years.
It was Sharif’s first visit to Afghanistan since being elected. Karzai has been pushing Pakistan for help in talking to the Taleban, where of its leaders are thought to be based. Kabul has sought Islamabad’s help to bring the militant group to the table. Sharif also said they discussed trade and energy issues.
The topics under discussion included a plan to expand an electricity distribution network to ship surplus power from the Central Asian states of Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan through Afghanistan and into Pakistan, which suffers massive power shortages that threaten its industrial production and economy.
Another project is a planned natural gas pipeline from Turkmenistan that will pass through Afghanistan to Pakistan and end up in India.
Relations between the two countries have been testy and Afghanistan has often accused Pakistan of aiding Taleban leaders sheltering across the border. Sharif has nonetheless made improving ties with Afghanistan a priority.
Karzai was in Pakistan last August and the two leaders again met in October, where they agreed during a London meeting for Islamabad to allow an Afghan peace delegation to meet with
Pakistan has released around four dozen Taleban prisoners over the last year in an attempt to help peace talks, but there is no sign they have made any difference.
The Taleban have refused to talk directly with Karzai, his government or its representatives. US-backed talks between Afghanistan and the Taleban failed in June after Karzai accused the militants of setting up a government in exile. The Taleban have since closed their office in the Gulf state of Qatar.
Pakistan has a complicated relationship with the Taleban. Pakistan helped the group seize control of Afghanistan in 1996, and Kabul has repeatedly accused Islamabad of providing the insurgents sanctuary on its territory following the US-led invasion of Afghanistan in 2001.
The peace talks have also been the focus of recent tensions with the United States.