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John Kerry to host Afghans and Pakistanis

Secretary of State John Kerry will host a meeting in Brussels on Wednesday with top Afghan and Pakistani leaders to try to foster cooperation over the stalled reconciliation process with the Taliban and other thorny issues, American and Afghan officials said Monday.

The meeting will be held the day after NATO foreign ministers gather to discuss the alliance’s role in Afghanistan after 2014, among other issues.

President Hamid Karzai and Defense Minister Bismillah Khan Mohammadi will represent the Afghan side. Pakistan will be represented by Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, the Army chief, and Jalil Abbas Jilani, Pakistan’s foreign secretary.

“This is the year of transition,” Mr. Kerry told a gathering of American diplomats here, referring to NATO’s plans to progressively hand over the responsibility for security by the end of 2014. “This is the critical year in Afghanistan.”

He added, “We are going to have a trilateral and try to talk about how we can advance this process in the simplest, most cooperative, most cogent way so that we wind up with both Pakistan’s and Afghanistan’s interests being satisfied — but most importantly with a stable and peaceful Afghanistan.”

Mr. Karzai has complained that Pakistan is not helping to bring the Taliban into the political reconciliation process, a charge Pakistan denies.

The notably tense relationship between Mr. Karzai and General Kayani has been seen as an obstacle in efforts to ensure Afghan stability ahead of national elections next year. Pakistan’s cooperation is also critical as the United States seeks to negotiate an agreement with the Afghan government that would allow some American forces to operate in the country after 2014.

Mr. Kerry has considerable experience with each side. During a recent trip to Kabul, Afghanistan’s capital, he met with Mr. Karzai and helped smooth American-Afghan relations after a rocky period in which the Afghan president made a series of harsh comments about American policy. Mr. Kerry also knows General Kayani well and recently met with him in Jordan.

Several diplomats said that while they did not expect reconciliation with the Taliban to happen over the next year, the Afghans hoped to get “some reconciliation” in advance of the elections so that people would be able to vote safely in some of the historically insecure areas of the country. “We’re now less than a year from the elections, and we all want to see some movement,” a Western official said in Kabul.


By Michael Gordon

Source: The New York Times

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