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Sharif assures Karzai of access to Baradar

KABUL, Nov 30: Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif assured Afghan President Hamid Karzai on Saturday of Islamabad`s support for Kabul`s efforts to seek peace with the Taliban.

He also offered to arrange a meeting between Afghan negotiators and Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, the Taliban`s former commander who was released by Pakistan earlier this year.

Talking to reporters along with President Hamid Karzai during his day-long visit to Kabul, the prime minister said: `Mullah Baradar has been released. We discussed this matter at length today and we have agreed on a mechanism and we will see it is properly implemented, and anybody who is sent by the (Afghan) president to Pakistan to talk to Mullah Baradar, we will carry out the instructions given to us by the president and make sure that such meeting takes place.

Mr Sharif said release of the Taliban leader showed `we are committed to helping bring peace to Afghanistan`.

He said an agreement had been reached to allow members of an Afghan peace council to continue talks with Mullah Baradar.

According to officials, an Afghan delegation met the Taliban leader recently.

President Karzai, however, said in a statement released by his office after the meeting that he had asked for Baradar`s `full release`, implying that he is still under Pakistan`s supervision.

He also requested therelease of all Afghan Taliban held by Pakistan.

It added that Prime Minister Sharif told President Karzai he had no objection to a meeting of Mullah Baradar with his family or to his full release, but stressed that the matter should be discussed with the Americans as well`.

It was Mr Sharif`s first visit to Afghanistan since he took office in June and came as President Karzai was locked in a public dispute with Washington over a security deal covering the role of US soldiers who would remain in the country after next year.

`The key to sustainable peace in Afghanistan in 2014 and beyond is an inclusive political settlement,` Mr Sharif said.

`It is imperative to reverse the destructive cycle of conflict... Pakistan will continue to extend all possible facilitation for the Afghan peace process.

President Karzai said: `There is no doubt that since (Sharif) has taken office...

cooperation and relations with Afghanistan have expanded.

`Today we talked on how to proceed with the peace process, the American role in the peace process, and on how America, Pakistan and Afghanistan can jointly cooperate.

Baradar was arrested in 2010 but freed from jail in Pakistan in September as part of efforts to boost Afghanistan`s peace process.

Since his `release` he is reported to have been kept under house arrest by Pakistani authorities.

The prime minister urged all the stakeholders in Afghanistan to join hands for supporting the efforts aimedat establishing sustainable peace in the country.

`This is the time to take decisive steps for taking forward the dialogue process and bringing it to a successful conclusion.

The prime minister held a one-to-one meeting with President Karzai, followed by delegation-level talks.

Mr Sharif said Pakistan desired a friendly and goodneighbourly relationship with Afghanistan, based on the principles of mutual respect for sovereignty and territorial integrity.

`A peaceful, stable and united Afghanistan is in Pakistan`s vital interest.

Pakistan`s vision of a peaceful and prosperous neighbourhood could only be realised by having peace and stability in Afghanistan and by forging cooperative ties between the two countries, he added.`We stand at the threshold of an epochal year in Afghanistan`s history. In 2014, the Afghan people will take major steps towards becoming the masters of their own destiny. We welcome this milestone and wish our Afghan brothers well.

He said since the opportunities presented by 2014 would be accompanied by formidable challenges as well, it was in everyone`s interest to ensure that the transition in Afghanistan was completed peacefully.

Mr Sharif said the key to peace in Afghanistan, 2014 and beyond, was an inclusive political settlement and that was why Pakistan had consistently supported an `Afghanled and -owned peace and reconciliation process`.

The prime minister expressed hope that others in the region would also work to reinforce efforts for stabilisation of Afghanistan. He urged the international community to stay engaged for the country`s reconstruction and economic development.

Emphasising strong trade and economic partnership, he said he and the Afghan leader had also reviewed the progress being made in advancing that goal and in developing a comprehensive, multi-dimensional relationship.-Agencies