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Britain’s Prime Minister David Cameron (centre) with Afghan President Hamid Karzai (left) and Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari at Chequers, the Prime Minister’s official country residence, near Aylesbury in Buckinghamshire, west of London, yesterday.
LONDON: Afghan President Hamid Karzai and his Pakistani counterpart Asif Ali Zardari held peace talks with British Prime Minister David Cameron yesterday, in the presence of top spy chiefs.
The talks at Cameron’s Chequers country retreat near London aimed to boost cooperation between Afghanistan and Pakistan, amid growing fears that a civil war could erupt when international troops leave Afghanistan in 2014.
“This trilateral process sends a very clear message to the Taliban — now is the time for everyone to participate in a peaceful political process in Afghanistan,” a British government spokeswoman said.
“For the first time, we will bring together political and security establishments from Afghanistan and Pakistan, including foreign ministers, chiefs of army staff, chiefs of intelligence and the chair of the Afghan High Peace Council.”
Support from Pakistan, which backed Afghanistan’s 1996-2001 Taliban regime, is seen as crucial to peace after Nato troops depart — but relations between the neighbours remain uneasy despite recent improvements.
Kabul and Washington have regularly accused Pakistan of helping to destabilise Afghanistan.
But Afghan peace negotiators have welcomed Pakistan’s release of dozens of Taliban prisoners in recent months, a move they believe could help bring militants to the negotiating table.
These were the third trilateral talks in a year following meetings in Kabul in July and New York last September — but they were the first in which Pakistani and Afghan army and intelligence chiefs took part.
In an interview with Britain’s Guardian newspaper and ITV television station, Karzai said the biggest threat to peace in Afghanistan was not the Taliban, but meddling from foreign powers.
“Peace will only come when the external elements involved in creating instability and fighting, or lawlessness in Afghanistan, are involved in talks,” he said, without naming any country.
He said Western troops had been “fighting in the wrong place” in Afghanistan, saying security in the southern Helmand province was better before British troops arrived.
He said he was unclear if Western forces were leaving Afghanistan because they felt they had achieved the aim of making their own countries more secure by tackling international terror groups or because they had realised the mission was mistaken.
Referring to Prince Harry, who compared fighting in Afghanistan to playing a video game, Karzai said the young royal’s comments may have been a mistake, but he should be let off the hook because of his age.
“Prince Harry is a young man, we do give exits to young men when they make mistakes,” said Karzai. Taliban leaders were quick to label Prince Harry mentally ill and cowardly.
“Prince Charles, the father of Prince Harry, is a very fine gentleman, a man for whom I have tremendous respect.
“For years, even when I was a student in Shimla, I used to read about his dislike of modern architecture and the cement buildings and I entirely agreed with him. Prince Charles is a great representative of Britain and the British ways of life,” he said.
Karzai was due to meet Prince Charles during his three-day trip.
Britain still has around 9,000 troops in Afghanistan ahead of a scheduled withdrawal in 2014.
Afghan soldiers and police are taking on responsibility for battling Taliban militants from the 100,000 Nato troops due to depart by the end of next year.
But more than 60 foreign soldiers were killed in 2012 in “insider attacks” by members of Afghanistan’s security forces, which have bred mistrust and threatened to derail the training process. Agencies