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British Foreign Secretary confirms Taliban talks

IRNA - Islamic Republic News Agency

Islamabad, June 23, IRNA -- British Foreign Secretary William Hague Thursday said in Islamabad that contacts with Afghan Taliban are preliminary in nature as part of the political reconciliation process.

He, however, asserted that political process is necessary for sustainable peace and stability in Afghanistan.

Speaking at a joint press conference with Pakistan’s Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, Hina Rabbani Khar, the British Foreign Secretary said Pakistan has very important and responsible role to play in promoting Afghan-led reconciliation and peace efforts in Afghanistan.

To another question, he said they would continue to remain engaged with Afghanistan even beyond 2014 when the withdrawal is proposed to be completed.

He welcomed the announcement of US President Barrack Obama about the phased withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan. US President Obama announced 10,000 US troops would be withdrawn in 2011. That will be followed by a further 23,000 by the end of September 2012, with 68,000 to remain for now.

The British Foreign Secretary said the UK will also withdraw 400 troops from Afghanistan this year. The British military has nearly 10,000 troops, including Special Forces, the second largest number of troops in Afghanistan after the US.

Asked about prospects of success of Afghan-led peace process, Pakistan’s Minister of State for Foreign Affairs said. “If we are able to get more clarity in our approach and work together then certainly peace would become a reality”.

William Hague said Pakistan and UK have unbreakable partnership and shared determination to defeat terrorism and violent extremist.

He said it is in the interest of both the country to sustain the strategic relationship based on mutual respect and mutual trust and benefit.

He said UK is Pakistan's greatest advocate for market access to EU which could dramatically increase Pakistan's exports.

The British Foreign Secretary said as frontline state, Pakistan has rendered more sacrifices in fighting terrorism than any other country of the planet. UK stands with Pakistan to combat the menace.

“Britain is committed to increase our mutual cooperation through national security dialogue,” he said.

William Hague said UK's four-year education programme for Pakistan would help get more than four million children into school, help recruit and train ninety thousand teachers besides provision of six million sets of text books.

On behalf of British Prime Minister, he extended an invitation to Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani to visit London in April next for annual summit level review of bilateral relations.

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