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Clinton Says Door Still Open For Taliban To Talk Peace, Warns Of 'Continuing Assault'

20.10.2011 14:01

Visiting U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has said in Afghanistan that talks are still possible with the Taliban to negotiate an end to the war there, but that the militants will face continued attacks if they don't cooperate.

Clinton, who arrived in Kabul on an unannounced visit late on October 19, was speaking in Kabul following talks with President Hamid Karzai.

Clinton told a joint news conference with Karzai that militants could be part of a peaceful future for Afghanistan or "face continuing assault."

"We are increasing the pressure on the Taliban," Clinton added.

Later in the day, she was scheduled to travel to neighboring Pakistan, where she is to be joined by CIA chief David Petraeus and Chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff General Martin Dempsey.

Militants have carried out a number of high-profile assassinations and brazen assaults on major cities and military targets in recent months. The Haqqani network, based in Pakistan, has been blamed for many of the attacks, including one on the U.S. Embassy compound in Kabul.

Clinton also said Pakistan can help negotiate a solution to the Afghan conflict and expects Pakistanis to "support the efforts at talking."

"Pakistan's cooperation is critical. Violent extremism has also taken the lives of thousands of Pakistanis as well as Afghans and, if you look beyond the history of distrust, it is clear that all countries in the region will have to work together for all the people in the region," Clinton said.

"So, I urge the leaders of Afghanistan and Pakistan to resume their dialogue."

Relations between Washington and Islamabad have soured in recent months, with the United States and Afghanistan urging Pakistan to do more against militant sanctuaries in its tribal areas.

U.S. officials have said the Haqqani network is linked to the Pakistani intelligence services -- a charge Islamabad denies.

Karzai discontinued attempts to negotiate with the Taliban since former President Burhanuddin Rabbani, who was Kabul's chief peace negotiator with the Taliban, was assassinated last month by a suicide bomber posing as a Taliban envoy.

He explained that the focus of the peace process "would serve a better purpose taken to Pakistan."

"We believe that the Taliban, to a very, very great extent -- to a very, very great extent -- are controlled by establishments in Pakistan, stay in Pakistan, have their headquarters in Pakistan, launch operations from Pakistan," Karzai said.

"Therefore, it is not in a manner of pointing the finger, or in a manner of reprimand that we seek to talk to Pakistan, but in a manner of trying to find the proper venue and the proper authority for talks."

At a meeting at the U.S. Embassy earlier in the day, Clinton assured civic leaders that their concerns that any deal with Islamist militants could undo advances made in areas such as women's rights and education were "being heard at the highest levels of the U.S. government."

The United States is planning to withdraw troops and hand over security to the Afghans by 2014.

Clinton also met Burhanuddin Rabbani's son, Salahuddin, telling him that his father "was a brave man and trying to do the right thing."

In related news, Pakistani officials said at least three soldiers and up to 34 militants were killed in a gun battle in Pakistan's restive tribal district of Khyber along the Afghan border.

And the international coalition announced that NATO and Afghan forces had killed at least 115 insurgents over the past week as part of an operation in the northeastern Konar Province.

The alliance said that one NATO service member was killed in the fighting.

compiled from agency reports


Copyright (c) 2011. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036.

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