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World News

Pakistan eager to see Taliban start dialogue with Kabul - foreign minister

ISLAMABAD (Reuters) - Pakistan urged the Taliban on Tuesday to start talks soon with the Afghan government to end decades of conflict, telling visiting officials of the group that an intra-Afghan dialogue could help ensure regional stability.

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The meeting between Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi and a Taliban team comes as Afghanistan’s peace process has stalled over disagreements on a prisoner exchange.

“Pakistan is eager to see an intra-Afghan dialogue start soon to ensure regional peace and stability,” Qureshi said in a statement after meeting a delegation led by the head of the Taliban’s political office Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar.

Talks between the Taliban and an Afghan-government mandated committee were to be held in the Qatari capital Doha following the completion of the prisoner exchange between the two sides.

But the completion of the swap has been delayed by disagreements between the Taliban and the Afghan government.

There are also concerns over rising violence, which diplomats say is sapping trust needed for the talks. The insurgent group has so far rejected implementing a ceasefire before the talks start.

“We deliberated on the complications, and what could be their solution,” Qureshi said in a short media briefing, where no question was taken.

Though it was not immediately clear whether a reduction in violence was discussed, diplomats have said Pakistan – a leading regional player – has been pushing for a reduction in violence and smoothing the way for peace talks.

Tuesday’s meeting was also attended by Pakistan’s spy chief Lt. Gen. Faiz Hameed, the head of the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency.

Analysts say the spy agency has had a close association with armed groups in Afghanistan dating back to the Soviet Union’s invasion of the country in the late 1980s, and continues to exercise some influence over the Taliban.

“Pakistan has a lot of leverage, short of military options, including allowing and restricting the Taliban’s mobility,” Barnett Rubin, a senior advisor on Afghanistan and Pakistan under the Obama administration told Reuters.

Additional Reporting by Umar Farooq and Charlotte Greenfield in Islamabad and Jibran Ahmad in Peshawar, Pakistan, Editing by William Maclean

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