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Three-way talks express optimism on Taliban peace

Fighting will ebb as western troops exit, Karzai says

LONDON — The leaders of Afghanistan and Pakistan said Monday they would push the Taliban to come to the table for peace talks to end Afghanistan’s protracted war and gave themselves a six-month deadline to get a deal.

British Prime Minister David Cameron hosted Afghanistan’s President Hamid Karzai and Pakistan’s President Asif Zardari for trilateral talks on Afghanistan’s floundering peace and reconciliation process. The leaders believe the Taliban are softening their hard-line stance against discussions.

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Attempts at peace have faltered even as international forces prepare to withdraw from the country in 2014. Karzai is attempting to draw the Taliban back to negotiations toward a deal between the government and the insurgency.

As part of the effort, the three leaders agreed to open an office in Qatar’s capital for negotiations.

The leaders set out a six-month timetable for peace and committed themselves to ‘‘take all necessary measures to achieve the goal,’’ a statement from Cameron’s office said after the talks.

Earlier, Karzai said told British news outlets the Guardian and ITV News that security in the southern Helmand province was better before the arrival of British troops, saying it’s possible western forces are being drawn down in Afghanistan because international leaders realized ‘‘they were fighting in the wrong place’’ and that he expects fighting to diminish once NATO forces withdraw.

‘‘Whatever happened was the past, and now we are looking forward to the future,’’ he said.

Karzai said the greatest threat to his country’s prospects is foreign meddling but he was more optimistic than a year ago that behind-the-scenes discussions between his government and the Taliban would prove fruitful, as relations with Pakistan improved.

Karzai, Zardari, and Cameron ‘‘affirmed that they supported the opening of an office in Doha for the purpose of negotiations between the Taliban and the High Peace Council of Afghanistan as part of an Afghan led peace process,’’ it said in a statement.

So far, the Taliban have resisted, although officials close to the Afghan president say privately that they appear to be opening up to the possibility.

In a separate development Monday, Pakistani Interior Minister Rehman Malik said his government is ready to hold peace talks with domestic Taliban militants who have been waging a bloody insurgency that has killed thousands.

The Pakistani military has waged an aggressive campaign against the Taliban in their northwest sanctuaries along the Afghan border since 2009, but the militants have proved resilient.

It is unclear what is motivating the Taliban to push for negotiations now.

It is also uncertain how much common ground the two sides would find if they met face-to-face. The Taliban have demanded that Pakistan sever ties with the United States and impose Islamic law in the country.

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