Image: Abdullah Abdullah and Ahmed Ghani
Anjum Naveed  /  AP
Head of the Afghan delegation Abdullah Abdullah, left, speaks as his Pakistani counterpart Owais Ahmed Ghani, right, looks on at the end of two-day Pakistan-Afghanistan Tribal Elders Jirga meeting in Islamabad, Pakistan, on Tuesday.
updated 10/28/2008 1:43:43 PM ET 2008-10-28T17:43:43

Pakistani and Afghan leaders vowed Tuesday to seek talks with the Taliban, adding momentum to existing efforts to encourage dialogue with the militants and end the violence.

The pledge came after two days of meetings in the Pakistani capital of Islamabad, between influential political and tribal leaders and statesmen from both countries. The meeting, or jirga, was part of a process initiated by President Bush and his Afghan and Pakistani counterparts in 2006.

"We agreed that contacts should be established with the opposition," said former Afghan Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah, the head of the Afghan delegation. "Those who are willing to take this opportunity and come forward, the door is open," he told a media conference.

Delegates at the meeting formed committees that would seek contacts with all parties in the conflict, then report back to another jirga in two months with their findings, Abdullah said.

Taliban spokesmen in Pakistan and Afghanistan were not immediately available for comment, but in the past have rebuffed offers of talks.

Steadily mounting violence
Violence in both countries has risen steadily since U.S.-led forces drove the Taliban from power in Afghanistan in 2001. Many militants fled to Pakistan's border regions, where they have established bases and struck back with increasing success.

Extremists are also blamed for a surge in suicide attacks on Western, government and military targets within Pakistan, including last month's devastating blast at the Marriott Hotel in Islamabad.

The Afghan government is seeking talks with elements in the Taliban leadership in an effort at reconciliation and the Taliban's former ambassador to Pakistan said the two sides recently had contacts in Saudi Arabia.

Pakistani officials have also said they are prepared to talk with militants who give up arms, but stressed that dialogue would not derail an ongoing offensive close to the Afghan border.

Abdullah said both countries would talk only with those militants who "accept the constitutions of both nations," but did not explicitly say they must first disarm.

Pressed on whether further talks would include those who kept their weapons, Pakistani delegate Ghazi Gulab Jamal, a former government minister, said only, "Dialogue means we are not fighting and when someone is not fighting, they are not holding weapons."

Another delegate, Afghanistan's former Education Minister Faroq Wardak, said that the offer was not open to al-Qaida members blamed for much of the worst violence in both countries.

A path for militants
U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates and the incoming head of U.S. Central Command, Gen. David Petraeus, have both endorsed efforts to reach out to members of the Taliban considered willing to seek an accommodation with the Afghan government.

Assistant Secretary of State Richard Boucher said last week in Islamabad that "there always needs to be a path for militants, you might say, to come in from the cold. And that's been true in Afghanistan. That's been true in Pakistan."

Pakistan's army is involved in heavy fighting in two northwestern regions, but faces criticism because of civilian casualties and the destruction caused by airstrikes and artillery bombardments.

Last week, lawmakers in the country agreed to a resolution that called for dialogue with militants but also recognized the need for military operations.

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