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Afghan delegation in Pakistan for peace talks


A high-ranking peace delegation from Kabul is in Pakistan to hold talks on kick-starting Afghanistan's peace process, an official said Wednesday, but he was unable to confirm whether they would meet militant commander Mullah Baradar.

The three-member group representing the High Peace Council (HPC) left for Islamabad for a trip lasting one to two days, Shafiullah Shafi, a member of the council, told AFP.

"A three-member Afghan delegation headed by Salahuddin Rabbani (HPC chairman) left for Islamabad today," said Shafi.

"They will talk with Pakistani officials on ways to better help the peace process," he said, adding the meeting had been agreed during last month's summit between Afghanistan, Pakistan and Britain in London.

The High Peace Council is the Afghan body charged with opening negotiations with Taliban insurgents as US-led NATO forces prepare to withdraw from the country by the end of next year.

A statement from the office of Afghan President Hamid Karzai at the end of October said: "It was agreed on that a High Peace Council delegation will visit Pakistan and meet with Mullah Baradar in the near future."

Baradar was freed from jail in Pakistan in September as part of efforts to boost Afghanistan's peace process, but since his "release" it appears he has been kept under house arrest by the Pakistanis.

Afghan officials believe he could encourage Taliban leaders to seek a negotiated settlement to end the 12-year insurgency if he were given full freedom.

Support from Pakistan, which backed Afghanistan's 1996-2001 Taliban regime, is seen as crucial to peace after NATO troops depart -- but relations between the neighbours remain uneasy.

A Taliban office in Qatar that opened in June was meant to lead to talks, but instead it enraged Karzai after it was styled as an embassy for a government-in-exile.