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Afghan leader 'cautiously optimistic' over Pakistan

NEW YORK: Afghan President Ashraf Ghani said Thursday he was “cautiously optimistic” about improved relations with Pakistan, which he considers integral to peace efforts with the Taliban.

Ghani has made rapprochement with Pakistan a key policy since being elected as Afghanistan’s second president since the US-led toppling of the Pakistan-backed Taliban regime in 2001.

Despite facing criticism at home for his efforts, he defended the policy as key to peace while addressing an audience in New York on his maiden presidential visit to the United States.

“I’m cautiously optimistic that we’ve begun a process of fundamental transformation,” he told the Council on Foreign Relations in response to a question about Afghan-Pakistani ties.

Ghani, who said both countries were working to end 13 years of hostilities, believes improved relations with Pakistan are key to denying support for Afghan Taliban insurgents.

“Without sanctuary, a long-term rebellion is impossible. When sanctuaries end, peace breaks out. That’s what happened in Central America and Latin America, that’s what has happened in Africa,” he said.

Pakistani support has been seen as crucial in recent moves to persuade the Taliban to talk to Kabul, as well as in denying them safe havens on Pakistani soil.

The Taliban say they will not negotiate while foreign troops remain on Afghan soil.

Ghani cited a Taliban massacre at a school in the Pakistani city of Peshawar in December that killed 153 people, mostly children, as helping to bring the two governments closer together.

“Terrorists neither require passports nor recognize nationalities,” Ghani said.

“I’m hopeful that we will have sufficient wisdom not to sink but to swim together,” he added.-AFP

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