Afghanistan's Ghani urges regional help to defeat terrorism

Pakistan's Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif (R) walks with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani (L) upon his arrival at the military Nur Khan airbase in Rawalpindi on December 9, 2015. Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Mr Ghani (left) sought help from Pakistan PM Nawaz Sharif (right) and other leaders to defeat terrorism

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani has blamed "regional and international terror groups" for the violence in his country.

Mr Ghani told the Heart of Asia meeting in Islamabad that regional co-operation was needed to end terrorism.

His comments are being seen in reference to Kabul's long-held view that Pakistan supports the Taliban in Afghanistan, a charge Islamabad denies.

Indian Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj promised her country's help to Kabul.

She will also hold rare bilateral talks with Pakistani officials on Wednesday.

The Heart of Asia gathering brings together Asian and other countries to discuss the future of Afghanistan and its neighbours.

Security co-operation between Afghanistan and Pakistan is seen as crucial in countering a growing threat from the Taliban and other militants in the region.

On Wednesday, Mr Ghani blamed Pakistan-based militant groups for the escalating violence in Afghanistan.

"The Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan launched a vicious attack on children in Peshawar for which they robustly responded. But that very response brought them onto our country... What is the nature of the Taliban and how do we deal with it?" he asked.

Image copyright AFP
Image caption Pakistani troops guard the Afghan border - the two sides have long disagreed over how to tackle the Taliban

Militants from the Pakistani Taliban killed more than 150 people, mostly children, in an attack on an army-run school in Peshawar last year.

Mr Ghani also warned that the presence of international militant groups was growing in Afghanistan.

"Al-Qaeda, Daesh [Islamic State militant group] and terrorists from China, Russia, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, the Middle East are all, unfortunately, present on our soil."

Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif said "working for the achievement of a peaceful neighbourhood is a cardinal principal of Pakistan's foreign policy".

"We should envisage collective and coordinated measures on the regional security front to ensure that the gains and struggle against terrorism are durable and irreversible," he said.

Image copyright AFP
Image caption Indian Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj (left) will meet Pakistani PM Nawaz Sharif

'Good neighbourliness'

Afghanistan is also a source of tension between Pakistan and India, with the former accusing the latter of meddling in what it sees as its backyard.

Ms Swaraj said India was prepared to "move our co-operation at a pace which Pakistan is comfortable with".

"But today, let us at least resolve to help Afghanistan - in the best traditions of good neighbourliness - through more effective transit arrangements," she said.

India will host the Heart of Asia conference next year.

Image copyright AFP
Image caption Narendra Modi has accepted an invitation from Nawaz Sharif to attend a regional summit in Islamabad next year

Meanwhile, Ms Swaraj is likely to meet Mr Sharif and other Pakistani officials on Wednesday.

Her visit comes days after India and Pakistan held unexpected peace talks in Bangkok after a stalemate of four months.

They cancelled a high-level meeting in August after months of tension in disputed Kashmir, but ties have eased since.

M Ilyas Khan, BBC News, Islamabad

Ms Swaraj's visit comes in the aftermath of a dramatic rise - and then a rather sudden ease - in tensions between the two nuclear-armed rivals.

Pakistan wants to discuss Kashmir, claimed by both countries in its entirety.

India wants Pakistan to allow greater commercial interaction, liberalise visa regimes, grant transit rights to traders between Delhi and Kabul, and stamp out militant groups which it believes Pakistan has raised to destabilise Kashmir and Afghanistan.

This is a complex situation, and talks in the past have often broken down, underlining a trust deficit on both sides.

However, Ms Swaraj's visit suggests that the two sides are ready to restart peace talks. And a measure of their success would be if they can draw up a road-map for more substantive talks in the near future.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi held a brief meeting with Mr Sharif at the climate change conference in Paris on 1 December.

That was followed by Sunday's meeting in the Thai capital, Bangkok where the two sides said their security advisers talked about terrorism, Kashmir, peace and security.

Correspondents say the talks and Ms Swaraj's visit show that the nuclear-armed rivals are open to restart peace talks after what was described as a "diplomatic fiasco" in August.

But few expect any major breakthroughs.