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    Gilani in Qatar to discuss Afghan reconciliation

    ISLAMABAD (PAN): Pakistani Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani on Monday left for Qatar to discuss efforts at bringing peace in Afghanistan, amid ongoing contacts between the US and the Taliban in the Gulf state.

    Gilani told reporters at the Islamabad airport before his departure for Doha that he would discuss mutual political and economical relations with the Qatari leadership.

    Accompanied by Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar, Petroleum Minister Asim Hussain and Technical Education Minister Riaz Hussain Pirzada and some legislators on the three-day trip, the Prime Minister will meet among others the Emir of Qatar, Sheikh Hamad Bin Khalifa Al-Thani and Prime Minister Sheikh Hamad Bin Jassim Bin Jabr Al-Thani, the foreign ministry spokesman Abdul Basit said.

    The premier will also discuss energy cooperation and trade initiatives with the Qatari leadership, officials said.

    The Afghan Taliban last month agreed to open a liaison office in Doha for peace talks with the US and the international community, amid unease in Kabul and Islamabad that the two countries are being left out of the peace process.

    On the sidelines of the second Bonn conference on Dec. 5, the US, Germany and Qatar agreed to set up a Taliban office in Qatar, a move supported by the Afghan government and welcomed by the fighters.

    Cooperation between Islamabad and Kabul on the Afghan peace process stalled after the assassination last year of High Peace Council chief Burhanuddin Rabbani, which Afghan officials had blamed on elements based in Pakistan.

    Pakistan sought to revive this cooperation when Foreign Minister Khar visited Kabul last week.

    During the visit, Khar said Pakistan would encourage militant groups like the Haqqani network or the Taliban to lay down their arms if asked by Afghanistan. She promised at a joint news conference with her Afghan counterpart that Islamabad would lend its weight to the reconciliation programme as long as it was spearheaded by Afghans.

    Pakistan insists it supports any peace process led and owned by the Afghans and adheres to a policy of non-interference.