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    Ball in Taliban’s court, says foreign ministry

    KABUL (PAN): Afghanistan on Sunday renewed its call for sincere joint efforts at combating the twin menace of terrorism and extremism in the region. 

    At his weekly media briefing in Kabul, the foreign ministry spokesman strongly denounced a horrific bomb attack in Pakistan’s southwestern Balochistan province.

    The massive bombing on the Kirani Road in Quetta left 84 dead and nearly 200 others wounded on Saturday evening. The city was crippled by a strike on Sunday.

    Ministry spokesman Janan Musazai described terrorism a common enemy of Pakistan, Afghan and the region at large. He underlined the need for real cooperation in the fight against terror.

    Musazai supported the opening of Taliban’s office in Qatar and said the Afghan government backed direct negotiations with the fighters. He said the ball was in Taliban’s court and they should spell out their stance.

    In his opening remarks, the spokesman said the second round of trilateral dialogue among Afghanistan, India and the US would be held in New Delhi on February 19.

    Jan Musazai said Deputy Foreign Minister Javed Ludin would lead the Afghan delegation at the three-way meeting, a process that began at the Afghan Mission in New York on September 25 last year.

    The three allies, having a common vision for a strong, peaceful and prosperous region, had pledged to work together on common challenges, included combating terrorism, strengthening cultural exchanges, boosting regional trade and promoting economic integration. 

    The US delegation will be led by Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asia Robert Blake and Deputy Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan Dan Feldman.

    Musazai indicated participants of the second tripartite dialogue would confer on the ongoing process of transition, preparations for next year’s presidential and provincial council elections and Indian investments in Afghanistan.

    Answering a query, he said Afghanistan maintained good relations with countries in the region and the international community in its own interests and signed a strategic agreement with India in October, 2011.

    “We hope the, our relations with India will gain more strength and depth in the years to come,” he said, insisting both sides remained committed to enhancing their friendship.

    Kabul had also signed a strategic partnership agreement with Washington, he said, hoping the three nations would be able to realise their common goal of bringing peace stability and economic development to Afghanistan.

    Afghanistan believes that the strong relations with Pakistan and the US were in the interest of peace and prosperity in the region. These ties did not harm the interests of any country, he said.

    Afghanistan, desiring close relations with Pakistan, needs greater cooperation in the joint war on terror and removal of trade barriers from the neighbour before reaching a strategic agreement, he elaborated.

    He also referred to Austrian Foreign Minister Micheal Spindelegger’s just-concluded visit to Kabul -- a move reflecting growing relations between the two countries. The visiting dignitary pledged 18 million euros (1.2 billion afghanis) in new assistance to Afghanistan.

    It was the first trip of a high-level Austrian official to Afghanistan in 60 years, according to the spokesman, who said Vienna was ready to train Afghan National Police (ANP) after 2014 and spend 6 million euros in this regard annually.

    myn/mud