KABUL, Afghanistan — The Afghan government urged neighboring Pakistan on Sunday to take concrete steps to help end the Taliban insurgency and use its influence to bring the militants to direct peace talks.
The appeal follows accusations that Pakistan, through its historical ties with some of the militant groups, has played an active role in supporting attacks across the border on U.S. and Afghan targets – a charge it denies.
The allegations against the country and the calls for its help reveal a central quandary in trying to end the decade of fighting that began with the U.S. invasion after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks: Pakistan, even if it has ties to groups behind the insurgency, would be of central importance in any effort to bring about a negotiated peace.
Afghan leaders, however, are growing impatient.
"Afghanistan has invested a great amount of goodwill and political capital to create an atmosphere of trust and confidence and to try to improve relations with Pakistan over the past three years," Foreign Ministry spokesman Janan Mosazai told reporters in Kabul.
"Unfortunately, we have not been witness to the type of concrete progress that we were expecting – that was promised to us by our brothers and sisters in Pakistan," he said.
In particular, Afghanistan wants its neighbor's help in the "facilitation of direct negotiations with the Taliban leadership and with any other insurgent leaders who are prepared to join the Afghan national reconciliation process," Mosazai said.
Pakistan's northwest tribal region serves as a haven for insurgents fighting Afghan and U.S. forces across the border as well as the Pakistani government. Pakistan has ties with some of the militant groups dating back to the war in the 1980s against the Soviets in Afghanistan.
Afghan and U.S. officials, long frustrated at Pakistan's failure to wage an all-out battle against militants on its soil, have recently accused Islamabad of supporting attacks across the border, including an hours-long assault on the U.S. Embassy last month in Kabul.
Reflecting the deepening frustration, Afghan President Hamid Karzai said over the weekend that he was giving up on trying to talk to the Taliban directly and that the key to ending the war is mediation by Pakistan.
At the same time, Karzai has suspended a series of meetings between Afghanistan, Pakistan and the United States because of the fallout over accusations that Pakistan is playing a double game. The Afghan government said it had evidence that Pakistan played a role in the Sept. 20 assassination of former Afghan President Burhanuddin Rabbani.
Karzai's office said a special commission investigating Rabbani's death had concluded the attack was planned in Quetta, the Pakistani city where key Taliban leaders are based. The delegation also said the primary assailant was a Pakistani citizen.
Interior Minister Bismullah Khan Mohammadi said Saturday in an Afghan parliamentary session that Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence agency was involved in the killing.
Pakistan denied the allegation the allegation Sunday, calling it "baseless" and "irresponsible." It said the evidence given to Pakistan consisted of the confession of an Afghan national, Hamidullah Akundzadeh, accused of masterminding Rabbani's assassination.
"Instead of making such irresponsible statements, those in positions of authority in Kabul, should seriously deliberate as to why all those Afghans who are favorably disposed toward peace and toward Pakistan are systematically being removed from the scene and killed," said Pakistan's Foreign Ministry in a written statement.
Meanwhile, the members of the High Peace Council that Rabbani had headed met with Karzai and asked for a full review of the process. They said they do not want to waste time trying to reconcile with insurgents on the Pakistani side of the border who have not renounced violence, according to a presidential statement and members of the council.
That would be a major shift for the council, which was formed to try to find a way to get the Taliban leadership to the negotiating table.
"Those groups that are hiding in Pakistan, they are sending terrorists at us. So how can we have peace with those people?" said Ismail Qasemyar, one of the members who met with Karzai.
There is debate over how much influence Pakistan actually has with the Taliban, but most analysts believe that the country is vital to the success of any peace talks.
"My own sense is that Pakistani influence and connections and its clout is largely exaggerated," said Riffat Hussain, a professor of defense studies at Quaid-e-Azam University in Islamabad. "But if there is any player who can act as a bridge to bring these guys on board, it has to be Pakistan." Specifically, he said, the powerful Pakistani intelligence service must be involved.
Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari responded to the growing criticism in a weekend editorial in the Washington Post in which he said the U.S. was spending too much time dictating to Pakistan rather than treating its government as a partner.
Associated Press writers Heidi Vogt in Kabul and Sebastian Abbot in Islamabad contributed to this report.