KABUL, Afghanistan — Pakistan is willing to help jumpstart long-stalled peace talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban to try to end the more than 12-year war in Afghanistan if the parties request Islamabad's help, a senior Pakistani official said Sunday.
Sartaj Aziz, a special adviser on national security and foreign affairs, spoke during a one-day visit to Afghanistan aimed at mending relations between the two neighbors. Ties have been strained over Kabul's perception that Pakistan has been supporting the Taliban as well as trying to obstruct peace talks.
The U.S. has been trying to enlist Pakistan's support to help coax the Taliban into peace negotiations with Afghanistan. Washington views Pakistan as a key player in the negotiations because of its longstanding relationship with the militant movement.
The Taliban opened a political office in the Gulf state of Qatar in June, but then early this month shuttered the office, at least temporarily, after a dispute broke out over their use of the name and flag they had during their five-year rule. It is not clear when, or if, it will reopen.
Aziz said Pakistan had helped persuade some Taliban factions to discuss peace in the past, and also had played a role in helping Taliban representatives travel to Qatar before those efforts stalled.
"In the future, to the extent we are requested, we can play the same role but at the appropriate time and in consultation with other interested parties," Aziz said.
Despite the efforts at peace, violence has been rampant in Afghanistan in recent months as the insurgency tries to take advantage of the withdrawal of foreign troops to retake lost ground, especially in their southern heartland. All foreign combat troops are to leave the country by the end of 2014.
The provincial police chief of southern Kandahar, Gen. Abdul Razaq, said that 18 Taliban, including two commanders, had been killed during an operation early Sunday. He said Afghan special forces raided a Taliban meeting in Kandahar's Panjway district and also arrested seven insurgents during the operation. He said a number managed to escape. There were no further details and Razaq did not mention if there were any casualties among security forces.
In other violence, 11 people were killed in two separate attacks in eastern Afghanistan.
According to the spokesman for Khost province, Mubarez Zadran, a group of insurgents attack the house of Spera district chief Mohammad Azim Zadran. They killed the chief's brother and five of his bodyguards, but missed the district chief.
In neighboring Paktia province, a bomb exploded in a market, killing five civilians and wounding at least 10, according to the head of the provincial council, Shausta Jan Ahady.
Associated Press writer Patrick Quinn contributed from Kabul, and Mirwais Khan contributed from Kandahar, Afghanistan.