ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani on Friday urged Taliban leaders and other Afghan militant groups to participate in negotiations to end the war in neighboring Afghanistan, and he pledged that Pakistan would do "whatever it can" to facilitate peace talks.
Gilani's remarks represent the first publicly known effort by Pakistan to bring the Taliban into the nascent peace process — an important step given the nation's history of sheltering militants, including Taliban chief Mohammad Omar, in its tribal regions.
The outreach followed efforts by Afghan President Hamid Karzai to involve Pakistan in starting direct talks with insurgents at war with Afghan, NATO and U.S. troops. Regional leaders have tried to accelerate reconciliation efforts in Afghanistan ahead of a scheduled U.S. combat troop pullout in 2014.
"It is now time to turn a new leaf and open a new chapter in the history of Afghanistan, to build peace and bring prosperity to Afghanistan," Gilani said in a statement.
"I would like to appeal to the Taliban leadership as well as to all other Afghan groups, including Hezb-i-Islami, to participate in an intra-Afghan process for national reconciliation and peace," he said.
Hezb-i-Islami, or Islamic Party, is a faction allied with the Taliban. Its leader, Afghan warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, has been designated a terrorist by the United States for supporting attacks against Western and Afghan troops.
The Taliban is setting up an office in the tiny Pesian Gulf state of Qatar in the first step toward formal negotiations.