PARIS (AP) — France is trying to ease tensions in Afghanistan by talking to conflicting parties and sees Pakistan as key to stabilizing the region, the country's president said Tuesday.
France is hosting a rare face-to-face gathering of Afghanistan's major players, including the Taliban, next week. The cooperation of Pakistan, which has long-standing ties to the Taliban, is seen as pivotal to reviving peace talks.
President Francois Hollande, who met in Paris with Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari, said they talked about what will happen when international military forces leave Afghanistan. "We are well aware of the risks," said Hollande, who ordered France's combat troops out of Afghanistan by the end of this month, ahead of NATO's planned 2014 withdrawal.
Hollande stressed Pakistan's role in helping stability in the region, adding that France's role "is talking to everyone, is to ease these tensions, and then enable peace." Zardari said Pakistan is "working against the threat of the terrorism mindset."
Neither leader gave any details about the upcoming meeting outside Paris to talk about Afghanistan's future, organized by a French think tank. Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid said Monday that representatives of the group would attend the closed-door meeting, but will not discuss peace and reconciliation.
Representatives from Afghanistan's High Peace Council, political parties opposed to the Taliban, and the militant Islamist group Hezb-e-Islami also are expected to attend. During his Paris visit, Zardari also stressed the importance of girls' access to schooling, after a Pakistani schoolgirl was shot in the head by a Taliban gunman for criticizing the militants and promoting education for secular girls, which the Islamist extremists oppose. Fifteen-year-old Malala is now being treated in a British hospital.
"Girls and boys of Pakistan want to study, they want a normal life, they want what every other child aspires for in the world. Every child, every Malala, has a right to the privilege of education," Zardari told reporters.