LONDON — The leaders of Britain, Afghanistan and Pakistan on Monday pushed for the Taliban to come to the table for peace talks to end Afghanistan's protracted conflict and gave themselves a six-month deadline to get a deal.
British Prime Minister David Cameron hosted Afghanistan's President Hamid Karzai and Pakistan's President Asif Zardari for trilateral talks on Afghanistan's floundering peace and reconciliation process.
Attempts at peace have faltered even as international forces prepare to withdraw from the country in 2014. Karzai is attempting to draw the Taliban back to negotiations toward a deal between the government and the insurgency.
As part of the effort, the three leaders agreed to open an office in Qatar's capital for negotiations, believing that the Taliban are softening their hardline stance against discussions.
The leaders set out a six month timeline for peace and committed themselves to "take all necessary measures to achieve the goal," a statement from Cameron's office said following the talks.
The meeting was the third in a series of trilateral meetings convened by Cameron.
Earlier, Karzai said in an interview with the U.K.'s Guardian and ITV News that security in the southern Helmand province was better before the arrival of British troops, saying it's possible western forces are being drawn down in Afghanistan because international leaders realized "they were fighting in the wrong place" and that he expects fighting to diminish once NATO forces withdraw.
Karzai said Helmand province — where the U.S-led coalition has lost more soldiers than anywhere else — was more peaceful before British troops arrived in 2006, but that he didn't want to lay blame.
"Whatever happened was the past, and now we are looking forward to the future," he said.
Karzai said the greatest threat to his country's prospects is foreign meddling, but that he was more optimistic than a year ago that behind-the-scenes discussions between his government and the Taliban would prove fruitful, as relations with Pakistan improved.
Karzai, Zardari and Cameron "affirmed that they supported the opening of an office in Doha for the purpose of negotiations between the Taliban and the High Peace Council of Afghanistan as part of an Afghan led peace process," it said in a statement.
The Afghan government has previously expressed support for the opening of an office in Qatar — but only if the Taliban publicly say they will use it to talk solely with the Afghan High Peace Council, which is responsible for talks with the Taliban insurgency.
So far, the Taliban have resisted, although officials close to the Afghan president say privately that they appear to be opening up to the possibility.
Cameron, the Afghan president and Zardari were joined by foreign ministers, defense and intelligence officials for their meeting Monday at the British prime minister's country residence, Chequers.
The Afghan and Pakistani Chiefs of Defense Staff and Intelligence agreed on ways to strengthen cooperation, the statement said. It did not detail the "concrete" measures agreed upon.
Cameron initiated the meetings last year.