ISTANBUL: Afghanistan, Pakistan and Turkey will hold joint military exercises next year as part of Ankara’s efforts to bring its two troubled neighbours closer.
“As a result of the work that our armed forces have done so far, a joint exercise will be held in April 2011,” Turkish President Abdullah Gul said in televised remarks.
Gul was speaking after trilateral talks with his counterparts Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan and Asif Ali Zardari of Pakistan in Istanbul.
It was the fifth such meeting since 2007 when Turkey, Nato’s sole Muslim-majority member, launched the initiative to push Afghanistan and Pakistan to enhance cooperation against insurgents and improve ties poisoned by the insecurity plaguing their rugged border.
Relations between Afghanistan and Pakistan have been plagued by mutual suspicion, although bilateral ties have recently improved.
Taliban insurgents fighting against the Western-backed government in Kabul have rear bases in Pakistan, where Afghan and US officials say their leaders enjoy at least some measure of protection from Pakistan.
Islamabad flatly denies any collusion and says more than 2,420 of its soldiers have been killed fighting militants since 2002.
Gul said the three countries’ interior and foreign ministers as well as intelligence and military officials also held separate cooperation talks as part of the gathering in Istanbul.
“We are happy to see that important progress has been made,” he said. On Thursday, Karzai and Zerdari attended a summit in Istanbul of the Economic Cooperation Organisation, a 10-member regional grouping aimed at boosting trade links, which includes also Azerbaijan, Iran, Turkey and Central Asian states.