Pakistan says Taliban leaders fled outside Af-Pak

ISTANBUL Mon Jun 7, 2010 5:02pm IST

Pakistan's Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi (R) looks at Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit during their meeting at the Egyptian Foreign Ministry in Cairo in this May 22, 2010 file photo. REUTERS/Amr Abdallah Dalsh/Files

Pakistan's Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi (R) looks at Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit during their meeting at the Egyptian Foreign Ministry in Cairo in this May 22, 2010 file photo.

Credit: Reuters/Amr Abdallah Dalsh/Files

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ISTANBUL (Reuters) - Pakistan's military operations in tribal areas have forced some important Taliban leaders to flee outside of Pakistan and Afghanistan, Pakistan's Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi said on Monday.

Afghanistan-Pakistan relations had seen a "dramatic shift" since Pakistan returned to civilian-led democracy, Qureshi added after three-way talks with Turkey designed to help dispel years of mistrust between Kabul and Islamabad.

"(Taliban leaders) have fled the region because of very successful military operations Pakistan has undertaken in the tribal belt, in Swat and Malakand," Qureshi told a joint news conference with his Afghan and Turkish counterparts in Istanbul after the meeting.

The United States is waiting for Pakistan to launch a military operation in the North Waziristan tribal region, home to the Haqqani faction, and other Taliban groups, and a known stomping ground for al Qaeda fighters.

A peace jirga -- a council of elders -- concluded in Kabul last week with a call for President Hamid Karzai's government to find a way to make peace with those Taliban who were not linked to al Qaeda or terrorist groups.

"My brother from Pakistan, the foreign minister, quoted full support for the peace process and Pakistan and Afghanistan will work together to achieve a peaceful solution to this conflict," Afghanistan's Foreign Minister Zalmay Rasul said when asked if the Taliban leadership was in Pakistan or Afghanistan.

Asked whether the Afghan government had given Pakistan any assurances over India's strong diplomatic presence and links with Afghanistan, developments which have sparked Pakistani fears of encirclement, Qureshi said a "different situation" now existed.

"Our political relations have improved in the last two years. There is greater sharing of intelligence taking place. There is greater understanding between the military leaderships of the two countries," he said.

"So there is a different situation that we are looking at."

Both Pakistan and Afghanistan, who in the past have suspected each other of seeking to destabilise their governments, were now "seeing eye to eye on many issues and working in harmony", according to Qureshi.

(Editing by Jon Boyle)

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