Afghanistan, Pakistan agree to timetable for Taliban peace talks

Afghan president Hamid Karzai and Pakistani president Asif Ali Zardari finalized the terms during a bilateral summit hosted by British Prime Minister David Cameron on Monday, recent news reports state. 

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"All sides agreed on the urgency of this work and committed themselves to take all necessary measures to achieve the goal of a peace settlement over the next six months," according to a joint statement issued by Cameron's office. 

While all sides praised the progress made in getting the Taliban to the negotiating table on Monday, the lack of an official Taliban representative to participate in this week's summit put a damper on those accomplishments. 

However, Zardari remained optimistic that a Taliban peace deal would not only go a long way to ensuring security in Afghanistan, but would also help guarantee long-term stability in the region. 

"Peace in Afghanistan is peace in Pakistan. We feel that we can only survive together," he said during Monday's peace talks. "We cannot change our neighborhood or our neighbors."

The Afghan-Pakistan peace deal will focus on the creation of a new Taliban "office" in Doha, where representatives from the militant Islamic group can meet with counterparts from both countries, in an attempt to get the group's fighters to lay down their arms and participate in the Afghan central government. 

A similar effort was pursued in Iraq in late 2004, when the government of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki sought to integrate radical cleric Muqtada al-Sadr and members of his Jaish al-Mahdi into the political process 

The creation of the Doha office was also a key discussion point between Karzai and President Barack Obama during the Afghan leader's visit to Washington earlier this year. 

The Doha office is part of a "very detailed, five-phase approach" to getting the Taliban to the negotiation table drafted by the Karzai government, White House adviser Doug Lute said in Jamuary. 

"We really have ... a clearer path towards Afghan-led peace talks than we've had in the past," according to Lute. 

The peace plan, if successful, will dovetail with the White House's plan to have all American combat troops out of Afghanistan by 2014. Roughly 66,000 American troops are still in country, with over 30,000 withdrawn this past summer. 

In January, Obama announced a decision to accelerate the handover of security operations to Afghan forces decision to accelerate the handover of all security operations to Afghan forces to mid-2013. 

That transition was scheduled to take place sometime in early 2014, ahead of the American withdrawal from the country. American troops will remain in country after the handover this spring, but will take a backseat to Afghan commanders. 

Aside from looking ahead to a postwar Afghanistan, administration officials are looking to leverage the Taliban peace plan as a way to possibly end the deadly cross border raids into eastern Afghanistan by militants based in Pakistan. 

The White House sees the peace plan, and Islamabad's critical role in that formulating that plan, as a way to stifle or completely eliminate that cross border threat, Lute said at the time. 

The attacks, particularly those carried out by the Pakistani-based Haqqani Network, has continued to be a roadblock in increasingly strained relations between Washington and Islamabad.

Border clashes with Haqqani fighters and coalition forces have produced some of the heaviest fighting since the Obama administration surged more than 20,000 U.S. troops into the southern part of the country in 2009.