KABUL: Afghanistan is expected to use the latest round of international talks on its future on Thursday to raise pressure on Pakistan over militant safe havens ahead of the departure of foreign troops.
Representatives from 29 countries will gather in Kabul for the one-day conference, which follows a meeting in Istanbul in November aimed at mapping out the future of the war-torn country after North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) troops leave in 2014.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai says peace depends on regional cooperation to smash sanctuaries for militant networks waging violence in his country, and has voiced hope that Pakistan can help in this process.
In April, militants staged a spectacular coordinated attack in Kabul which Washington blamed on the Haqqani network.
Last week, US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta added to concerns about worsening violence by describing a June 6 double suicide attack in the southern city of Kandahar as "much more organised than we've seen before".
Islamabad denies any support for Haqqani activities, but the group's leaders are widely believed to have strongholds in North Waziristan.
Last year, then US military chief Admiral Mike Mullen described the network as a "veritable arm" of Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency.
Pakistanis say the Americans and Afghans are trying to find a scapegoat for the deterioration of the decade-old war in Afghanistan and that no country has suffered from terrorism more than Pakistan.
But in Afghanistan and the United States, critics say Pakistan's resistance to cracking down on militant sanctuaries has only fuelled attacks.
"That is why we have continued to witness major attacks, including on US interests inside Afghanistan, that have frustrated US and Afghan officials," Najib Mahmood, a political science lecturer at Kabul University, told AFP.
"I believe the Afghan government will seize the opportunity in this conference to put added pressure on Pakistan to deal with this problem more seriously," he said.
Panetta said in Afghanistan last week that the United States was running out of patience with Pakistan's refusal to eliminate terror havens.
The Afghan foreign ministry said Kabul would do whatever it took to combat the threat of terrorism posed to the world and to Afghanistan.
"Afghanistan has been affected by this menace in the worst possible way, of course we will make all efforts in this conference to find a solution for the problem of terrorism," said spokesman Faramerz Tamana.
Pakistan confirmed that Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar would attend Thursday's conference and reiterated it was doing everything in its power to fight terrorism and extremism.
"Pakistan will not allow its territory to be used against any country, nor will it allow any safe havens on its territory," foreign ministry spokesman Moazzam Ahmad Khan told AFP.
"Nobody should doubt our resolve and determination in this regard. Our sacrifices remain unparalleled and our resolve unshakable," he said.
But Afghans have few expectations of swift action from Islamabad. "Given the resistance Pakistan has shown to similar pressures by the United States and Nato, it is highly improbable Pakistan will change its stance on the issue of militancy on its soil," Mahmood said.
Strategies to combat terrorism and drug trafficking and respond to natural disasters are expected to be on the table at the "Heart of Asia" conference, as well as moves to strengthen trade and economic relations.
Ahmad Saeedi, an Afghan analyst and author, said Afghanistan was keen to use the conference to develop its role in the region.
"Afghanistan has been seen as a source of war, violence and problems for the past few decades. It is trying to change that image now," he said.
"This conference is an opportunity for Afghanistan and the Afghan government to change its image from being a subject or a problem to a country that can contribute in tackling challenges facing the region."
Besides regional foreign ministers, Thursday's one-day conference will also bring together representatives from international organisations, including Nato, the European Union and the United Nations.
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