KABUL: Afghan President Hamid Karzai called Thursday for greater international cooperation to stabilise his war-torn country and defeat Islamist militants, during the latest round of talks on the future of Afghanistan.
Representatives from 29 countries gathered in Kabul for the day-long conference, just weeks after NATO agreed at a summit in Chicago to stick to plans to withdraw the bulk of 130,000 foreign combat troops from Afghanistan by the end of 2014.
The conflict in Syria is also expected to feature prominently in meetings between foreign ministers on Thursday -- including those from Britain and Russia.
The Taliban militia leading a 10-year insurgency against Karzai's government have begun this year's annual fighting season with a series of attacks which saw US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta admit last week that violence was rising.
Karzai said the help of neighbouring countries and international powers was vital to economic growth and peace in his impoverished country.
He also called on Pakistan, one of the historic sponsors of the Taliban, directly to support nascent efforts to end the 10-year war in Afghanistan.
"Support from these global powers and our neighbours is very important to Afghanistan and to the continued progress of Afghanistan towards stability and economic development," Karzai told delegates.
"Cooperation of all of us countries in the region, the neighbours, and our allies and NATO that will bring stability not only to Afghanistan but the much-needed relief from terrorism and radicalism and violence."
He also sought to reassure neighbours, Iran in particular, that strategic partnership deals signed by Kabul with several Western powers, particularly the United States, to govern relations beyond 2014, would not damage ties.
But Iran, a sworn enemy of the United States that welcomes NATO's departure from its eastern border, alluded to the Kabul-Washington pact by saying it adds to security concerns among Afghanistan's neighbouring countries.
Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi said the deal and efforts to establish foreign military bases in Afghanistan ran counter to peace efforts and "could turn this country once again into scene of security rivalries".
Karzai is keen to broker a peace deal with the Taliban, but the militants publicly refuse to talk to his government. Earlier this year, it also announced that it had pulled the plug on nascent contacts with the Americans in Qatar.
The president said the head of the Afghan High Peace Council would soon visit Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, but gave no dates, and urged Islamabad to support peace efforts.
Afghanistan's relations with Pakistan have been clouded by mutual blame for Islamist violence plaguing both countries.
Karzai has consistently called on Pakistan to demolish terror sanctuaries in its semi-autonomous tribal belt.
Last week, Panetta also warned that the United States was running out of patience with Pakistan for not eliminating safe-havens of the Pakistan-based Haqqani network and other militants who attack US troops.
Islamabad denies any support for Haqqani activities and says it is doing everything possible to fight terrorism, saying no country has suffered more.
British Foreign Minister William Hague said he would use talks with his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov on the sidelines of the conference to press Moscow to use its influence to rein in the Syrian regime.
Monitors say more than 14,100 people have been killed in the 15-month uprising against the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, and Moscow, long an ally of Damascus, has refused to halt weapons sales.
A row blew up Wednesday between Washington and Moscow over arming the rivals in the Syrian conflict after US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said she had information that Russia was sending attack helicopters to Assad's regime.
Lavrov insisted Russia was supplying "anti-air defence systems" to Damascus and accused the United States of supplying arms to the Syrian opposition.
The next talks on Afghanistan will be in Tokyo next month and will focus on ways to ensure social progress -- governance, economic prospects, health and education. AGENCIES