June 7th, 2010
08:24 AM ET

Afghan, Pakistani officials to attend Madrid forum for first time

Afghan and Pakistani government officials will attend for the first time a meeting in Madrid on Monday with special envoys from 33 other nations, including the United States and China, to discuss peace efforts in the war-torn region, a senior Spanish diplomat said. 

It will be the 11th meeting of the International Support Group for Afghanistan and Pakistan since it was formed in May 2009.

But the first-time appearances at the forum by the Afghan and Pakistani representatives - as well as special envoys from Saudi Arabia and Jordan - is seen as a sign of the expanding effort to push for peace and reconstruction in Afghanistan, the diplomat said.

"There's a process of reconciliation and integration, aiming to weaken the Taliban. This process is led by the Afghans and financed by the international community," said the diplomat, who insisted on anonymity because he is not authorized to speak publicly about the Madrid meeting.

Afghan Finance Minister Omar Zakhilwal and two advisers to Afghan President Hamid Karzai will attend, along with Pakistan's ambassador to Spain.

U.S. special representative to Afghanistan and Pakistan, Richard Holbrooke, will appear at a news conference Monday along with Zakhilwal, as well as Germany's special envoy, who chairs the support group, and the Spanish foreign minister, the host of the meeting.

The International Support Group does not make binding decisions or sign treaties. Instead, member countries report back to their respective governments on progress toward bringing peace to the region.

The envoys on Monday will discuss last week's jirga peace conference in Afghanistan and the upcoming Kabul Conference on July 20 that will address economic, development and security issues.

Among the 33 countries also due to attend the Madrid meeting are Russia, Britain, Australia, Canada, Egypt, France, Georgia, Germany, India, Italy, Japan, Malaysia, Holland, Poland, South Korea, Turkey and United Arab Emirates, the diplomat said.

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