ISLAMABAD - Afghan President Hamid Karzai telephoned Prime Minister Syed Yousuf Raza Gilani on Tuesday and thanked the Prime Minister for the hospitality extended to him during his recent visit to Pakistan in connection with the trilateral meeting.

The Afghan President also expressed gratitude for the bilateral and trilateral meetings in Islamabad.

Hamid Karzai briefed the PM about his meetings with Pakistani political leaders and termed these very encouraging and constructive.

The Afghan President also apprised the PM about his telephonic conversation with US President, Barack Obama after his return to Kabul from Islamabad.

He took the Prime Minister into confidence about his conversation with US President.

President Karzai underscored Pakistan’s importance for the peace process in Afghanistan and reiterated his request for Pakistan’s assistance to the reconciliation process.

The Prime Minister assured Afghan President that Pakistan would wholeheartedly support peace process in Afghanistan.

Agencies add: President Karzai said his government talks to the Taliban every day through intermediaries, according to an interview by Australia’s SBS television for broadcast on Tuesday.

Afghan and US officials are seeking negotiations with the Taliban as a way of ensuring peace after foreign combat troops leave in 2014, though the talks lay in a very fragile state and the militia recently rejected they existed at all.

“We talk to the Taliban every day. We were talking to them just a few days ago somewhere around this region,” Karzai said in an interview taped a week ago in Kabul with SBS, adding his contact with the group’s one-eyed leader Mullah Omar was through indirect means.

“(But) not personally,” Karzai said when asked if he had spoken with Omar. “I mean not directly, person to person. But through intermediaries, yes.” Karzai and many Western analysts say the reclusive leader is based in the Pakistani city of Quetta.

Karzai also stressed that peace talks with the Taliban are key to regional stability and bringing peace as well to Pakistan, a player seen as crucial to efforts to end the war in Afghanistan.

“It’s no longer Afghanistan that’s the subject of conversation, or the issue. It’s Pakistan as well. It’s peace in Pakistan as well. It’s stability in Pakistan as well,” he said. The interview was recorded before Karzai’s visit to Islamabad last week, where he upset Pakistan by asking for access to Afghan Taliban leaders belonging to the so-called Quetta Shura.

Pakistan has consistently denied the existence of the Quetta Shura.

Karzai said despite the history, he is also keen to work together with Islamabad to help advance peace talks with the Taliban.

“We as the Afghan people and government are willing to help Pakistan work for peace in Afghanistan and work for peace in Pakistan, together,” Karzai said in fluent English.

Karzai added that Afghanistan was making progress on security in the eleventh year of a costly war, local and foreign support for which is souring.

The United States and Nato are racing against the clock to train a 350,000-strong force of Afghan army and police who will take over all security responsibilities before end-2014, when foreign combat troops leave, though scepticism looms that the target can be met in an increasingly violent war.

The Afghan leader also said the Taliban would not return to power in a total capacity. “I don’t think the Taliban will ever come back to take Afghanistan, no,” he said.

“Two years ago I would have been uncertain and unwilling to give you an answer as firm as I do today. The Afghan people will not go back to the nothing of 10 years ago.”

Meanwhile, Karzai in a statement issued by his office on Tuesday invited the Taliban to direct talks with his government, while urging Pakistan to facilitate negotiation efforts towards ending Afghanistan’s decade-long war.

“In order to realise the objectives of the peace process, I invite the leadership of the Taliban to engage in direct talks with the Afghan government,“ Karzai said in the statement.

“I hereby request our brotherly government of Pakistan to support and facilitate our direct negotiation efforts as part of the peace process,” Karzai said, calling Pakistan’s support “crucial” to any success in negotiations.

The statement came after Karzai spoke by telephone to US President Barack Obama about Afghan-led reconciliation moves and a visit last week to Pakistan, where he said it was time to take action for peace.

“The peace process, which envisions the return of all Afghans... including the Taliban, to peaceful lives in their country, is the surest way to peace and stability in Afghanistan,” the Afghan leader said in the statement.

In another development, a group of Afghan officials from Kandahar province has left Afghanistan for Quetta to meet Taliban commanders there and discuss peace efforts, the head of the provincial peace council said Tuesday. “We have been in contact with mid-level Taliban commanders in Quetta for some time. In the last 10 days, our peace council delegation have gone to Quetta three times in twos and threes,” Kandahar peace council head Ata Mohammad Ahmadi told Reuters.

It is unlikely that any meetings between Afghan officials and Taliban commanders could take place in Quetta without the knowledge of Pakistan’s intelligence agencies.

Pakistan may have stepped up its cooperation with the Afghan government by facilitating what Ahmadi said were meetings in Quetta. Pakistani officials were not immediately available for comment.

It was unclear if the reported Quetta meetings were part of broad Afghan government efforts to bring the Taliban into peace talks under a High Peace Council set up by Afghan President Hamid Karzai two years ago to reach out to the insurgents.

Meanwhile, the United States on Tuesday welcomed Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s offer of talks with the Taliban, saying people in the war-torn country need to take the lead in reconciliation efforts.

“We have been gratified to see President Karzai speaking out publicly in support of Afghan-to-Afghan reconciliation,” State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland told reporters.

“Our goal is to work ourselves out of a job... because when we get to the point where it’s Afghans and Afghans talking to each other, then we’ll really have a true reconciliation process,” she said.