| GEO World|
| G8 focus on stabilising Afghanistan, Pakistan|
| Updated at: 1925 PST, Saturday, June 27, 2009|
TRIESTE: The Group of Eight leading powers turned their attention Saturday to stabilising Afghanistan and Pakistan in talks aimed at shoring up faltering efforts with 40 regional players.
With just two months to go before a presidential election, Afghanistan is battling a Taliban insurgency and has been flooded with massive waves refugees fleeing a Pakistani army offensive in the Swat valley.
Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi said talks focussed on "the development of economic infrastructure and enhanced regional connectivity -- open trade corridors, improving rail and road links."
"We were discussing how important it is for these people to return home as soon as possible," Qureshi said while talking to a French news agency.
"It's a huge challenge. Obviously we need more help, international help, because if we win on the military front and we lose hearts and minds, then it will come to naught," he said.
The foreign ministers of Afghanistan and Pakistan joined their counterparts from Central Asia, officials from aid organisations and the G8, but key player Iran decided to stay away amid turmoil at home over its contested election.
US envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan Richard Holbrooke joined the talks that also touched on countering drug trafficking by strengthening border security.
The United States is winding down efforts to destroy poppy crops in Afghanistan, which produces more than 90 percent of the world's opium, most of it grown in the troubled southern Helmand province.
Most is converted into heroin and trafficked mainly to Europe, the Middle East and Central Asia.
"Hundreds and hundreds of millions of dollars we've spent on crop eradication has not done any damage to the Taliban. On the contrary, it's helped them recruit," Holbrooke said earlier this week.
During a separate meeting with the G8 on Friday, the foreign ministers of Afghanistan and Pakistan acknowledged that drug trafficking "remains a significant financial source for extremists" and called for more cooperation to combat the illicit trade.
"It is very important to revive agriculture in Afghanistan, which made the country rich before the war, while today it is dominated by crops linked to the narcotics trade," EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana said while talking to the news agency.
Turning to the August 20 elections that are expected to hand victory to President Hamid Karzai, the Afghanistan-Pakistan international support group called for measures to ensure that state resources were not used in the campaign.
"The Group emphasised the importance of credible, inclusive and secure elections that reflect the will of the Afghan people," said a statement from the group of 20 countries and organisations.
The United States and European allies have pledged thousands of extra troops to ensure security on polling day and are providing funds for the vote, the second presidential ballot in the country ruined by decades of war.
G8 members Britain, Canada, France, Italy, Germany and the United States all have troops serving in Afghanistan where the Taliban insurgency rages on, nearly eight years after the Islamic militia was ousted from Kabul.
Taliban militants stormed a police checkpoint overnight and killed eight policemen in Helmand province where a large continent of the 90,000-strong international force is mobilised.
G8 foreign ministers said in a joint statement Friday that they were "firmly committed" to supporting Afghanistan and Pakistan as "they confront grave security, humanitarian, counter-narcotics, terrorism and economic challenges."