Hamid Karzais re-election as Afghanistans president is secure and his first priority will be to open peace talks with Pakistan in an attempt to end the Taliban insurgency raging across their shared border, one of his top aides said on Sunday. Hamed Elmi said that a new Karzai-led government would quickly reach out to Asif Ali Zardari, Pakistans president, to advance negotiations with Taliban fighters. Mr Elmis comments came as Mike Mullen, chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, gave a gloomy assessment of the security situation in Afghanistan, describing it as serious and . . . deteriorating. The remarks by Mr Elmi, Mr Karzais deputy spokesman, were the first indication since last Thursdays election of what a new Karzai administrations policy priorities might be. They pre-empt preliminary results due later this week. This is the top priority, said Mr Elmi. We realise that without peace, nothing is possible. . . Reconstruction doesnt mean anything without peace. Mr Karzai is hoping that his main presidential rival, Abdullah Abdullah, will lead the peace process. Mr Elmi said that this job would serve to make Mr Abdullah more of a national leader than a cabinet post in a Karzai government, and could open the way for a future presidency. Mr Abdullah has pledged to serve a constructive role in opposition, if defeated at the polls. Co-operation between the neighbours is widely regarded as an essential step towards tackling the interlocking insurgency that has inflicted growing casualties on Nato forces in Afghanistan and undermined stability in nuclear-armed Pakistan. Relations between the two countries have improved in the past year from the lows they reached under Pervez Musharraf, Mr Zardaris predecessor. Any attempt at security co-operation will face formidable mistrust rooted in a decades-old regional power struggle and a long history of Pakistani support for the Taliban. Zardari is trying. At least we can talk in the same common language with the Pakistani government, Mr Elmi said. Pakistans ruling Pakistan Peoples party welcomed the Karzai camps overture. It is in the interest of both our countries to co-operate and fight the menace of terrorism and poverty, said Fawzia Wahab, the partys main spokeswoman, last night. Mr Elmi said Mr Karzai aimed to organise a traditional gathering or jirga of hundreds of Afghan and Pakistan elders and fighters in Pakistan to address a complex array of grievances pushing people to join the Taliban resistance. The plan assumes that many insurgents are spurred by anger at Nato forces for civilian deaths, government corruption and localised power struggles rather than the desire to serve ideologically driven Taliban leaders with links to al-Qaeda, the Islamist terror group. Mr Elmi said Mr Karzai had gained an unassailable lead in early election results seen by his campaign team. He struck a more confident tone than Mr Abdullah, who told the FT on Saturday that he expected the result to be rigged in Mr Karzais favour in an election plagued by low turn-out in half the country. Meanwhile, as General Stanley McChrystal, the new US commander in Afghanistan, assesses whether to request more troops, Admiral Mullen said on Sunday that the situation in Afghanistan was serious and . . . deteriorating. Ive said that over the past couple of years, the Taliban insurgency has gotten better, more sophisticated, in their tactics, Adml Mullen said on CNN. US public support for the conflict is sinking to fresh lows as casualties mount. One Washington Post/ABC opinion poll suggested that 51 per cent of Americans now thought the war was not worth fighting up from 45 per cent last month. Adml Mullen said Gen McChrystal would wrap up his assessment of the situation in a few weeks and had not yet made a decision about asking for more troops. Senator John McCain, who lost to Barack Obama in last year's presidential election, argued on Sunday that there were not enough US troops in the country. (FT)