NEW YORK - Afghanistan and Pakistan are working to end 13 years of "undeclared state of hostilities" as improved relationship between the two neighbouring countries is key to peace efforts with the Taliban, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani has said.

"I’m cautiously optimistic that we have begun a process of fundamental transformation," he told members of the Council on Foreign Relations, a US think-tank, in New York on Thursday. Ghani said improved relations with Pakistan are key to denying support for Afghan Taliban insurgents.

"Without sanctuary, a long-term rebellion is impossible. When sanctuaries end, peace breaks out. That's what happened in Central America and Latin America, that's what has happened in Africa," the Afghan leader added. Ghani referred to the Peshawar school tragedy in December in which 154 people, mostly children, were killed, as helping to bring the two governments closer together.

"Terrorists neither require passports nor recognise nationalities," Ghani said. "I’m hopeful that we will have sufficient wisdom not to sink but to swim together," he added.

He said that both countries stand to gain a lot from improved relations and peace in the region. Earlier, Ghani held talks with Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on his first visit to UN Headquarters as president of Afghanistan.

"The discussion focused on the stronger ties Afghanistan is building in the region, as well as the importance of trade and economic development," a UN spokesman said.  "Consideration was given to the need to respond to humanitarian challenges regarding displaced persons and refugees in the region and the importance of Afghan-led and -owned peace and reconciliation talks.

"The secretary-general underlined the strong historical relationship between Afghanistan and the United Nations and reiterated the organisation's continuing and his personal commitment to supporting the Afghan government and Afghan people."

AFP adds: Ghani said he was "cautiously optimistic" about improved relations with Pakistan, which he considers integral to peace efforts with the Taliban.

PROTEST AGAINST LYNCHING OF AFGHAN WOMAN: Staff Reporter from Peshawar adds: Condemning the lynching of Afghan woman Farkhunda by mob in Afghanistan, dozens of civil society organisation members on Friday staged a protest demonstration on the premises of press club and demanding the Afghan president to award death sentence to people involved in the gruesome incident.

The protest was headed by the Afghan Students Union (ASU) Khyber Pakhtunkhwa leader Dr Ibrahim Khan Zazai along with dozens of male and female activists and members of civil society organisation. The demonstrators were carrying placards and banners inscribed with slogans in favour of the martyred woman and against the killers. Representatives from various civil societies and Pak-Afghan People's Forum (PAPF), Aurat Foundation (AF), ANP Ladies' Wing (ALW) and others also participated in the protest.

While speaking on the occasion, they said that Farkhunda was herself Hafiz-e-Quran (Learnt Qur'an by her heart) and kept advising the fake shrine keepers to refrain from deceiving the innocent and simple people by writing fake Taveez (amulets).

The shrine keepers, they informed, could not bear her repeated advice and started accusing her of incineration the holy Quran and killed her through mob. But when the local police probed into the incident did not prove that she blasphemed the holy Quran and then it arrested all the people involved in killing of the woman.