Islamabad, Pakistan – Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan has visited neighbouring Afghanistan, where he vowed to “do everything” to help curb violence and push for a ceasefire between the Taliban and Afghan forces.
Khan’s first visit to Kabul as prime minister comes as violence escalates in the war-torn nation, threatening peace negotiations between the Afghan government and the Taliban that began in Doha in September.
“We notice with concern that the level of violence despite the talks in Qatar, is rising,” Khan said in a press conference with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani on Thursday.
Khan said he had chosen this moment to visit Kabul to assure the Afghan government that “Pakistan will do everything, whatever is possible, we will do to help reduce this violence and in fact move towards a ceasefire”.
Afghan Foreign Minister Mohammed Haneef Atmar and Ghani’s special envoy for Pakistan Omar Daudzay received the visiting dignitary at the Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul.
Prime Minister @ImranKhanPTI arrives at Kabul
Foreign Minister @SMQureshiPTI, Advisor on Commerce @razak_dawood, DG ISI Lt. Gen. Faiz Hamid, Foreign Secretary Sohail Mehmood, Special Representative for Afghanistan Muhammad Sadiq & senior officials are accompanying.#PMIKinKabul pic.twitter.com/Pb6JmOhcIB
— Prime Minister's Office, Pakistan (@PakPMO) November 19, 2020
Meanwhile, Ghani said the common objective for the two countries was to “overcome the distrust that has haunted our relationship”.
“We have come to an understanding that a shared vision regarding cooperation is not only essential for relations between Afghanistan and Pakistan, but a harbinger of regional cooperation, connectivity,” he added.
“And I would like to inform the media that within a short period I would be honoured to accept your invitation to visit the Islamic Republic of Pakistan.”
Graan Hewad, spokesman for the Afghan Foreign Ministry, said that the visiting prime minister would share his views with the Afghan leadership about Islamabad’s role in the peace process.
Earlier a Pakistani statement said that the focus of the talks would be “on further deepening the fraternal bilateral relations between Pakistan and Afghanistan, the Afghan peace process, and regional economic development and connectivity”.
Khan was accompanied by Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi and his adviser on commerce and investment, Razzaq Dawood.
The Pakistani prime minister’s visit comes at a time of heightened engagement between the two neighbours, with numerous Afghan government officials visiting Pakistan in the preceding months, including Afghan peace chief Abdullah Abdullah, speaker of Afghanistan’s lower house of Parliament Rahman Rahmani and Commerce Minister Nisar Ahmad Ghoraini.
In October, Pakistan also hosted Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, the leader of the Hizb-e-Islami, an armed group that laid down weapons in 2016.
Agenda of talks
The peace talks between Afghan government negotiators and the Afghan Taliban in the Qatari capital Doha will be in focus during Khan’s visit.
Historic talks between the two sides to end a 19-year war in Afghanistan kicked off in September after the United States had earlier signed an agreement with the Afghan Taliban in February.
While the talks continue, progress has been slow, and both sides are yet to agree on a framework for how to proceed.
On Tuesday, the US announced it would be sharply reducing the number of US troops in Afghanistan from 4,500 to 2,500 before current President Donald Trump leaves office in mid-January, accelerating the country’s military disengagement.
The announcement came as there has been an uptick in violence, with the Taliban continuing to carry out attacks targeting government leaders, security forces and civilians.
Following the US announcement, NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg warned that a “hasty” withdrawal by the US, which lead’s NATO’s coalition in Afghanistan, could lead to further violence.
“We now face a difficult decision. We have been in Afghanistan for almost 20 years, and no NATO ally wants to stay any longer than necessary. But at the same time, the price for leaving too soon or in an uncoordinated way could be very high,” Stoltenberg said in a statement on Monday.
Also likely to be on the agenda for Thursday’s talks will be recent Pakistani allegations that India, with whom it has fought three full-scale wars since the two countries gained independence, has used Afghan soil to “sponsor terrorism” in Pakistan.
On Sunday, a day after the allegations were made, Afghanistan’s foreign ministry “strongly rejected” the accusations.
“The Ministry of Foreign Affairs, after carefully reviewing the video of the press conference, rejects the allegation and reiterates that there is absolutely no evidence that Malik (Feraydoon Khan) Mohmand, one of the tribal leaders of Nangarhar province, was involved in the terrorist attacks on the Peshawar Agricultural University,” said the Afghan statement.