Afghan official Abdullah on key Pakistan trip in bid for peace

Taliban and regional peace likely to be on the agenda as the senior Afghan leader will hold meetings with Pakistani PM and foreign minister.

Pakistan's Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi bumps elbows with the head of the Afghanistan's peace council, Abdullah Abdullah in Islamabad [Pakistan Ministry of Foreign Affairs/Reuters]

Senior Afghan peace official Abdullah Abdullah has arrived in Pakistan for meetings with a country seen as vital to the success of Afghan talks aimed at ending decades of war.

Kicking off his three-day visit to Islamabad on Monday, Abdullah, a former foreign minister and chairman of Afghanistan’s High Council for National Reconciliation, met with Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi and is also due to meet Prime Minister Imran Khan.

Relations between Pakistan and Afghanistan have long been rocky, with Afghanistan and its international allies for years accusing Pakistan of backing Taliban rebels as a way to limit the influence of its rival India in Afghanistan.

Pakistan denies that and in turn accuses Afghanistan of letting anti-Pakistan rebels plot attacks from Afghan soil, which Afghanistan denies.

Abdullah’s visit “will provide an opportunity for wide-ranging exchange of views on the Afghan peace process and strengthening of Pakistan-Afghanistan bilateral relations and people-to-people interaction,” Pakistan’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement. “Pakistan fully supports all efforts for the peace, stability and prosperity of the Afghan people.”

The United States has acknowledged Pakistan’s help in fostering Afghan peace efforts, including in encouraging the Taliban to negotiate.

The US special representative for Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad, said last week the US and its allies were looking at an agreement between Afghanistan and Pakistan so that neither side’s territory would be used to attack the other.

The Afghan peace talks come after a deal signed in February between the US and the Taliban in Doha, Qatar, outlining the withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan to end the longest military engagement in American history. The Taliban have been waging an armed rebellion since the group was toppled from power in a US-led invasion in 2001.

But Prime Minister Khan, in an opinion piece in the Washington Post on Saturday, expressed concern that Afghanistan could again be used as a haven for international armed groups and warned that a “hasty international withdrawal from Afghanistan would be unwise”.

Khan has said his government facilitated the talks and that it was now up to the Afghans to seize this opportunity.

Afghan and Taliban negotiators have been meeting in Doha since September 12, hoping to agree on a ceasefire and a power-sharing deal.

But they have been bogged down on principles and procedures for talks even before discussing their agenda.