Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan appeared upbeat Tuesday about the recently launched U.S.-led dialogue with the Taliban, saying it “hopefully” would lead to peace in Afghanistan and pave the way for regional economic connectivity and prosperity.
Speaking at an investment conference in Saudi Arabia, Khan was referring to a meeting the U.S. special envoy for Afghan reconciliation, Zalmay Khalilzad, held earlier this month with Taliban political negotiators in Qatar.
The prime minister noted peace in the neighboring country is critical for stability in Pakistan. He said “the low amount of terrorism” his country is still experiencing comes from Afghanistan.
“That’s why we are hoping that these peace talks ... between the Taliban and the Americans, we hope that once Afghanistan settles not only will there be no terrorism within Pakistan but then we have this access [for trade] all the way to Central Asia [through the Afghan territory],” Khan said.
Khan noted that his country’s partnership in the U.S.-led “war on terrorism” in Afghanistan prompted retaliatory militant attacks in Pakistan, leaving thousands of people dead and inflicting more than $100 billion in economic losses over the past decade.
“Thanks to our security forces, our intelligence agencies, Pakistan has controlled terrorism. Within Pakistan now we have really clamped down on terrorism. We still have problems, terrorists and terrorism coming from Afghanistan,” Khan said.
Islamabad supports an early negotiated settlement to the war because it maintains that "ungoverned" Afghan areas have encouraged Islamic State militants to establish bases there and plot terrorist attacks on both sides of the border.
For their part, U.S. and Afghan officials allege that Taliban insurgents operate out of sanctuaries in Pakistan, charges Islamabad rejects as baseless.
The Trump administration held its first publicly known direct meeting with Taliban officials in Qatar in late July. That interaction followed persistent insurgent demands it would hold face-to-face talks only with the U.S. and not its “puppet” Afghan government.
The October 12 meeting in the Gulf state was believed to be a follow up of the previous "preliminary" talks.
The Taliban said in a statement issued after the latest meeting with Khalilzad that both sides discussed withdrawal of U.S.-led foreign “occupation” forces from Afghanistan and exchanged views on finding a peaceful settlement to the war.
The nascent peace process apparently suffered a serious blow in the wake of a deadly attack last Thursday on a high-profile security meeting of local and top American officials in the southern Afghan province of Kandahar.
The Taliban-claimed violence killed Gen. Abdul Raziq — a powerful, though controversial, regional police chief — along with the provincial spy chief, and wounded a senior American military commander, Army Brigadier General Jeffrey Smiley. The U.S. commander of NATO’s Afghan military mission, General Scott Miller, also was present at the meeting, but was unharmed.
Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid has told VOA the insurgent group remains committed to the peace dialogue with the U.S. He defended the attack on the security meeting in Kandahar, saying no understanding has so far been reached with the U.S. or any other party to end the war or observe a cease-fire.
“General Raziq was one of our biggest targets that was finally eliminated. It has no link to peace talks because they are being held with the Americans and our war is also with the Americans. We will continue to target Afghans who are supporting America’s invasion of the country,” Mujahid said.