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Pakistan PM Stresses Inclusivity in Government in Talks With Taliban

FILE - Pakistan's Prime Minister Imran Khan gestures during an interview with Reuters in Islamabad, June 4, 2021.

Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan says he has opened a dialogue with Afghanistan’s Taliban to try to persuade them to form an “inclusive” government in Kabul to ensure peace and stability in the war-torn country.

Khan disclosed the initiative Saturday via Twitter, saying it stemmed from his meetings this week in Dushanbe, the capital of Tajikistan, with leaders of countries bordering Afghanistan.

The Pakistani leader concluded a two-day visit to Dushanbe on Friday, where he held bilateral talks on the sidelines of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) summit, an annual meeting of the China- and Russia-led regional security bloc.

“After meetings in Dushanbe with leaders of Afghanistan's neighbors & especially a lengthy discussion with Tajikistan's President Emomali Rahmon, I have initiated a dialogue with the Taliban for an inclusive Afghan govt to include Tajiks, Hazaras & Uzbeks,” Khan tweeted.

Without elaborating, he emphasized “inclusivity” as key to ensuring Afghan peace and stability after four decades of conflict, adding that it would serve the interest of not only the war-ravaged South Asian nation but also the entire region.

Pakistan shares a nearly 2,600-kilometer border with Afghanistan, where the Taliban swept back to power last month as all U.S.-led troops withdrew, ending nearly two decades of war.

The insurgent group last week named an all-male 33-member caretaker government, comprising mostly senior leaders of the Taliban, who are predominantly ethnic Pashtun.

The move drew strong criticism at home and internationally for excluding women and not giving proper representation to Afghan ethnic minorities such as Tajiks, Hazara and Uzbeks, contrary to the Taliban’s pledges on inclusivity.

At Friday’s summit, leaders of SCO member states — China, India, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Pakistan, Russia, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan — vowed to work with the Taliban and urged the global community to engage with Kabul rather than abandoning it to help prevent a looming humanitarian crisis and an economic collapse in the war-torn country.

Officials attend a meeting of the Collective Security Council of the Collective Security Treaty Organization in Dushanbe, Tajikistan Sept. 16, 2021.
Officials attend a meeting of the Collective Security Council of the Collective Security Treaty Organization in Dushanbe, Tajikistan Sept. 16, 2021.

“Abandoning Afghanistan could take us back to an unstable situation resulting in civil strife, negative spillover effect on neighboring countries, outflow of refugees, rise in terrorist incidents, drug trafficking and transnational organized crime,” Khan told a meeting of the Moscow-led Collective Security Treaty Organization, a Eurasian intergovernmental military alliance comprising several post-Soviet states, also hosted by Dushanbe.

Afghanistan is an observer state, but it was not invited to the SCO huddle because member nations have not yet recognized the Taliban government, nor has the international community at large.

Pakistan has had close ties with the Taliban and has been accused of sheltering its supporters as they directed a deadly insurgency against the U.S.-backed government in Kabul for 20 years, charges Islamabad denies.

Washington has acknowledged Islamabad’s role in arranging negotiations that culminated in the February 2020 deal, paving the way for the U.S. military withdrawal from Afghanistan.

Some conflict of interests

However, Secretary of State Antony Blinken this week told a congressional hearing in Washington that Pakistan has a "multiplicity of interests, some that are in conflict with ours.”

“It is one that is involved hedging its bets constantly about the future of Afghanistan, it's one that's involved harboring members of the Taliban. ... It is one that's also involved in different points cooperation with us on counterterrorism," Blinken said.

He noted that the administration of U.S. President Joe Biden would soon be reassessing its relationship with Pakistan.

“This is one of the things we're going to be looking at in the days and weeks ahead — the role that Pakistan has played over the last 20 years but also the role we would want to see it play in the coming years and what it will take for it to do that," Blinken said.

Pakistan responded by expressing “surprise” over Blinken’s remarks, saying they were “not in line with the close cooperation” between the two countries.

A foreign ministry statement noted that Islamabad’s "positive" role in the Afghan peace process, facilitation of the multinational evacuation effort from Kabul before and after the U.S. withdrawal from the country, and continued support for an inclusive political settlement in Afghanistan had been “duly acknowledged” by the international community.