Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan assured leaders of war-torn neighboring Afghanistan Thursday his government will do its utmost to help them in their bid to seek a reduction in Taliban-led violence.
Khan made the remarks at the conclusion of his day-long maiden visit to Kabul where he held extensive talks with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani on bilateral security and economic ties, as well as matters related to regional peace.
Both the leaders later spoke at a joint news conference and vowed to enhance cooperation between their security institutions to further the Afghan peace process.
“Pakistan played its role in getting first the Taliban to talk to the Americans and then [participate in] the intra-Afghan dialogue,” Khan said.
“We notice with concern that despite the [intra-Afghan] talks in Qatar. the level of violence is rising. So, my idea of choosing this time to come was to assure you that Pakistan will do everything, whatever is possible we will do to help reduce this violence and in fact move toward a cease-fire,” Khan vowed.
The months-long U.S.-Taliban negotiations produced a landmark deal this past February aimed at closing the 19-year-old war, initiating a “conditions-based” withdrawal of American and NATO troops from Afghanistan by May 2021.
The pact also opened the first-ever direct talks between the Taliban and representatives of the Ghani government in September, being hosted by the Gulf state of Qatar.
The so-called intra-Afghan dialogue, however, has stalled for most part, and battlefield hostilities between Afghan security forces and the Taliban also have spiked to unusually high levels.
Pakistan’s links with the Taliban have been the primary source of political tensions with Afghanistan. Kabul has long alleged insurgent leaders direct their violent campaign from Pakistani soil. Islamabad denies the charges, although officials say the approximately 3 million Afghan refugees Pakistan still hosts serve as a hiding place for insurgents,
“Our common objective is to take a leap of faith to overcome the distrust that has haunted our relationship,” Ghani told the news conference.
“Practically, we have agreed to form committees to deal with key topics to make sure that the foundation for trust that has been established with your trip today becomes an enduring process,” the Afghan president stressed.
Khan noted that border regions between Pakistan and Afghanistan were devastated by the U.S.-led war on terrorism, millions of people were internally displaced, and their livelihoods were badly affected.
The Pakistani prime minister said an increased trade connectivity between the two countries can only help the affected population and his delegation has had “fruitful” discussions with Afghan counterparts to strengthen economic cooperation.
“We hope that this trade and connectivity will increase between the two countries and for that it is imperative that the level of violence goes down,” Khan stressed again.
“So, I repeat again Mr. President, that the whole objective of this visit is to build trust to communicate more to assure you that wherever you need our help more than your expectations we will be helping you,” the Pakistani leader said.
The U.S.-initiated Afghan peace process has allowed President Donald Trump to reduce the number of American soldiers to 4,500 from about 13,000 since singing the deal with the Taliban on February 29. This week, the Trump administration announced it plans to bring home another 2,000 troops from Afghanistan by mid-January.
U.S. officials, however, have linked a complete troop withdrawal to the Taliban living up to its pledges outlined in the agreement.
The insurgents are bound to prevent transnational terrorist groups from using Afghan soil for international attacks and negotiate a permanent cease-fire, as well as a political power-sharing deal through the ongoing talks with Afghan rivals.
International donors of Afghanistan have linked future financial commitments to an accelerated productive dialogue between Kabul and the Taliban that would significantly reduce violence or move the country toward a cease-fire.