ISLAMABAD - Pakistan Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi is in Afghanistan for official talks on strained mutual ties and Kabul’s initiative of seeking a negotiated end to its war with the Taliban.
Officials said Abbasi undertook Friday’s daylong trip on the invitation of Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, “in the backdrop of Pakistan’s support to Ghani’s offer of peace talks with the Taliban.”
An Afghan army contingent presented the guard of honor to the Pakistani prime minister upon his arrival at the presidential palace in Kabul.
“We are very hopeful that this visit would open a new chapter of goodwill, friendship and brotherhood between our two brotherly countries,” said Zahid Nasrullah Khan, Pakistan’s ambassador to Afghanistan.
The visit comes a day after the Afghan government accused Pakistani fighter jets of violating the country’s airspace and bombing areas in the border province of Kunar, though officials reported no damage.
Islamabad swiftly rejected the charges as baseless, saying Pakistani security forces were conducting counterterrorism operations inside their own territory to deter Afghanistan-based militants from launching cross-border attacks.
In his meetings Friday with Ghani and Afghan Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah, officials said Abbasi will discuss ways to strengthen political, economic, security and counterterrorism cooperation.
President Ghani offered unconditional talks to the Taliban more than a month ago at an international conference in Kabul to try to end the bloodshed in his country. His initiative received domestic and international backing but the insurgents have avoided commenting on the overture.
“We stand for peace in Afghanistan,” Prime Minister Abbasi told an international counterterrorism conference in Islamabad on Thursday. He emphasized that instability in the neighboring country directly undermines Pakistan’s security.
No support for Taliban
Abbasi rejected as “a totally flawed narrative” allegations that Pakistan is covertly supporting the Taliban to fuel the Afghan conflict. He said Pakistani forces have cleared all their territory of terrorist groups and operations continue to hunt down their remnants.
“We don’t accept the narrative that there are any sanctuaries in Pakistan, which result in instability in Afghanistan. That is not the truth. Today, unfortunately, the reverse is true. The people instigating terror in Pakistan are based in Afghanistan,” the prime minister added.
Officials in Pakistan maintain fugitive anti-state militants have taken shelter in “ungoverned” Afghan border areas and plot cross-border attacks from there.
U.S. and Afghan officials have long alleged sanctuaries on Pakistani soil have enabled the Taliban to sustain and expand its violent campaign on the Afghan side.
US welcomes engagement
Washington has welcomed Islamabad’s renewed diplomatic re-engagement with Kabul, saying an improved mutual relationship is essential for regional efforts against terrorism.
“Obviously, for there to be stability in Afghanistan there needs to be a strong relationship between Afghanistan and Pakistan,” said Alice Wells, U.S. principal deputy assistant secretary of state for South and Central Asia, as she wrapped up a weeklong visit to Islamabad on Monday.
U.S. President Donald Trump in January suspended military aid to Islamabad until it takes decisive actions against the militant safe havens.