PARIS - Leaders of Pakistan and Afghanistan held an “extensive exchange” Monday in Paris, focusing on the stalled peace process in Afghanistan, according to an official statement issued by Pakistan.
The meeting between Pakistan’s Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and Afghanistan’s President Ashraf Ghani, on the sidelines of the climate summit, ended a months-long deadlock between the two countries.
Prime Minister Sharif told Afghan President Ghani his country considered Afghanistan “as an equal, sovereign state.” Afghanistan has often complained that Pakistan violates its sovereignty for its own strategic purposes.
The Pakistani statement also said “Pakistan regarded the [Afghan] National Unity Government the only legitimate democratically-elected partner for Pakistan,” possibly in response to frequent Afghan allegations that Pakistan supports the Afghan Taliban in hopes of having a future partner to defend its strategic interests.
British Prime Minister David Cameron also joined the two leaders in a separate trilateral meeting.
A statement issued from the Pakistani side after the trilateral summit ends uncertainty over whether the Afghan president would attend a conference in Islamabad in a week.
“The Prime Minister [of Pakistan] also told the Afghani President that a warm welcome awaited him in Islamabad at the Heart of Asia Meeting on 9th December,” the Pakistani statement said.
The conference is co-hosted by Pakistan and Afghanistan. It aims to engage regional countries to help obtain peace and stability in Afghanistan.
Sharif briefed the two world leaders, Ghani and Cameron, on the military campaign, called Zarb e Azb, against militants groups in Pakistan “including those who use violence against Afghanistan,” according to statements issued by the Pakistani government.
One of Afghanistan’s complaints has been that Pakistan’s military campaign only targeted militants fighting the Pakistani state and not those targeting Afghanistan from Pakistani soil.
Relations between the two countries took a downturn at the end of July when news broke that Afghan Taliban leader Mullah Omar had been dead for two years. The news led to the disruption of a second round of peace talks between Taliban and Afghan government mediated by Pakistan.
Afghan officials blamed Pakistan for keeping them in the dark about the death of the Afghan Taliban leader.
Several Pakistani officials, on condition of anonymity, said that factions inside Afghanistan who were either against Pakistan or against the peace process, including the Afghan intelligence agency NDS, had leaked the news of Mullah Omar’s death to derail the talks.
Since then, the Afghan Taliban have intensified their attacks inside Afghanistan. The Afghan government has repeatedly blamed Pakistan for supporting the militants, claiming they plan and execute attacks from Pakistani soil.
The Afghan government and the United States want Pakistan to take action against the militants, particularly the Haqqani group blamed for some of the deadliest attacks.
Pakistan claims it has given up its past policy of supporting militants against its neighboring countries and is trying its best to support a reconciliation process in Afghanistan.
But senior Pakistani leaders, including Prime Minister Sharif, have said Pakistan cannot be expected to bring the militant leadership to the table for talks while at the same time trying to kill them.