ISLAMABAD - Afghanistan’s president, Ashraf Ghani on Sunday telephoned neighboring Pakistan’s would-be prime minister, cricketer turned politician, Imran Khan, to congratulate him on his election victory and extend an “open invitation" to him to visit Kabul.
Khan accepted the invitation and told Ghani he will undertake the visit soon after assuming the office of prime minister, officials said.
Both leaders agreed to work together to promote bilateral political, social, economic and cultural ties, said a Khan spokesman.
“President Ghani acknowledged and told him (Khan) the promotion of cricket in Afghanistan is because of him and that he is considered a hero in Afghanistan,” Iftikhar Durrani told VOA.
President Ghani also tweeted about his conversation with the would-be Pakistani leader.
“I just spoke to @ImranKhanPTI and congratulated him on the victory in parliamentary elections. We both agreed to overcome the past and to lay a new foundation for a prosperous political, social and economic future of both countries #Afghanistan and #Pakistan," he said.
Khan’s Pakistan Terheek-e-Insaf (PT) emerged as the single largest party in last week’s parliamentary elections and appears set to form the federal government as well as governments in three of the country’s four provinces.
The Oxford-educated former cricket legend Khan, who won the 1992 World Cup for Pakistan, is popular among sports-loving Afghans and with pro-Taliban groups on both sides of the border for vehemently opposing the U.S.-led military invasion of Afghanistan
Khan has long called for resolving the 17-year Afghan war through an intra-Afghan political dialogue and has repeatedly urged the Taliban to come to the negotiating table for peace talks with Kabul.
Both Afghanistan and Pakistan accuse each other of supporting attacks against the other, straining mutual ties.
“We want peace there. If there is peace in Afghanistan, there will be peace in Pakistan. We will make every effort to achieve peace there,” Khan said in his election victory speech on Thursday. Afghans have suffered the most in the war on terror and they need peace, he added.
Pakistan is unilaterally fencing the nearly 2,600-kilometer, largely porous Afghan border, saying it will stop criminal and terrorist infiltration in either direction and will boost regional efforts against terrorism.
In an interview in the run-up to last week’s polls, Khan told VOA that the future of Pakistan’s long-term relations with landlocked Afghanistan lies in the two countries having “open borders and free trade.”
“It should be like a European Union type of relationship. That’s our long term future and this would be of enormous benefit to Afghanistan and Pakistan,” Khan said.
Afghanistan relies on Pakistani seaports and land routes for its international trade. Rising diplomatic and political tensions, however, have in recent years led to a reduction in the trade and transit activity through Pakistan.