ISLAMABAD - Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan said Tuesday he plans to meet with the Taliban to persuade them to hold negotiations with the government in Afghanistan but cautioned that securing a political settlement to war will not be easy.
While delivering a public talk at the United States Institute of Peace (USIP) in Washington, Khan noted that for the first time in the 18-year-old Afghan conflict, Pakistan and the United States are working together to advance peace efforts in the neighboring country.
Khan spoke a day after he met with President Donald Trump at the White House where the two leaders agreed to work together to end to the conflict.
"Now, when I go back after meeting President Trump … I will meet the Taliban and I will try my best to get them to talk to the Afghan government so that the elections in Afghanistan must be inclusive where the Taliban also participate in it," he said.
The Taliban is strongly opposed to engaging in any formal intra-Afghan negotiations, involving the Kabul government, until securing a peace deal with the U.S.
Khan said that a Taliban delegation had wanted to meet him a few months back but he had to cancel the meeting because of objections from the Afghan government. He said he has now spoken to Afghan President Ashraf Ghani about his possible upcoming meeting with the insurgent group.
Pakistani leader visits Capitol Hill
Later, the Pakistani prime minister attended a reception at the Capitol Hill where he addressed a large number of American congressmen. Khan said his country has already arranged U.S.-Taliban talks and it will do all within its powers to advance the Afghan peace process.
"Pakistan is now trying its best to get the Taliban on the table to start this dialogue and, so far, we have done pretty well. But it's not going to be easy. Do not expect this to be easy because it's a very complicated situation in Afghanistan," Khan cautioned. "We all have one object and it's exactly the same objective as the U.S., which is to have a peaceful solution as quickly as possible in Afghanistan," he added.
Afghan leaders have consistently accused Islamabad of covertly backing the Taliban-led violent insurgency in their country, charges Pakistani officials reject and insist continued instability in the neighboring country is hurting Pakistan's own stability and economic development.
American and Taliban officials in their months-long talks are said to have come close to concluding an agreement toward ending the Afghan war. The proposed truce would require the insurgents to prevent Afghanistan from becoming a base for international terrorists in exchange for U.S. troops leaving the country.
Afghan reaction to Trump's remarks
Meanwhile, U.S. chief negotiator, Zalmay Khalilzad, arrived Tuesday in Kabul to brief the Afghan leadership on his talks with the Taliban before he visits Qatar for another round of negotiations with insurgent envoys based there. The Afghan-born American diplomat tweeted he is focused on achieving an enduring peace that ends the war.
Khalilzad arrived in Kabul a day after U.S. President Donald Trump said he has military plans that could wipe Afghanistan "off the face of Earth," killing millions of people.
Trump's remarks, which he made during meeting with Khan at the White House, have outraged Afghan officials, opposition leaders and the Taliban as well.
President Ghani's office in a statement issued Tuesday demanded a clarification from Washington.
Trump said if he wanted to fight a war in Afghanistan he could win that war in a week.
"I just don't want to kill 10 million people … Afghanistan would be wiped off the face of the Earth. It would be gone … It would be over in, literally, in 10 days. And I don't want to do that — I don't want to go that route," the president said.
Former Afghan president, Hamid Karzai, while talking to VOA Afghan service strongly condemned Trump's statement, saying it comes from a "criminal mindset" and shows "contempt" toward Afghanistan and the Afghan people."
"The U.S. shouldn't have come in the first place. They should go. They should go now," Karzai said when asked about the possible U.S. troop withdrawal from Afghanistan.
Karzai came to power with the help of the U.S. and for most of his time in office American special forces had been doing the job of his personal security.
Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid in a statement, denounced as "irresponsible" the comments made by the American president.
"We believe that Trump should pay close attention to the actual cause of the problem instead of irresponsible comments and take practical steps towards finding a solution instead of failed policies and impractical hubris," Mujahid asserted.