ISLAMABAD - Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan says he will urge U.S. President Donald Trump to resume talks with the Taliban to help bring peace to Afghanistan when he meets with him next week on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly.
Khan told reporters Wednesday his country had played a central role in arranging the yearlong U.S.-Taliban dialogue before Trump declared the process as "dead" nearly two weeks ago. The Pakistani prime minister said he was surprised when he learned through the media that the talks broke down.
"The tragedy is that the [peace] deal between the Taliban and the U.S. was about to be signed," Khan noted. He explained that Islamabad had arranged the peace process by helping Taliban leaders reach Qatar, which hosted the dialogue.
"I believe it would be a massive tragedy if these talks could not move forward. I have a meeting with President Trump on Monday in New York where we will insist … and we will make maximum efforts to help restart the talks because they are important for ending 40 years of sufferings of the people in Afghanistan," Khan said.
Trump called off the talks with the Taliban citing continued insurgent attacks and the death of a U.S. soldier in a Kabul bombing claimed by the insurgents. Trump also has vowed to intensify military operations against the Taliban.
The Taliban, however, has rejected Trump's assertions, saying their attacks have been in response to stepped up battlefield attacks by U.S. and Afghan security forces.
Torkham border crossing
Prime Minister Khan spoke Wednesday at the Torkham border crossing with Afghanistan where he inaugurated the first round-the-clock bilateral and transit trade services.
For decades, trade convoys could move across the northwestern Torkham post only between sunrise and sunset amid persistent complaints from traders on both sides that the limited duration was not enough to ensure the timely transportation of commercial goods to and from landlocked Afghanistan.
Khan said the newly established integrated trade and immigration operation at Torkham was informally opened two weeks ago, leading to a 50% increase in cross-border trade activities. He said he had invited Afghan President Ashraf Ghani to attend Wednesday's ceremony but he could not make it because of a deadly attack on his campaign rally the previous day.
Relations between Pakistan and Afghanistan have long suffered from mutual mistrust and suspicion stemming from accusations that security institutions on both sides are supporting militant attacks on each other's territory.
The two countries share a nearly 2,600 kilometer border that until recently had several hundred informal entry points in addition to five regular crossings, including Torkham and Chaman in southwestern Pakistan.
However, Pakistani authorities have recently tightened controls at all regular Afghan border posts and the military has been building a robust fence for more than two years to plug illegal entries vulnerable to militant infiltration and smuggling in either direction.
The massive border management and security plan, army officials say, will be in place by the end of 2020 at an estimated cost of around $500 million and will help address mutual concerns.