ISLAMABAD – Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan has assured the US of its “steadfast” support to the peace and reconciliation process in Afghanistan, stressing on the importance for all parties to the conflict to take “practical” steps to reduce hostilities in the war-torn nation.
In a meeting with the visiting US chief negotiator for Afghan reconciliation, Zalmay Khalilzad, on Monday, Khan said, “Achieving sustainable peace and security and ensuring long-term development, progress and prosperity in Afghanistan and the region was in Pakistan’s best national interest.”
He reiterated “Pakistan’s steadfast and sincere support to the Afghan peace and reconciliation process launched since last year”, the prime minister’s office said in a statement issued late Monday night.
The prime minister also stressed that it was “important for all sides to take practical steps” to reduce violence in Afghanistan, it said.
Khan said Pakistan remains ready to do everything possible in its capacity, as part of a shared responsibility, for early conclusion of a peace deal.
Khalilzad’s trip to Islamabad is part of a recent effort to revive the stalled peace talks with the Taliban, which were cancelled by US President Donald Trump in September after a suicide attack, claimed by Taliban, in Kabul killed a US soldier and 11 others.
The US-Taliban talks had collapsed after nine rounds of talks between the US and Taliban representatives, held in Doha, the capital of the Gulf state of Qatar.
The US envoy visited Islamabad a day after briefing leaders in Kabul on his renewed Afghan peace-building efforts. It was Khalilzad’s first visit to Afghanistan after Trump abruptly ended the talks with the Taliban insurgents.
On Friday last, in a day-long talk in Moscow, representatives of Pakistan, Russia, China and the US have agreed that negotiation is the only road to peace in Afghanistan, including an early resumption of direct US talks with the Taliban.
US welcomes proposed intra-Afghan talks in China
The United States has welcomed China’s proposal to host a fresh meeting bringing together Afghan officials and the Taliban, after President Donald Trump abruptly ended talks with the insurgents.
The Taliban last week said that China invited a delegation to talks in Beijing, the second such meeting after a dialogue in Qatar in July that was co-arranged with Germany.
Zalmay Khalilzad, the US special envoy on Afghan peace, met with his colleagues from China, Russia and Pakistan last week in Moscow, where the four countries renewed support for a “comprehensive and sustainable peace agreement.”
The four countries “welcomed the Chinese proposal to host the next intra-Afghan meeting in Beijing,” said a joint statement released Monday by the United States.
The talks will include “a wide range of political figures” including “representatives of the government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, other Afghan leaders and the Taliban,” it said.
There was however some confusion about when the talks might take place.
The Taliban last week said the conference would happen October 29-30, but on Monday an insurgent spokesman denied a report that said a Taliban delegation was in Beijing.
The Chinese government also failed to confirm the talks when asked at a regular press briefing on Tuesday, but said it would support an “Afghan-owned peace and reconciliation process”.
“China is willing to provide facilitation and assistance to promote the Afghan peace and reconciliation process, including internal Afghan dialogue and negotiation, on the basis of respect for the wishes of all parties,” said foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang.
The Taliban have refused to negotiate formally with the Kabul government, but the Beijing and Doha gatherings are seen as fostering dialogue and planting the seeds of an eventual brokered solution.
Khalilzad negotiated for a year with the Taliban, reaching an agreement under which the United States would withdraw troops and end its longest war.
But Trump last month ended the talks, withdrawing an invitation he said he extended to the Taliban to meet near Washington, citing the killing of a US soldier.
The United States has frequently tried to blunt the global influence of China and Russia, but Khalilzad has frequently consulted with the two on his search for Afghan peace.
China shares a 76-kilometre (45-mile) border with Afghanistan and has voiced concern about a spread of Islamic extremism, while the Soviet Union in the 1980s led a disastrous intervention in the country against Islamic guerrillas then backed by Washington.
For the second time, the three powers opted to include Pakistan, which was the main backer of the Taliban’s 1996-2001 regime and maintains contacts with the fighters. (AFP)