ISLAMABAD – Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan will travel to neighboring Afghanistan on Thursday for meetings that officials say will focus on strengthening economic cooperation and on issues related to the United States-backed peace efforts aimed at bringing end of the Afghan conflict.
Khan, who took power two years ago, is embarking on his first official visit to Kabul at the invitation of Afghan President Ashraf Ghani amid relatively improved relations that have long suffered from mutual mistrust and suspicion.
Officials say a wave of high-level visits by senior officials and lawmakers on the eve of Khan’s maiden trip helped ease tensions and improve economic coordination.
FILE – Afghan President Ashraf Ghani speaks at Loya Jirga Hall in Kabul, in this photograph taken on August 7, 2020 and released by the Afghan President’s press office.
“The Prime Minister’s visit builds on the sustained commitment between the two countries in recent months to strengthen bilateral cooperation in various fields,” Pakistani Foreign Ministry spokesman Zahid Hafeez Chaudhri said on Wednesday.
Chaudhri said Khan and Ghani would hold an individual meeting before leading their respective delegations into formal talks. The visit will help “foster a stronger and more multifaceted relationship between the two brotherly countries,” the spokesperson added.
Pakistan’s ties to the Afghan Taliban insurgent group have been the main source of political tension with Afghanistan. The two countries share a border of nearly 2,600 kilometers, and Islamabad also accuses Kabul of allowing fleeing Pakistani militants to use Afghan border areas to plot cross-border subversive acts.
Khan’s government insists it does not support any faction in the war in Afghanistan and works to promote a peaceful Afghanistan to ensure regional connectivity and economic prosperity.
Landlocked Afghanistan has relied for decades primarily on Pakistani land routes and ports for bilateral and international trade. Mutual tensions, however, have significantly undermined bilateral trade activities in recent years.
FILE – Afghan men wait to collect the tokens needed to apply for the Pakistani visa, in Jalalabad, Afghanistan, October 21, 2020.
Islamabad last September unveiled a series of what officials called “confidence-building measures” to help Afghans travel to Pakistan for medical treatment, education and trade relations. Stages include long-term business, investment, and student visas for Afghan visitors, as opposed to traditional single-entry visas for a limited number of days.
Officials say Pakistan has also operationalized all border terminals in recent weeks to facilitate bilateral trade and transit activities to help Kabul overcome increased economic problems in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.
FILE – Afghan traders and citizens gather near the gate of the newly opened Badini Trade Terminal in Pakistan, a border crossing point between Pakistan and Afghanistan at the country’s border town of Qila Saifullah, September 16, 2020.
Khan’s government takes credit for staging historic months-long talks between the Taliban and the United States that resulted in a peacebuilding deal last February, initiating a “conditions-based” withdrawal. Of all US and NATO troops in Afghanistan by May 2021. Retour pledged to stop attacks on international forces and pledged to sever ties with terrorist groups, including the al network -Qaida.
The US-Taliban pact also opened in September the very first direct peace talks between the insurgent group and representatives of the Afghan government to negotiate a permanent ceasefire. But the so-called intra-Afghan dialogue underway in Qatar has largely stalled, with each side blaming the other for the delay.
FILE – Abdullah Abdullah, center, president of the Afghan High Council for National Reconciliation, attends the opening session of the peace talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban in Doha, Qatar, September 12, 2020.
President Donald Trump’s administration has also recognized Islamabad’s role in facilitating the Afghan peace process and laying the groundwork to extract US troops from the longest US war in history.
Afghan presidential spokesman Sediq Sediqqi recalled Wednesday that “the presence of terrorist hideouts” in Pakistan is a matter of concern for the Afghan government, saying Islamabad “has not changed its policy on this issue.”
Kabul has long claimed that Taliban leaders and fighters used shrines on Pakistani soil to support and spread insurgents across the border.
Pakistan hosts an estimated 3 million Afghan refugees and economic migrants, who have fled 40 years of violence, religious persecution and poverty in their conflict-torn country. Islamabad says the refugee community is serving as a hiding place for the Taliban and has urged the international community to organize swift repatriation of Afghan refugees from Pakistan.
Last Saturday, the Pakistani government revealed at a press conference what it called “irrefutable proof” of India-sponsored terrorism in Pakistan from Afghanistan.
A military spokesperson said Indian intelligence operatives were running 66 camps on Afghan soil to train fugitive Pakistani militants with the help of Afghan collaborators. Kabul and New Delhi dismissed the claims as “fabricated”.
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