Pakistan's PM Imran Khan goes to Afghanistan as US prepares drawdown, peace talks stall
This will be Imran Khan’s first visit to Afghanistan since assuming office over two years ago.
Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan arrived in Kabul on Thursday to meet with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, at a time when peace negotiations between the Afghan government and Taleban representatives have stalled and violence is rising.
This will be Khan’s first visit to Afghanistan since assuming office over two years ago. It is the highest profile visit by a Pakistani official to Kabul since peace talks began between the Taleban and the Afghan government.
And it comes days after the Pentagon announced it would reduce the number of US military personnel in Afghanistan from 4,500 to 2,500 by mid-January.
Due to leave office on Jan. 20 after losing this month’s presidential election to Democrat Joe Biden, President Donald Trump is seeking to end the 19-year war in Afghanistan, the United States’ longest conflict.
Critics slammed Trump for timing the withdrawal to his own calendar as opposed to some kind of breakthrough in Afghanistan that would justify a major drawdown.
And outside of Afghanistan, nowhere is the risk of instability greater than in neighbouring Pakistan.
Mistrust has cloaked relations between the neighbours, due to Pakistan’s covert support for the Taleban during the past two decades. And as militants later began launching attacks inside Pakistan, it accused Afghanistan of stirring trouble in its borders.
Upon arrival at Kabul airport, Prime Minister @ImranKhanPTI and his delegation was received by Afghan Foreign Minister Mohammad Haneef Atmar and Afghan President's Special Representative for Pakistan Mohammad Umer Daudzai, and senior officials. #PMIKinKabul pic.twitter.com/M8mcY744X0— PTI (@PTIofficial) November 19, 2020
“Focus would be on further deepening the fraternal bilateral relations between Pakistan and Afghanistan, the Afghan peace process, and regional economic development and connectivity,” Pakistan’s foreign office said in a statement as Khan headed for Kabul.
Pakistan’s role in the peace talks has been key, according to Washington, particularly given its influence over the Taleban leadership, though Pakistan says that influence has waned over the years.
Washington’s special representative for Afghan peace, Zalmay Khalilzad has a made a number of trips to Islamabad to discuss the peace process.
Ghani had last visited Pakistan in June 2019, according to Pakistan’s foreign office.
A spokesman for the Afghan presidential palace, Dawa Khan Minapal, said the main purpose of the visit would be bilateral trade and economic relations, but the fight against militancy in the region would also be at the top of the agenda. “The focus will be mainly on the peace process but we won’t keep our hopes high,” said a source in the Afghan presidential palace.
Violence has remained high in Afghanistan despite the ongoing peace process.
During the past six months the Taleban have carried out 53 suicide attacks, while 1,210 civilians were among the thousands killed in violence linked to the insurgency, according to Tariq Arian, spokesman for the Afghan Interior Ministry.
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