ISLAMABAD                 -          Pakistan yesterday urged the United States and Afghanistan to keep their eyes open after 27 people were killed and 29 wounded in an attack on Afghan leader Abdullah Abdullah in Kabul.

Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi said there were anti-peace elements in and outside Afghanistan who needed to be defeated. “An eye will have to be kept on those that are sabotaging the peace process. The US and other global powers need to be alert. Taliban have denied any involvement in it,” he said, reacting to the Kabul killings.

The attack came just days after the US and the Afghan Taliban announced the terms of a deal lauded as a foundation for peace. The Taliban immediately denied responsibility.

This week, the US carried out its first airstrike on the group. A US military spokesperson said the “defensive strike” in Helmand province was aimed at disrupting Taliban fighters “who were actively attacking” an Afghan security checkpoint.

FM Qureshi, who reportedly spoke to US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo yesterday, said the attack in Kabul was condemnable and only anti-peace elements were behind this assault. “This move is by those who do not want peace in Afghanistan. They want their own gains,” he maintained. Qureshi said such attacks will test patience but the only option was to remain committed with the peace efforts. “Afghanistan has been seeing such incidents for around two decades. The people in Afghanistan desire peace now. The attack is extremely regrettable and condemnable.”

Pakistan, he said, was ready to play a positive role to achieve the goal of peace for the sake of the stability in the region.

In a separate statement yesterday, Foreign Office spokesperson Aisha Farouqi said Pakistan condemned the terrorist attack in Kabul.

She said that Pakistan had consistently supported a negotiated political solution of the Afghan conflict. “Our thoughts and prayers are with those who have suffered in this tragedy,” she added.

The spokesperson said that Pakistan “urges all the parties to work together in a constructive spirit for establishing durable peace and stability in Afghanistan.”

Earlier, US Defense Secretary Mark Esper told a Senate hearing that the results of the peace agreement so far had been mixed.

“The Taliban are honouring their piece (of the agreement) in terms of not attacking US and coalition forces, but not in terms of sustaining a reduction of violence,” he said, adding, “Keeping that group of people on board is a challenge, they have got their range of hard-liners and soft-liners, and so they’re wrestling with that, too.”

With intra-Afghan negotiations due to begin on March 10 under the terms of the agreement, Esper said US special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad has travelled to Afghanistan to try to bring together the warring parties.

Esper said the US airstrikes defending the Afghan security forces were allowed under the peace agreement. “It’s the commitment I made to the Afghans when I was in Kabul, that we would continue to defend the Afghans, support them.”

US President Donald Trump also spoke over the telephone this week with the Taliban’s chief negotiator, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, making history with what is thought to be the first direct call between a president and a top Taliban official since the US invaded Afghanistan nearly two decades ago.

“We had a good conversation. We have agreed there is no violence. We don’t want violence. We will see what happens. They dealing with Afghanistan, but we will see what happens,” Trump later told journalists.