ISLAMABAD  -     Pakistan does not support any group in Afghanistan including Taliban, Islamabad has told Washington and Kabul.

Senior officials at the foreign ministry told The Nation that Pakistan was trying to convince both the countries about its neutrality.

“We support Taliban talks but we don’t support any group. We only support peace,” said one official, citing the recent contacts with the US and Afghanistan.

Another official the US had urged Pakistan to cooperate in the US-Taliban dialogue process. He added Afghanistan had not responded ‘positively’ but promised to ‘work together.’

“Pakistan has been very clear that we will continue to support the Afghan peace process,” he said.

Earlier, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, one of Afghanistan’s former warlords, alleged there is “no doubt” that Pakistan supports the Afghan Taliban.

In an interview, Hekmatyar also expressed hope that talks scheduled this week between the Western-backed Kabul government and the Taliban could prove a significant step towards ending the war.

The US and Afghan officials have long accused Pakistan of providing safe havens for the militants, a claim rejected by Islamabad.

Hekmatyar said that Pakistan now sees the war in Afghanistan as “more harmful” than beneficial to its interests, especially because of a crippling financial crisis and growing international pressure on Islamabad to clamp down on the Taliban.

Washington has said Pakistan is playing a positive role in the ongoing US-Taliban peace talks in Qatar that are aimed at ending the nearly 18-year war.

US and Taliban negotiators have held several rounds of talks in the Qatari capital, Doha, culminating in the basic framework of a potential peace deal in which the militants would prevent international terrorist groups from basing themselves in Afghanistan in exchange of a withdrawal of American forces from Afghanistan.

That framework deal is dependent on a political settlement among Afghans, including the Kabul government, the Taliban, and opposition figures.

The Taliban long refused to talk with Kabul, calling it a US “puppet,” although Kabul has said a government delegation will meet the Taliban for introductory talks in Doha on April 19.

Hekmatyar is a member of the Reconciliation Leadership Council, a new council led by President Ashraf Ghani that will appoint negotiators for the April 19-21 talks with the Taliban, create their mandate for talks, and oversee their work.

 

PM to visit Iran on 21st

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Imran Khan will pay an official visit to Iran on April 21-22 on the invitation of President of Iran Hassan Rouhani to discuss the bilateral, regional and Afghanistan situation. This will be the first visit of the Prime Minister to Iran.

The visit will include a brief stop-over in Mashhad before arriving in Tehran for bilateral talks with the Iranian leadership.

The prime minister will call on Iranian Supreme Leader Seyed Ali Khamenei, besides holding detailed consultations with President Rouhani, said a foreign ministry statement.

The prime minister will be accompanied by a high level delegation including Ministers for Finance, Human Rights, Maritime Affairs, Inter-Provincial Coordination, Adviser on Commerce, Task force on Energy and Special Assistant on Overseas Pakistanis and Human Resources besides several senior officials. The prime minister will also meet members of the Iranian and Pakistani business community in Iran.

Pakistan’s relations with Iran are marked by close historic and cultural linkages and strong people to people exchanges. Pakistan and Iran are also members of the Economic Cooperation Organization and Organization of Islamic Cooperation. The Prime Minister’s visit to Iran will further the close bilateral relationship between the two countries.