Kabul -  Afghanistan’s President Ashraf Ghani has pledged to bring back all refugees in Pakistan in “the next 24 months,” saying it will put an end to allegations the displaced community is a source of regional instability.

The pledge came as ties between the two uneasy neighbours have deteriorated over allegations the Pakistani military shelters and assists Taliban militants and those of the Haqqani network waging deadly attacks in Afghanistan against local and US-led forces.

Pakistan hosts an estimated 2.7 million Afghan refugees, half of them undocumented, and has been pressing the need for an early repatriation of the displaced population, saying their presence “helps Afghan terrorists to melt and morph among them.”

“In the next 24 months my priority and goal is to bring back all Afghan refugees in Pakistan,” President Ghani said in a televised speech Saturday.

“We don't want them [Pakistanis] to say refugees do this or do that. [We know] refugees are innocent. So, let us resolve to bring them back to solve this problem once for all,” Ghani asserted. He also promised to make efforts to bring back Afghan refugees in Iran.

Ghani was speaking to a gathering at the presidential place in Kabul marking the end of the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan that had forced millions of people to take refuge in Pakistan and Iran.

Critics are skeptical, however, of Ghani's declarations because his government also initiated a refugee repatriation soon after it took power in 2014. But a lack of jobs and basic services, such as health care and education, as well as allegations of rampant corruption in the relevant Afghan ministry discouraged displaced families from returning at the time, according to international aid workers and refugees.

Even those Afghans who did return home, ended up back in Pakistan or attempted to flee to other foreign destinations, they say.

In his speech Saturday, President Ghani disclosed that Kabul will host an international conference on February 28 where it will table a proposed plan to promote peace with the Taliban to end the violence.

But as he spoke, officials elsewhere in the country said separate insurgent attacks in western Farah and southern Zabul provinces killed at least 13 Afghan forces and overran security outposts there.

The Taliban have regularly attacked Afghan forces, and the violence is expected to intensify in the coming summer fighting season.

Ghani not only spoke about the Mujahideen’s victory in ousting the Soviets but also discussed current issues facing government – including that of elections, electronic national identity cards and the peace process. 

On the issue of elections, Ghani stated these polls, parliamentary and district councils, have to be held on time. 

“Afghanistan is not monopolized by anyone. Afghanistan belongs to the Afghan nation. Our Constitution has solved the fundamental issue of power formation,” Ghani said.

Hizb-e-Islami leader Gulbuddin Hekmatyar also addressed the event and said government is being controlled by a certain political movement. But he called for a transparent election without “foreign interference”. 

“We are not in government until elections are held so that we can bring change in government through this route. Let me say it clearly that the government is under the monopoly of our rivals,” Hekmatyar said.

Other speakers indirectly pointed to the rift between Kabul and ousted Balkh governor Atta Mohammad Noor. “We should solve any political and national issue through a practical way and by a measured political decision. Any emotional, hurried, ethnic or party-based decision will plunge the country into a crisis,” said Second Vice President Sarwar Danish.

“Leave failed politics, put aside your dialect of war, leave the warning policy,” Hekmatyar said.

Unlike in the past, prominent Jihadi leaders were noticeably absent from Saturday’s event – including Mohammad Mohaqiq, Mohammad Karim Khalili, Abdul Rab Rasul Sayyaf, Sebghatulalh Mujaddedi, Sayed Hamid Gailani and other senior Jamiat-e-Islami members.