Prime Minister Imran Khan on Tuesday said that he would arrange a meeting with the Taliban after returning to his country, as part of efforts to put an end to the 18 years of war in Afghanistan.

Khan spoke from Washington on his first official trip to the United States, where President Donald Trump hosted him at the White House one day before. He said he had also spoken with the Afghan President, Ashraf Ghani, and will now return to Pakistan to meet the Taliban and stated “I will try my best to get them to talk to the Afghan government”. 

Speaking at the US Institute for Peace, a bipartisan federal body, Khan said he had been contacted by the Islamist extremist Afghan Taliban "a few months back". That was after his election win in July 2018, but did not meet at that time because Kabul was not in favor. 

According to Khan, the militants reached out to him because he always managed the situation, when there was no military solution, while everyone else in Pakistan's political spectrum kept agreeing there was some military solution" to the war in Afghanistan. "So because of that, I had a certain amount of credibility amongst them,"he added. 

His comments came one day after the US peace envoy to Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad, left for Kabul. From there he is supposed to leave for Doha, Qatar to resume negotiations. Khalilzad has had several meetings with the Taliban in the past year, the most recent being on July 9 in Doha. But the major issue is Taliban's refusal to negotiate directly with the Afghan government.

"It's not going to be easy because there's no centralised command, it's a devolved movement," Khan cautioned about the insurgent group. "But we feel that if we all work together, we feel this is the best chance of there to be peace in Afghanistan."

Pakistan was the Taliban's main sponsor when they gained power in Afghanistan during the 1990s. This influence has also opened Pakistan up to accusations that it is adding fuel to the fire in the fighting in Afghanistan through the use of militant proxies such as the Taliban-allied Haqqani group.

 Khan made an unusual on-the-record admission, that Pakistan had pursued this policy previously, which it refers to as "strategic depth," because it feared encirclement with a government in Kabul that had fallen under Indian influence. But he insisted that was no longer the core issue.

"Today, there is no concept in Pakistan of 'strategic depth' because we feel that by interfering in Afghanistan... we have actually done a lot of damage to our own country," he said. (AFP)