ISLAMABAD   -   Prime Minister Imran Khan yesterday said that Pakistan has “no favourite” in the upcoming presidential elections in Afghanistan.

The prime minister, who met a delegation of senior Afghan leaders leading different groups here, said Pakistan respected the Afghan people’s right to elect their leadership. “It’s not Pakistan but the Afghan people who have to decide the outcome of the elections (in Afghanistan). Pakistan has no favourite. We are neutral,” the premier was quoted as saying by an official who attended the meeting.

The official told The Nation that the prime minister assured the Afghan leaders of Pakistan’s complete support.

The Afghan leaders earlier took part in the Lahore Peace Process organised by the Lahore Centre for Peace and Research in Murree.

Fifty-seven Afghan politicians, including Hizb-e-Islami leader Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, former Balkh governor Atta Mohammad Noor, second deputy chief executive Mohammad Mohaqeq, and presidential candidate Abdul Latif Pedram attended the peace conference in Bhurban.

Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi said the meeting is a “complementary” of peace efforts in Doha, Moscow and other countries.

Afghan presidential candidate Mohammad Haneef Atmar said he welcomed the meeting in Pakistan and that it was a good platform for the exchange of views between Afghan politicians and Pakistani officials.

Atmar said the two sides discussed Afghanistan-Pakistan relations and the Afghan peace process. “We stressed that there should be progress in both fronts: in the peace efforts and the bilateral relations,” he said.

Atmar mentioned that the “blame-game” between Afghanistan and Pakistan had not helped the two countries and that the Pakistan should come up with practical steps on their promises.

This month, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani said he will visit Pakistan on June 27 to open a new chapter in his country’s uneasy relationship with its neighbour and mend ties that are often characterised by mistrust and tit-for-tat accusations.

Ghani said he agreed to visit Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan after the two leaders met this month on the sidelines of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation meeting in Saudi Arabia. “I hope the visit will be positive,” he added.

The presidential election scheduled for 28 September will be a key moment to reaffirm the legitimacy of Afghanistan’s democratic political structure. There are significant operational and technical challenges to be overcome.

Prime Minister Imran Khan said that peace in Afghanistan is “around the corner,” referring to the efforts by the United States for a political settlement to the conflict in the country. “Negotiations have been initiated with the Taliban. God willing, our brothers in Afghanistan would live together in peace in coming days,” the PM said.

He asserted the peace process would result in stability, trade and  economic prosperity for the region, and particularly for Afghanistan to enable the war-shattered country stand on its own feet.

“A good government will be established in Afghanistan, a government where all Afghans will be represented. The war will end and peace will be established there,” Khan was quoted as saying.