Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi has called for trust to be rebuilt between Islamabad and Kabul as Pakistan began a new initiative to bolster a faltering peace process aiming to end Afghanistan’s lengthy civil war.
Pakistan hosted yesterday a conference to bring together more than 50 Afghan leaders, including politicians and tribal elders, but there were no representatives of the Afghan Taliban militants, who have been fighting for years to expel foreign forces and defeat the US-backed government in Kabul.
Relations between Afghanistan and Pakistan have been strained in recent years amid long-standing allegations by Kabul and Washington that Pakistan has been sheltering the Taliban militants since US-led forces removed them from power in 2001, something Islamabad denies.
Pakistan says its influence over the Taliban has waned over the years.
The US has been pushing Pakistan to use its influence with the Taliban to open direct negotiations with the Kabul government, which the Taliban regard as an illegitimate foreign-imposed regime.
Addressing the inaugural session of the Afghanistan Peace Conference, titled the “Lahore Process”, in Punjab’s Bhurban town, Qureshi said a peaceful and prosperous Afghanistan is in the interest of the region.
The minister said that Islamabad wants a negotiated peace settlement between all sides, as he said Pakistan continues to suffer security problems due to instability in Afghanistan.
“We wish to see a friendly Afghanistan, governed by an elected leadership, representative of the aspirations of all Afghans,” he said.
“For far too long, the vicious circle of mistrust, often fed into by our common enemies, has affected our relationship. The blame-game has not helped either of us,” Qureshi said, according to his speech notes released by the foreign ministry.
“It is indispensable to move away from this negative paradigm. It is incumbent upon the leadership of the two countries to take practical steps to build mutual trust and confidence,” the minister said.
“The two countries must not allow their respective territories to be used by anyone to the detriment of our interests. Pakistan and Afghanistan have the same objective of long-term peace and prosperity in Afghanistan and the region,” he added.
Among the delegates is former Afghan warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, who earlier this year announced plans to contest the delayed presidential elections.
Senators and members of Afghanistan’s parliament were also there, according to Pakistani English-language Dawn newspaper.
Afghan President Ashraf Ghani is due to visit Pakistan next week, where he is expected to meet top Pakistani civilian and military leaders in talks set to focus on the Afghanistan peace process.
On Thursday China said that it had recently played host to a Taliban delegation as part of efforts to promote peace and reconciliation in Afghanistan.
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