The leader of Pakistan met with the Afghan president on a “historic” first official visit to Kabul which aimed to build trust and strengthen relations between the two often acrimonious neighbours.
Afghan president Ashraf Ghani called the visit “historic” while Pakistani prime minister Imran Khan said his government would do “everything possible” to help reduce violence in the war-torn country.
The visit comes at a crucial time for Afghanistan as government negotiators and the Taliban hold US-brokered negotiations in Qatar to chart a course for a post-war Afghanistan.
“You come with a with a series of very important messages… But fundamental to this is that violence is not an answer,” Mr Ghani told Mr Khan at the presidential palace.
“A comprehensive political settlement for an enduring peace within the framework of our values, our Constitution in the Islamic Republic, is the way to the future.”
Mr Khan acknowledged Pakistan had played a key role in getting the Taliban to the negotiating table. But he stressed his concern that “despite the talks in Qatar, the level of violence is rising”.
Mr Khan added that his government would do “whatever is possible” to help reduce the violence and move the Afghan-Taliban talks toward a ceasefire.
“The whole objective of this visit is to build trust, to communicate more,” he said. “We will be helping you.”
Neither leader addressed this week’s announcement that the US planned to withdraw large numbers of troops from Afghanistan.
It has led to fears of worsening violence and regional chaos, which some say could embolden so-called Islamic State to regroup and perhaps try to build another “caliphate”.
Under an earlier deal between the US and the Taliban that outlined a gradual pullout, remaining US forces were to leave Afghanistan by next April.
The Pentagon now says some 2,500 troops will leave by January – just days before president-elect Joe Biden’s inauguration. This would leaving approximately 2,000 US forces in place.
Pakistan has been applauded by both the US and Afghanistan for its role in getting the Taliban to the peace table. This was done first in direct talks with the US, resulting in an agreement which led to the so-called intra-Afghan negotiations now underway in Doha.
Mr Khan’s visit followed that of Afghanistan’s chief peace envoy Abdullah Abdullah who visited Pakistan in September. It was a turning point for the uneasy neighbours from a relationship marked by suspicion and hostility to one seeking peace in the region.
While in Islamabad, Mr Abdullah urged Pakistan’s powerful military to press the Taliban to reduce attacks and the level of violence. The insurgents, who hosted Osama bin Laden and al Qaida until their regime was toppled by the 2001 US-led invasion, now have control over half of Afghanistan.
However, many Afghans still view Pakistan with deep mistrust, blaming it for the resurgence of the Taliban and for giving the insurgents a safe haven from which to operate.
Pakistan has also been accused of wanting to keep the Taliban as possible leverage in case of Indian influence in Afghanistan. India, Pakistan’s long-time enemy, has been critical of any post-war government in Afghanistan that would include the Taliban.