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Pakistan PM Khan headed for his maiden Afghan visit – Aljazeera.com

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Imran Khan’s trip to the western neighbour comes as peace talks between Kabul and the Taliban have stalled.

Islamabad, Pakistan – Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan is set to visit the Afghan capital Kabul for delegation-level talks with President Ashraf Ghani on bilateral ties, the stuttering Afghan peace process and other issues, a Pakistani statement says.

Khan will arrive in Kabul for his first visit to Pakistan’s northwestern neighbour, where it has been facilitating peace talks between the government and the Afghan Taliban, on Thursday.

“The focus would be on further deepening the fraternal bilateral relations between Pakistan and Afghanistan, the Afghan peace process, and regional economic development and connectivity,” said a Pakistani statement.

Khan will be accompanied by Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi and his adviser on commerce and investment, Razzaq Dawood.

The Pakistani prime minister’s visit comes at a time of heightened engagement between the two neighbours, with numerous Afghan government officials visiting Pakistan in the preceding months, including Afghan peace chief Abdullah Abdullah, speaker of Afghanistan’s lower house of Parliament Rahman Rahmani and Commerce Minister Nisar Ahmad Ghoraini.

In October, Pakistan also hosted Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, the leader of the Hizb-e-Islami, an armed group that laid down weapons in 2016.

Agenda of talks

The peace talks between Afghan government negotiators and the Afghan Taliban in the Qatari capital Doha will be in focus during Khan’s visit.

Historic talks between the two sides to end a 19-year war in Afghanistan kicked off in September after the US had earlier signed an agreement with the Afghan Taliban in February.

While the talks continue, progress has been slow, and both sides are yet to agree on a framework for how to proceed.

On Tuesday, the US announced it would be sharply reducing the number of US troops in Afghanistan from 4,500 to 2,500 before current President Donald Trump leaves office in mid-January, accelerating the country’s military disengagement.

The announcement came as there has been an uptick in violence, with the Taliban continuing to carry out attacks targeting government leaders, security forces and civilians.

Following the US announcement, NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg warned that a “hasty” withdrawal by the United States, which lead’s NATO’s coalition in Afghanistan, could lead to further violence.

“We now face a difficult decision. We have been in Afghanistan for almost 20 years, and no NATO ally wants to stay any longer than necessary. But at the same time, the price for leaving too soon or in an uncoordinated way could be very high,” Stoltenberg said in a statement on Monday.

Also likely to be on the agenda for Thursday’s talks will be recent Pakistani allegations that India, with whom it has fought three full-scale wars since the two countries gained independence, has used Afghan soil to “sponsor terrorism” in Pakistan.

On Sunday, a day after the allegations were made, Afghanistan’s foreign ministry “strongly rejected” the accusations.

“The Ministry of Foreign Affairs, after carefully reviewing the video of the press conference, rejects the allegation and reiterates that there is absolutely no evidence that Malik (Feraydoon Khan) Mohmand, one of the tribal leaders of Nangarhar province, was involved in the terrorist attacks on the Peshawar Agricultural University,” said the Afghan statement.

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