State visit aims at securing Islamabad’s support for talks with the Taliban.
Afghanistan’s President Ashraf Ghani will make his first state visit to Pakistan on Friday, seeking to improve ties that are crucial to his hopes of reviving peace talks with the Taliban as U.S. troops end their 13-year war.
Ghani and Pakistan’s Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif are expected to attend a cricket match between the two countries in Islamabad on Saturday, officials said, in a public demonstration of better relations despite fraught cross-border tensions.
Both nations accuse each other of allowing militants to shelter in the border regions and launch bloody attacks that threaten regional stability. Former Afghan president Hamid Karzai routinely accused Pakistan of continuing to fuel the Taliban insurgency to destabilize his country, a charge Islamabad denies. Longstanding tensions between the two countries were highlighted last week when a Pentagon report said Pakistan continues to use “proxy forces” against Afghanistan.
Diplomats say Ghani’s presidency, which started in September, presents a major opportunity at a time when U.S.-led NATO troops are withdrawing from the fight against the Taliban. “Both sides are very interested in seizing the opportunity presented by the political transition,” Richard Olson, U.S. ambassador in Islamabad, said this week. “There is quite genuinely a basis for a new relationship between Afghanistan and Pakistan. Both sides are aware of this historical moment and making efforts to seize it.”
The Taliban, which dismissed the recent Afghan election as a “U.S. plot,” has often said they will fight on until all foreign troops have left Afghanistan. About 12,500 U.S.-led troops will stay on into next year on a NATO training and support mission.