Reacting to Afghan President Ashraf Ghani’s comments on Pakistan’s ‘negative role’ in peace process, premier stresses Islamabad does not want any more conflict
Prime Minister Imran Khan on Friday said it was “extremely unfair” to blame Pakistan for the deteriorating security situation in Afghanistan, stressing that peace in the war-torn state was one of Islamabad’s foremost priorities.
Addressing the Central and South Asia Regional Connectivity: Challenges and Opportunities conference in Tashkent, he pointed out that, after Afghanistan, no country would suffer more from turmoil in Kabul than Pakistan. “Pakistan suffered around 70,000 casualties in the last 15 years [of the war on terror]. The last thing Pakistan wants is more conflict,” he said.
Earlier, in his address at the conference, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani had alleged that 10,000 fighters from Pakistan had crossed over into Afghanistan in recent days to boost the Taliban’s numbers. He had also warned that the time for a negotiated settlement was running out, adding that if talks failed, Kabul would have no choice but to fight the Taliban.
Addressing Ghani directly, Khan said ensuring peace and stability in Afghanistan was among Pakistan’s foremost priorities. “Mr. Ghani, I want to make it clear to you that Pakistan will be the last country to think about supporting turmoil and unrest in Afghanistan,” he said and lamented that the leverage Islamabad had wielded over the Taliban had all-but-disappeared following the U.S. announcement to completely withdraw its troops by Sept. 11, 2021.
“Why would the Taliban listen to Pakistan when they are seeing victory after the withdrawal of [foreign] troops,” he asked, adding that the U.S. had insisted on a military solution to the conflict even as Pakistan had been advocating for a negotiated settlement and the current unrest was a result of that. Claiming that Pakistan’s economy was finally recovering after a “difficult phase,” he stressed that the “last thing” Islamabad wanted was more turbulence in Afghanistan.
“We have made every effort, short of taking military action against the Taliban in Pakistan, to get them on the dialogue table and to have a peaceful settlement,” said the prime minister, adding that he would not have visited Kabul in November if Pakistan were not interested in peace. “The whole idea was to look upon Pakistan as a partner in peace. I feel disappointed that we have been blamed for what is going on in Afghanistan,” he added.
Khan also referred to the 3 million Afghan refugees currently in Pakistan. “We are petrified that there will be another influx of refugees and we do not have the capacity or the economic strength to bear it. So I can assure you again, if any country is trying its best, it is Pakistan,” he said.
A few hours after their speeches, Khan and Ghani met on the sidelines of the conference and discussed the ongoing Afghan peace process.