Prime Minister Imran Khan insisted yesterday that his country is no longer a militant safe haven, and said that his administration fully supports the Afghan peace process.
His assertion was however challenged hours later, when a suicide bomber targeted a religious rally in Baluchistan (see report on the right).
Khan’s comments come as the US and the Taliban appear on the brink of a deal that would see US forces begin to pull out of Afghanistan.
In return, the Taliban would enter talks with the Afghan government, stick to various security guarantees and work toward an eventual, comprehensive ceasefire.
Pakistan, which has long been accused of supporting the Taliban and other extremist groups along its border with Afghanistan, is seen as key to helping secure and implement any deal.
“I can tell you that there are no safe havens here,” Khan said at the two-day international conference, titled “40 years of Afghan Refugees Presence in Pakistan: A New Partnership for Solidarity”, which began in Islamabad yesterday. “Whatever the situation might have been in the past, right now, I can tell you ... there is one thing we want: peace in Afghanistan.”
“It is my belief that the people of Afghanistan have suffered more than any other human community, and I pray from my heart that these peace talks are successful,” the prime minister said, in reference to the ongoing talks between the US and the Afghan Taliban in Doha.
His comments came after Sarwar Danish, Afghanistan’s second vice-president, accused Pakistan of allowing the Taliban to recruit new fighters from Afghan refugee camps in Pakistan.
While Pakistan cannot “completely guarantee” that no Taliban are hiding among the estimated 2.7mn Afghans living in the country, the prime minister said that his government had done all it can to prevent attacks in Afghanistan, including by building a border fence.
Khan also said that the conference is a cause for celebration “because there are not many instances that those who have been refugees have conducted themselves with honour”.
He remarked that Pakistan despite its challenges has kept a wonderful relationship with Afghan refugees.
“A remarkable relationship has endured considering the situation that our [Pakistan] economy has faced,” Khan remarked.
US peace envoy Zalmay Khalilzad, who has for more than a year led talks between the Taliban and Washington, also attended the conference.
He said that he is “cautiously optimistic” about progress toward an eventual deal.
The US has “commitments from the Taliban on security issues”, he said.
The Taliban, Afghanistan’s security forces and the US are supposed to be launching a seven-day “reduction in violence”, officials announced last week.
The move is part of a confidence-building measure ahead of the announcement of a fuller deal.
However, bloodshed continued over the weekend, including a Taliban attack in Kunduz province.
Refugees began flowing into Pakistan after the 1979 Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, and continued to come during the Taliban regime.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, who is on a three-day visit to Pakistan, credited the nation for supporting Afghan refugees.
He said that it is “time for Afghans to have peace. No Afghan will forgive us if this opportunity is not seized”.
“Even though major conflict has erupted in some other part of the world; Pakistan is still the second largest refugee host. I am struck by the extraordinary solidarity and compassion,” the UN chief said.
He added that the UN has been proud to work with Pakistan in hosting the Afghan refugees.
However, Guterres noted that international support for Pakistan in tackling this problem has been “minimal”, compared with the efforts taken by the Pakistani government.
“The global community must step up,” he urged.
The UN chief also praised the “remarkable transformation” of Pakistan’s security situation.
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