Pakistan won’t support return of Taliban to power, Ghani claims

KABUL: Afghanistan President Ashraf Ghani on Thursday claimed Pakistan is not in favour of the Taliban returning to power in the war-torn country.

With the United States combat forces scheduled to be withdrawn from Afghanistan by September 11, the Taliban are poised to return to power on the battlefield or through peace talks where they hold most of the cards.

Pakistan helped bring the Taliban to the table, ultimately resulting in a deal. Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi was also present at the peace deal signing in Doha in February last year, warmly congratulating both sides.

But in Kabul, concerns are mounting among the incumbent administration because the complete withdrawal of foreign troops could leave the country vulnerable to a Taliban takeover two decades years after it was ousted in a US-led invasion but they still control wide areas.

“Pakistan’s army, in utter clarity, announced that the revival of Islamic Emirate is not in Pakistan’s national interest,” Ghani said in a televised speech after Eidul Fitr prayers.

Ghani’s remarks came days after a visit from Army Chief Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa to Kabul.

“Afghanistan’s peace and stability means peace and stability in the region,” the president said, adding Gen Bajwa expressed his support for “the republic” — which is understood as Ghani’s government.

Pakistan has time and again urged the Taliban to remain engaged in the Afghan peace process and said so again last month after the group said it would now shun summits about Afghanistan until all foreign forces leave.

Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi Friday reaffirmed Islamabad’s support to the peace process for a sustainable political settlement in the country.

The intra-Afghan negotiations provide a historic opportunity to achieve an inclusive, broad-based, and comprehensive political settlement in Afghanistan for ending the long-lasting conflict, Qureshi said in a telephonic conversation with his Afghan counterpart Mohammad Hanif Atmar, a Foreign Office (FO) statement said.

Qureshi further welcomed the announcement of the three-day Eid ceasefire by the stakeholders, adding that efforts should continue for a permanent ceasefire.

Both sides also agreed to maintain high-level bilateral exchanges and work together for the further consolidation of Pakistan-Afghanistan relations, according to the foreign ministry.

Ties between Kabul and Islamabad have been historically tense but have soured even more in the past 20 years. Kabul accused Pakistan of backing the Taliban. Pakistan, analysts say, does not want an unfriendly government in Kabul — a government that is more friendly with India.

Pakistan, which hosts close to 3 million Afghan refugees and economic migrants, has built 90 percent of a fence along its 2,500 kilometers (1,500 miles) border with Afghanistan and would hopefully be completed by September, he said.

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