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ISLAMABAD: The Afghan government backed by the United States has requested Prime Minister Imran Khan to play a role in persuading Taliban to agree to a ceasefire, as they remain reluctant to shun violence unless complete withdrawal of US troops from the war-torn country and a future political setup is agreed upon by all Afghans.

Well-placed diplomatic sources told Business Recorder that during Prime Minister Khan's visit to Kabul on Thursday, President Ashraf Ghani sought his help in convincing the Taliban to give up violence in order to pave the way for a lasting peace in Afghanistan.

"We are willing to cooperate in whatever capacity we can, as Prime Minister Imran Khan himself assured the Afghan leadership of Pakistan's all-out cooperation and support in restoration of peace," said a senior government officer on condition of anonymity.

Though this would be quite difficult given the fact that there are spoilers within Afghanistan, he said, adding that Pakistan will make all-out efforts to help the Afghan government, as peace in Afghanistan is equally beneficial for Pakistan.

The ongoing intra-Afghan negotiation in Qatar is an opportunity for all the Afghans, the warring groups and the Afghan government to decide on a peaceful future for themselves and their people.

There has been no let-up in violence in Afghanistan with 23 rockets hitting Kabul on Saturday, killing at least eight civilians and wounding dozens of others.

Taliban, however, denied any involvement and its spokesperson Zabihullah Mujahid issued a statement to the media, denying Taliban's involvement in the attacks. Pakistan condemned the Saturday's rocket attacks in Kabul, saying "at a time when the international community's efforts towards Afghan peace process are moving forward it is important to be vigilant against the spoilers who are working to undermine the peace efforts".

"Pakistan reiterates its condemnation of terrorism in all its forms and manifestations. We express our full solidarity and support for Afghanistan and its fraternal people," the Foreign Office spokesperson Zahid Hafeez Chaduhri said.

Senior analyst and expert on Afghan affairs Rahimullah Yusufzai, while talking to Business Recorder, said that overall Prime Minister Khan's visit to Afghanistan will be beneficial for both the countries provided practical steps are undertaken on what has been agreed.

He pointed out that the agreement on intelligence-sharing between Pakistan's Inter-Service Intelligence (ISI) and Afghanistan's National Directorate of Security (NDS) is an important step.

"We have to see as to how this is possible and practically workable, as we have instances in the past of such an understanding that never took effect at all amid deepening trust deficit," he asserted.

In May 2015, the ISI and NDS had signed an accord aimed at intelligence-sharing and cooperation in the war on terror after years of bickering and misunderstanding when the then Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and ex-Army Chief General Raheel Sharif along with ISI chief visited Kabul. However, the two countries continued to blame each other for every terrorist attack on each other's soils.

"This is why I believe that this is not an easy task. The leadership of the two countries will have to work sincerely to move forward by forgetting the past and taking practical steps towards forming a relationship which is equally beneficial for both the countries," Yusufzai added.

Yousafzai further noted that violence in Afghanistan is likely to continue until the complete withdrawal of the US troops and an understanding between the warring groups and Afghan government for a future political setup which is acceptable to all Afghans.

"These are the pressure tactics...both Taliban and the Afghan government have continued attacking each other's positions and both are trying to strengthen their positions by capturing more territories. Then, we have other groups such as Daesh and those called spoilers who do not want peace in Afghanistan and a better relationship with Pakistan," he argued.

Further, he added, the Trump administration wants to withdraw most of its troops from Afghanistan but faces strong resistance from the Pentagon which opposes an unconditional pullout. "We also have to see whether the new US administration with Joe Biden as the President would continue with the Trump administration's plans to withdraw the American forces from Afghanistan or not," he added.

On Friday, US hailed Prime Minister Imran Khan's visit to Afghanistan, saying Islamabad-Kabul cooperation will contribute to stability of the entire region. "Pleased to see PM Khan visiting Kabul to underscore Pakistan's commitment to peace & to further cooperation with Afghanistan on security, refugees, trade, and regional connectivity.

Afghan-Pakistani cooperation contributes to the entire region's stability," United States Department of State for Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs stated in a tweet.

Separately, US Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation Zalmay Khalilzad, through a series of tweets, stated that the US will soon announce a regional investment fund, which will also benefit Pakistan.

"We look forward to soon announcing a regional investment fund and a high-level meeting of representatives from the United States, Uzbekistan, Pakistan, and Afghanistan to discuss connectivity, trade and development initiatives," he stated in a tweet on Friday.

The tweet followed his meeting with Uzbekistan's Foreign Minister Abdul Aziz Kamilov in Washington. "We discussed the current status of Afghanistan Peace Negotiations and the importance of an immediate reduction in violence...We also discussed the region's role in helping the Afghan peace process and recommitted to the importance of regional economic connectivity, trade and development facilitated by peace in Afghanistan, benefiting Central Asia, Afghanistan and Pakistan," Khalilzad added.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2020