Moving to control the diplomatic fallout from a news report stating that Prime Minister Imran Khan had "suggested" the setting up of an interim setup in Afghanistan, the Foreign Office (FO) today stated that the comment in question had been reported out of context, "leading to unwarranted reaction from various quarters."
The premier had allegedly told journalists on Monday that forming an interim Afghan government would smooth peace talks between the United States and Taliban officials since the militant group refuses to speak to the current government, according to comments published in The Express Tribune.
Afghanistan had subsequently recalled its own ambassador in Islamabad, and summoned Pakistan's deputy ambassador in Kabul to discuss what it described as "irresponsible" remarks by Prime Minister Khan.
The Afghan government deemed Khan's statements as "an obvious example of Pakistan's interventional policy and disrespect to the national sovereignty and determination of the people of Afghanistan," an Afghan foreign affairs ministry spokesperson had said.
In a tweet, US Special Envoy for Afghan Peace and Reconciliation Zalmay Khalilzad — who has been leading peace talks with the Taliban — had also appeared to criticise the prime minister's reported comments.
He said "while Pakistan has made constructive contributions on the Afghan Peace Process, PM Khan's comments did not".
"The future of Afghanistan is for Afghans, and only Afghans, to decide," he said.
Dismissing the outrage over the news report, the FO stated that the prime minister had only been referring to "Pakistan’s model, where elections are held under an interim government. The comments should not be misinterpreted to imply interference in Afghanistan’s internal affairs."
"Pakistan has no other interest in Afghanistan but to promote peace through an ‘Afghan owned’ and ‘Afghan led’ political process. [The prime minister] of Pakistan has taken personal interest in facilitating the ongoing political reconciliation process and the same must not be misconstrued to undermine the sincere efforts of Pakistan or to create misunderstandings at this crucial stage of the process," the FO stated.
"[The] Prime Minister of Pakistan understands the plight of [the] brave people of Afghanistan, who have a right to live in peace after four decades of violence and war," the statement concluded.
The row marks the third time in just over a month that Kabul has demanded an explanation from Pakistan over comments related to peace talks, illustrating the flaring tensions between the two neighbours at a sensitive time.
US and Taliban officials have held recurring talks to end the 17-year war, but the Taliban consider the Afghan government led by President Ashraf Ghani as illegitimate.
Ghani's mandate expires in May, and pressure is mounting on him to step down before the next presidential election, scheduled for September 28. Ghani has rejected the idea of an interim government.