PM Imran regrets upsurge in violence in Afghanistan, terms it counterproductive to peace

Updated April 25, 2019

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Pakistan's Prime Minister Imran Khan gestures while speaking during the World Government Summit in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, Sunday, Feb. 10, 2019. Khan on Sunday met with the head of the International Monetary Fund and later told a crowd that Pakistan needed "painful" fiscal reforms in order to deal with its soaring debt. Photo: File/AP
Pakistan's Prime Minister Imran Khan gestures while speaking during the World Government Summit in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, Sunday, Feb. 10, 2019. Khan on Sunday met with the head of the International Monetary Fund and later told a crowd that Pakistan needed "painful" fiscal reforms in order to deal with its soaring debt. Photo: File/AP

Responding to the new wave of violence in Afghanistan, Prime Minister Imran Khan on Thursday issued a condemnatory statement saying "Pakistan is highly dismayed" by the developments.

"[The] Afghanistan conflict has brought great suffering for both Afghanistan and Pakistan over [the] last 40 years," it began. "Now, after a long wait, the Afghanistan Peace Process presents a historic opportunity for peace in the region and Pakistan is fully supporting the process, including the next logical step of Intra Afghan Dialogue wherein Afghans will themselves decide upon the future of their country.

"In this backdrop, Pakistan is highly dismayed by the surge of violence in Afghanistan from all sides. The so called offensives are condemnable and will undermine the peace process. It is not right to seek an edge in dialogue through coercion.

"Pakistan implores all parties to recognise the importance of the moment and seize it. Pakistan has committed all diplomatic and security capital to success of [the] peace process. Pakistan will not be party to any internal conflict in Afghanistan anymore," it read.

Although it is not clear what prompted the Prime Minister's Office to issue the cryptic statement, it seems to be a veiled reprimand to the Taliban as well as a warning to Washington that Islamabad will not exert its influence over the militant group for long if Kabul continues with its confrontational policy.

Zalmay Khalilzad, the US envoy tasked with brokering a peace deal with the Taliban, also voiced regret over findings that US-backed forces were killing more civilians than the militants and said the solution was a peace deal.

"We deeply regret any loss of innocent life during military operations. We never target innocents," said the US negotiator who is set shortly to resume talks with the Taliban in Qatar on ending the war.

"War is treacherous, and unintended consequences are devastating. While we strive to prevent casualties, [the] real solution is a ceasefire or reduced violence as we pursue lasting peace," he tweeted.

A United Nations report released a day earlier found that international and pro-government forces were responsible for the deaths of 305 civilians in the first three months of the year.

Earlier this month, Taliban fighters stormed Afghan army checkpoints in southern Afghanistan near the Pakistani border overnight, killing 20 troops. Eight other security forces were wounded in the attack.

Later, on April 20, at least seven people were killed in an attack on the Afghan communications ministry in central Kabul, breaking months of relative calm in the capital and underlining continued security threats.

Kabul has also been extremely indignant at what it sees as Islamabad's 'interference' in Afghanistan's affairs, having recalled its ambassador twice over a statement from Prime Minister Khan regarding a possible interim setup in Afghanistan while a peace is brokered.

Pakistan has been playing a key role in the Afghan peace process, helping US President Donald Trump keep an election promise of withdrawing US military presence from Afghanistan.

On the surface, the talks seem to be progressing to the satisfaction of both sides — the US and the Taliban — but the incumbent Afghan regime has largely been excluded from several rounds of negotiations, and hostilities between Kabul and the Taliban show no signs of abating.

Hopes for a breakthrough last weekend were dashed when a dialogue planned between the Taliban and Afghan officials in Doha collapsed at the last minute when Ghani announced a delegation of some 250 people from all walks of Afghan life, including government figures, would attend talks. The Taliban had rejected the lengthy list, saying the meeting was "not an invitation to some wedding or other party at a hotel in Kabul".

US President Donald Trump is eager to reach a solution to end the longest-ever US war, which dislodged the Taliban following the September 11, 2001 attacks. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo voiced disappointment over the impasse during a call with President Ghani last weekend and "encouraged all sides to seize the moment and reach an understanding on participants, so that an inclusive intra-Afghan dialogue can be convened in Doha as soon as possible".

The Taliban's political spokesman Suhail Shaheen has told AFP that the upcoming talks will focus on a timetable for pulling all foreign forces from Afghanistan.