WASHINGTON: US Pre­si­dent Donald Trump spoke to Prime Minister Imran Khan on Thursday and both leaders reiterated their commitment to move forward the Afghan peace and reconciliation process, officials in Washington and Islamabad said.

The prime minister also emphasised that the US president “must continue his efforts for facilitation of a peaceful solution of the Jammu and Kashmir dispute”, said a statement issued by PM Office in Islamabad.

In Washington, officials who spoke to Dawn said the conversation focused on US efforts to revive the Afghan peace process — a point also underlined in the official readout.

“The prime minister re-affirmed Pakistan’s commitment to the advancement of Afghan peace and reconciliation process for a peaceful and stable Afghanistan,” said the official statement. “Both leaders agreed to continue to work together for the promotion of this shared objective.”

Both leaders pledge to advance Afghan peace process

On Wednesday, US Secre­tary of State Michael Pom­peo described this week’s prisoner swap as a hopeful sign for a political settlement of 40 years of blood-letting in Afghanistan.

On Tuesday, three high-ranking Taliban prisoners were swapped for two Western professors who had been held hostage by the insurgent group since their abduction in 2016.

“We see these developments as hopeful signs that the Afghan war, a terrible and costly conflict that has lasted 40 years, may soon conclude through a political settlement,” Mr Pompeo said in a statement issued by his office.

Earlier this year, Pakistan helped the United States jumpstart the peace process when it released the Taliban chief and several other senior leaders and facilitated their travel to Doha, Qatar, to participate in talks.

By September, the talks came close to a peace deal but stalled again after a Taliban attack in Afghan­istan killed two Nato soldiers and dozens of Afghans. Annoyed by the ambush, President Trump called off a surprise visit by Taliban officials to the United States for signing the deal. Afghan President Ashraf Ghani was also scheduled to participate in this meeting at the Camp David presidential resort to sign the deal.

Tuesday’s prisoner swap, however, revived the hopes for resuming US-Taliban talks and Thursday’s Trump-Khan conversation shows that this is being dealt with at the highest possible level.

Diplomatic observers in Washington say that this time the Americans have also kept the Afghan government in the loop and want Kabul officials to participate in the talks as well.

The official press release on the Trump-Khan call also referred to the prisoner swap, stating Prime Minis­ter Khan told Mr Trump that “the release of Western hostages in Afghanistan was a positive development and Pakistan was happy that they were safe and free”.

“President Trump thanked the prime minister for Pakistan’s efforts in facilitating this positive outcome,” the statement added, as reports in the US media indicated that Islamabad had also played a role in this exchange. The reports indicated that Islamabad was also working with Washing­ton to secure the release of other Western hostages held by the Taliban.

Prime Minister Khan used this opportunity to apprise President Trump of the current situation in India-held Jammu and Kashmir, “underscoring that over 8 million people remained under siege for over 100 days now,” the statement added.

Appreciating Mr Trump’s continued engagement as well as mediation offer, Mr Khan urged the US leader to continue those efforts.

President Trump first offered to mediate between India and Pakistan to help resolve the Kashmir issue during the prime minister’s visit to the White House in July this year. Despite India’s rejection, President Trump has repeated his offer on several occasions.

This issue came up again during the prime minister’s meeting with the US president on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in New Year in September. And Mr Trump made it obvious that he was still committed to helping India and Pakistan heal this festering wound.

The official readout also referred to these meetings. “Recalling their conversations in Washington and New York, the two leaders agreed to deepen bilateral collaboration, including in relevant multilateral fora,” it said. “The two leaders further agreed to remain in close contact.”

Published in Dawn, November 22nd, 2019