Prime Minister Imran Khan said on Thursday that Afghanistan's neighbours, including Pakistan, were concerned at the deteriorating political situation in the war-torn country, where the Taliban are continuing a sweeping offensive.
Addressing a joint press conference with Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyoyev in Tashkent, the premier announced that countries including Uzbekistan, Pakistan, Tajikistan, Iran, and Turkey "will try and help facilitate a peace process in Afghanistan".
"We are both concerned as neighbours of Afghanistan that the people of Afghanistan have suffered for the last 40 years," he said while referring to the Uzbek leader.
"And as neighbours, we feel they are our brothers, that there should be peace there, there should be a peaceful political settlement. So we discussed that in detail and we also resolved that the neighbours — Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Iran, Pakistan and even Turkey — we will try and help facilitate a peace process in Afganistan."
In this regard, Prime Minister Imran said he hoped that the foreign ministers of the above countries would meet first and "then we will go on and try and have a summit so that we can stop what looks like a civil war" in Afghanistan.
His remarks came as the Taliban have swept through much of Afghanistan's north as US-led foreign troops complete their withdrawal, and the Afghan government now holds little more than a constellation of provincial capitals that must largely be resupplied by air.
According to a joint declaration issued after talks between Prime Minister Imran and President Mirziyoyev, the two leaders discussed the security situation in Afghanistan in detail as well as the ongoing peace process.
"The parties stressed the necessity to resolve the conflict through Afghan-led and Afghan-owned political process through peaceful and inclusive negotiations resulting in [a] comprehensive political settlement," the statement said.
It said the Uzbek president "highly appreciated the role of Pakistan in promoting the peace process in Afghanistan and Pakistan’s contributions to socio-economic development of Afghanistan".
Prime Minister Imran, meanwhile, hailed Uzbekistan's efforts for Afghanistan's socio-economic reconstruction through the implementation of a number of major projects.
During the press conference, Imran emphasised the need to improve air and land connectivity between Pakistan and Uzbekistan through increasing flights and road links.
He said Pakistan was really excited about the Termez–Mazar-i-Sharif–Kabul–Peshawar railway project, adding that it would "change everything if we can have this railway line".
Speaking about cultural exchanges, the premier said it was "extremely exciting" that the two countries had decided to make a film on Mughal emperor Babur. He stressed that the youth of Uzbekistan and Pakistan "must know this connection, which stayed for hundreds of years between this part of the world and our part of the world".
In their meeting, Prime Minister Imran and the Uzbek president reaffirmed their commitment to strengthening the ties between the two countries and announced the establishment of a strategic partnership for mutual benefit of the two countries, according to the joint declaration.
The two leaders reiterated their support for the Termez–Mazar-i-Sharif–Kabul–Peshawar railway project as an important initiative to create a rail link from Central Asia to the Arabian Sea through Afghanistan and the Pakistani seaports of Karachi, Gwadar and Bin Qasim.
They also noted the "immense potential" of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor to benefit the entire Central Asian region and beyond, "entailing greater connectivity and trade linkages through a network of transport, fiber optic cable, energy pipelines, and investment opportunities in its SEZs (special economic zones)".
Several Memorandums of Understanding were signed between the two countries on the occasion, Radio Pakistan reported.
Earlier in the day, Prime Minister Imran called for strengthening trade ties with Uzbekistan where he arrived on a two-day official visit.
Addressing the first Pakistan-Uzbekistan Business Forum, the premier highlighted the relations between the two countries, stating that they go back "centuries".
"It is personally a great pleasure for me to visit Uzbekistan, a country which we are connected to culturally, historically and spiritually," he said.
He assured the business community that this relationship was just beginning to grow, voicing his appreciation for the gracious welcomed that had been extended to him upon his arrival.
"I have complaints from different business houses on my mobile phone, asking why they weren't invited on this trip," he said, adding that there was a lot of "enthusiasm" in Pakistan regarding this.
"Our business and trade relationship is going to depend on how quickly we are able to connect with each other. The Trans Afghan Railway project is the most important project for Uzbekistan and Pakistan," he said.
"For Pakistan, it connects us to Central Asia, to Uzbekistan which is the biggest of the Central Asian republics and beyond."
Commenting on the situation in Afghanistan, the premier said that Pakistan wanted a political settlement in the neighbouring country for "mutually beneficial" connectivity between Pakistan and Uzbekistan. "For the business community, it will raise the standard of living in both the countries," he said.
He said that he was a student in England when the European Union was formed and he had noted that the standard of living went up in all the countries which became a part of the bloc.
"Their trade increased with their neighbours and the standard of living went up. This is why this trip is important for us, because of the connections that our business community will make with your business community."
He said that he was informed that many Pakistani business houses had already signed major contracts a day earlier, specifically in the textile sector. "We are all hoping that the connections between the two countries will get deeper by the time we go back," he said.
He said that the government was working on ensuring frequent flights between the countries.
PM Imran arrives in Tashkent
Earlier today, the premier arrived in Tashkent accompanied by Minister for Information and Broadcasting Chaudhry Fawad Hussain, Interior Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed, Minister for Maritime Affairs Ali Haider Zaidi and National Security Adviser Moeed Yusuf.
According to Radio Pakistan, talks between the leadership of the two countries will cover the entire gamut of bilateral relations, with a particular focus on trade, economic cooperation and connectivity.
The leaders will also exchange views on regional and international issues of mutual interest.
During the visit, a number of agreements and MoUs will be signed in areas of mutual interest, including transportation of goods, cooperation between chambers of commerce of the two countries, trade, education, culture and tourism, the report said.
On the invitation of the Uzbek president, the prime minister will participate in the International Conference on Central and South Asia Regional Connectivity: Challenges and Opportunities.