Prime Minister Imran Khan on Friday hit back at Afghan President Ashraf Ghani's claims about Pakistan's "negative role" in the Afghan peace process, adding that it was "unfair" to blame the country for the situation in Afghanistan.
The prime minister made the comments at the international conference on "Central and South Asia Regional Connectivity: Challenges and Opportunities" during his two-day visit to Uzbekistan. The Afghan president was also present at the conference.
PM Imran's remarks came shortly before the two leaders were scheduled to meet on the sidelines of the conference.
"President Ghani let me just say that the country that will be most affected by turmoil in Afghanistan is Pakistan. Pakistan suffered 70,000 casualties in the last 15 years. The last thing Pakistan wants is more conflict," the premier said as he stopped reading from his written speech.
He also said that Taliban was no longer willing to compromise after the United States gave a date for the withdrawal of troops.
"When there were 150,000 Nato troops [...] that was the time to ask the Taliban to come to the table. Why were the Taliban going to compromise once the exit date was given [...] why would they listen to us when they are sensing victory" the prime minister questioned.
The premier said that Pakistan's economy was finally recovering after going through a difficult phase. "I repeat, the last thing we want is turbulence in Afghanistan."
PM Imran stated that no country has tried harder than Pakistan to bring the Taliban to the table for dialogue. "We have made every effort, short of taking military action against the Taliban in Pakistan, to get them on the dialogue table and to have a peaceful settlement [in Afghanistan].
"To blame Pakistan for what is going on in Afghanistan is extremely unfair."
He said that he would not have visited Kabul in November last year if Pakistan was not interested in peace. "The whole idea was to look upon Pakistan as a partner in peace. I feel disappointed that we have been blamed for what is going on in Afghanistan".
He said that the current situation in Afghanistan was a result of over two decades of conflict and the US seeking a military solution.
He said that he had a conversation with Uzbekistan President Shavkat Mirziyoyev about how all the neighbours in the region can help the Afghan peace process. "It is in all of our interests."
He said that there were already three million refugees in Afghanistan.
"We are petrified that there will be another influx of refugees and we do not have the capacity or the economic strength to bear it. So I can assure you again, if any country is trying its best, it is Pakistan."
The prime minister later met Ghani on the sidelines of the conference. According to Radio Pakistan, PM Imran and the Afghan president are leading their respective sides in delegation-level talks.
Pakistan hosts Afghan peace conference from tomorrow
The prime minister's comments come a day before Pakistan is due to host a three-day conference on Afghanistan to give a fresh impetus to the efforts for peace.
“Pakistan is hosting the Afghan Peace Conference on July 17-19 […] to provide momentum to the ongoing efforts for peace in Afghanistan,” Foreign Office Spokesman Zahid Hafeez Chaudhri said at the weekly media briefing.
Afghanistan’s political leadership has been invited to the conference.
According to Tolo News, 21 prominent Afghan leaders including Abdullah Abdullah, Karim Khalili, Mohammad Younus Qanooni, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, Mohammad Hanif Atmar, Salahuddin Rabbani, Ismail Khan, Ata Mohammad Noor, Sayed Hamed Gailani, Sayed Eshaq Gailani, Batur Dostum and Mirwais Yasini have been invited to the conference in Islamabad.
Chaudhri said a number of them have already confirmed their participation. Taliban, the spokesman had clarified, were not among the invitees as they had already visited Pakistan many times and held detailed discussions on the peace process.
“The aim of the forthcoming peace conference is to engage with and consult all sides on the Afghan peace process. We hope that this conference will provide impetus to the ongoing efforts for peace in Afghanistan,” the spokesman said while explaining the objective of the conference," the FO spokesman said.