ISLAMABAD (Reuters) – Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi on Saturday called for trust to be rebuilt between Islamabad and Kabul as Pakistan began a new initiative to bolster a faltering peace process aiming to end Afghanistan’s lengthy civil war.
Pakistan on Saturday hosted a conference to bring together more than 50 Afghan leaders, including politicians and tribal elders, but there were no representatives of the Afghan Taliban militants, who have been fighting for years to expel foreign forces and defeat the U.S.-backed government in Kabul.
Relations between Afghanistan and Pakistan have been strained in recent years amid long-standing allegations by Kabul and Washington that Pakistan has been sheltering the Taliban militants since U.S.-led forces removed them from power in 2001, something Islamabad denies. Pakistan says its influence over the Taliban has waned over the years.
The United States has been pushing Pakistan to use its influence with the Taliban to open direct negotiations with the Kabul government, which the Taliban regard as an illegitimate foreign-imposed regime.
Qureshi, speaking in the Pakistani town of Bhurban in the Punjab province, said Islamabad wants a negotiated peace settlement between all sides as he said Pakistan continues to suffer security problems due to instability in Afghanistan.
“For far too long, the vicious circle of mistrust, often fed into by our common enemies, has affected our relationship. The blame-game has not helped either of us,” Qureshi said, according to his speech notes released by the foreign ministry.
“It is indispensable to move away from this negative paradigm. It is incumbent upon the leadership of the two countries to take practical steps to build mutual trust and confidence.”
Among the delegates was former Afghan warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, who earlier this year announced plans to contest the delayed presidential elections. Senators and members of Afghanistan’s parliament were also there, according to Pakistani English-language Dawn newspaper.
Afghan President Ashraf Ghani is due to visit Pakistan next week, where he is expected to meet top Pakistani civilian and military leaders in talks set to focus on the Afghanistan peace process.
China on Thursday said that it had recently played host to a Taliban delegation as part of efforts to promote peace and reconciliation in Afghanistan.
(Reporting by Drazen Jorgic; Editing by Marie-Louise Gumuchian)