Islamabad, Pakistan – Afghan President Ashraf Ghani has arrived in the Pakistani capital to hold talks with Prime Minister Imran Khan, less than a week after Pakistan hosted opposition leaders for a conference to discuss ending the 18-year war in Afghanistan.
Ghani was greeted by Khan and presented a guard of honour at the Pakistani prime minister’s residence on Thursday, before delegation level talks between the two countries.
The Afghan president’s third visit to Pakistan since his election in 2014 comes at a tense time for relations between the two countries, with Ghani accusing Pakistan of interference in internal political affairs and with the Afghan peace process gathering steam.
Ghani, who faces an election in September, has so far not held direct talks with the Taliban, which has accused his government of being a “puppet” of the United States and refused to sit across the table.
The Taliban has, however, held several rounds of direct talks with the US and at least one round of talks with Afghan political opposition leaders in Moscow.
Both Taliban and US officials say they are close to agreeing on a timeline for the withdrawal of US-led NATO troops from Afghanistan and on structures to ensure Afghan soil is not used by armed groups to target the US and its allies.
Last week, Pakistan hosted a major conference for Afghan opposition leaders in the mountain town of Bhurban, with Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi saying trust needed to be rebuilt between the two countries.
“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.
Before Ghani’s visit, an Afghan presidential spokesperson said the visit would focus on Pakistan’s role in achieving peace in Afghanistan.
“It is important to see how much regional countries, such as Pakistan, [are] ready and what kind of help it can provide for peace in Afghanistan,” said Haroon Chakhansuri, a spokesperson for Ghani in Kabul.
Pakistan’s Foreign Office said the wide-ranging visit would discuss an array of topics, with Ghani accompanied by top ministers and officials from across his cabinet.
“The wide-ranging talks between the two sides would focus on strengthening bilateral cooperation in diverse areas – including political, trade, economic, security, peace and reconciliation, education and people-to-people exchanges,” the Foreign Office said in a statement on the eve of the visit.
Ghani is also expected to visit the eastern city of Lahore during his two-day visit, with meetings scheduled at an economic forum to be attended by businessmen from both countries.
The war in Afghanistan has raged since 2001, when US-led NATO forces invaded the country in retaliation against the 9/11 attacks, removing the government and sparking a war with Taliban fighters that has seen them steadily gain degrees of control over large swaths of the country.
The Afghan government and the US have accused Pakistan of providing safe haven to Taliban leaders. However, Pakistan denies the charge saying it only holds limited influence over the group.
Last year, more than 3,800 civilians were killed and another 7,189 wounded in Afghanistan, the highest level of casualties in a decade, according to UN figures.