Pakistan

Afghan president in Islamabad to revive Taliban talks

ISLAMABAD: Afghan president Ashraf Ghani arrived in Islamabad Wednesday hoping to revive peace talks with the resurgent Taliban, as he opened a regional conference that has taken on added significance with the attendance of India’s top diplomat.

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif personally welcomed Ghani at the airport in a red-carpet reception with a guard of honour and 21 gun salute, with the leaders scheduled to hold bilateral talks later in the day.

The Afghan leader’s visit to Pakistan came as at least eight people were killed in an all-night Taliban raid at an airport in Kandahar, highlighting the insurgents’ capacity to carry out dramatic attacks despite reports of factional infighting.

Relations between Afghanistan and Pakistan have plummeted since July following confirmation that the Taliban’s founder Mullah Omar was dead, a revelation that scuppered nascent peace talks between Kabul and the insurgent group which Pakistan’s powerful military establishment has traditionally wielded influence over.

Ghani subsequently blamed Pakistan for a surge in Taliban attacks inside Afghanistan, accusing Islamabad of sending “messages of war”.

On Wednesday, both leaders vowed to fight militancy and extremism in the region after they jointly opened a regional conference in Islamabad.

“I strongly reiterate our commitment to a lasting and just peace within which all movements that resort to arms convert themselves to political parties and participate in the political process legitimately,” urged Ghani in his speech.

“Terrorism and extremism is the common enemy of all, we need a collective approach to combat this menace,” said Sharif, before highlighting the growing threat the Islamic State group poses to both countries.

“The enemies of Afghanistan are the enemies of Pakistan,” he added.

India’s foreign minister Sushma Suraj, whose arrival in Pakistan marked the highest-level visit from New Delhi since 2012 and is seen by observers as a sign of improving ties between the two countries, said she had come “with a message for better relations”.

“It is important and we want to take the relations further — I will only be able to tell you more when I am leaving,” she told reporters after arriving at the airport Tuesday.

Tensions between nuclear-armed India and Pakistan have spiked over the past two years, with cross-border shelling over their disputed border in Kashmir claiming dozens of lives since 2014.

But a brief meeting between Sharif and his counterpart Narendra Modi on the sidelines of the UN Climate Change Conference in Paris last month appeared to have broken the ice.

While talks between India and Pakistan are likely to focus on Kashmir and security issues, observers are also watching keenly for an announcement on whether or not the first cricket series between the two countries in three years will go ahead.

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