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Pakistan PM Khan visits Kabul, pledges support for Afghan peace

KABUL (Reuters) - Pakistan will do everything it can to help reduce violence in Afghanistan following an upsurge in Taliban attacks, Prime Minister Imre Khan said on Thursday on his first visit to Kabul since taking office more than two years ago.

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Peace talks between the Taliban and the Afghan government began in September in the Qatari capital Doha but have stalled, and the Taliban still refuses to call a ceasefire. Its attacks have sometimes prompted U.S. airstrikes to protect urban areas.

“... despite the talks in Qatar, the level of violence is rising, so my idea of choosing this time to come was to assure you that Pakistan will do everything - whatever is possible we will do - to help reduce this violence,” Khan told a joint news conference with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani.

Ghani reiterated his government’s support for a “comprehensive political settlement for an enduring peace within the framework of our values”.

Mistrust has long clouded bilateral ties due to Pakistan’s covert support for the Taliban over the past two decades. As the militants later began launching attacks inside Pakistan, it accused Afghanistan of stirring trouble within its borders.

The United States views Pakistan as having a key role in the peace talks, particularly given its influence over the Taliban leadership, though Islamabad says that influence has waned.

PRESSURE

Afghan government officials told Reuters Kabul wants Islamabad to pressure the Taliban into winding down the violence and agreeing a ceasefire and to improve bilateral economic ties.

“The focus will be mainly on the peace process but we won’t keep our hopes high,” said a source in the Afghan presidential palace.

In the last six months, according to Afghan interior ministry data, the Taliban has carried out 53 suicide attacks, while 1,210 civilians are among the thousands killed in violence linked to the insurgency.

Khan’s visit comes days after the Pentagon announced it would reduce the number of U.S. military personnel in Afghanistan from 4,500 to 2,500 by mid-January.

President Donald Trump, due to leave office on Jan. 20 after losing this month’s presidential election to Democrat Joe Biden, is seeking to end the 19-year war in Afghanistan, the United States’ longest conflict.

Reporting by Adbul Qadir Sediqi and Orooj Hakimi in Kabul and Charlotte Greenfield in Islamabad; Additional reporting by Hamid Shalizi and Hameed Farzad; Writing by Gibran Peshimam and Charlotte Greenfield; Editing by Gareth Jones

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