ISLAMABAD, Jan 17 (Reuters) - Afghan President Ashraf Ghani thanked Pakistan on Thursday for its help in pushing forward peace talks with the Taliban as diplomatic efforts continued to keep the process on track, Pakistani officials said.
U.S. special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad, who has been leading efforts to broker an agreement with the Afghan Taliban, was due in Pakistan on Thursday following meetings with Ghani and other Afghan officials in Kabul.
On Thursday, Ghani called Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan and “expressed his gratitude for Pakistan’s sincere facilitation of these efforts”, according to a statement from the Pakistan government spokesman’s office.
The two leaders also issued invitations to visit their respective countries and agreed “to remain engaged and create an environment for resolving all outstanding issues”, it said.
Afghanistan’s frequently hostile relations with Pakistan, which it has regularly accused of supporting the Taliban, have warmed somewhat as regional countries have joined the effort to push the insurgents to open talks with Kabul.
Pakistani officials deny supporting the Taliban and say Islamabad is strongly in favour of a settlement that would maintain stability in Afghanistan and prevent a disastrous economic collapse of its neighbour.
Taliban officials said this week that Pakistan was putting pressure on its leaders to accept talks with the Afghan government, detaining a senior leader in the city of Peshawar before releasing him a few days later.
Taliban representatives have met Khalilzad on at least three occasions but have so far refused to talk directly to the internationally recognised Afghan government, which they consider an illegitimate regime put in place by foreign powers.
The date of Khalilzad’s next meeting with Taliban officials remains unclear after the insurgents threatened to stall the process over disagreements about plans to withdraw international forces from Afghanistan. (Reporting by James Mackenzie; Editing by Nick Macfie)