Pakistan's Prime Minister Imran Khan arrived in Kabul on Thursday to meet with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, at a time when peace negotiations between the Afghan government and Taliban representatives have stalled and violence is rising.
This will be Khan's first visit to Afghanistan since assuming office over two years ago. It is the highest profile visit by a Pakistani official to Kabul since peace talks began between the Taliban and the Afghan government in the Qatari capital of Doha, according to Reuters.
It 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.
Following the U.S. announcement, NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg warned that a “hasty” withdrawal by the United States, which lead’s NATO’s coalition in Afghanistan, could lead to further violence.
"We now face a difficult decision. We have been in Afghanistan for almost 20 years, and no NATO ally wants to stay any longer than necessary. But at the same time, the price for leaving too soon or in an uncoordinated way could be very high,” Stoltenberg said in a statement.
The conflict-ravaged country "risks becoming once again a platform for international terrorists to plan and organize attacks on our homelands. And Daesh could rebuild in Afghanistan the terror caliphate it lost in Syria and Iraq," the Associated Press (AP) quoted him as saying.
Due to leave office on Jan. 20 after losing this month's presidential election to Democrat Joe Biden, U.S. President Donald Trump is seeking to end the 19-year war in Afghanistan, which is the U.S.' longest conflict.
Critics slammed Trump for timing the withdrawal according to his own calendar as opposed to some kind of breakthrough in Afghanistan that would justify a major drawdown.
Outside of Afghanistan, nowhere is the risk of instability greater than in neighboring Pakistan.
"Focus would be on further deepening the fraternal bilateral relations between Pakistan and Afghanistan, the Afghan peace process, and regional economic development and connectivity," Pakistan's foreign office said in a statement as Khan headed for Kabul.
Pakistan's role in the peace talks has been key, according to Washington, particularly given its influence over the Taliban leadership, though Pakistan says that influence has waned over the years.
Washington's special representative for Afghan peace, Zalmay Khalilzad, has made a number of trips to Islamabad to discuss the peace process.
Ghani last visited Pakistan in June 2019, according to Pakistan's foreign office.
A spokesperson for the Afghan presidential palace, Dawa Khan Minapal, said the main purpose of the visit would be bilateral trade and economic relations, but the fight against militancy in the region would also be at the top of the agenda. "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.
Violence has remained high in Afghanistan despite the ongoing peace process.
During the past six months, the Taliban have carried out 53 suicide attacks, while 1,210 civilians were among the thousands killed in violence linked to the insurgency, according to Tariq Arian, spokesperson for the Afghan Interior Ministry.