ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Imran Khan on Wednesday invited Afghan peace chief Dr Abdullah Abdullah to discuss ways for clearing the path to intra-Afghan dialogue.

Prime Minister Khan, according to his office, called the chairman of Afghan High Council for National Reconciliation, Dr Abdullah Abdullah, and invited him “to visit Pakistan at the earliest to share perspectives on advancing the Afghan peace process and forging closer ties between the two countries”.

Mr Khan said Pakistan looked forward to the commencement of intra-Afghan talks at the earliest. He urged Afghan leaders to seize the historic opportunity for achieving an inclusive political settlement.

The call followed a meeting between Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi and a Taliban delegation from their Qatar-based political office led by Mullah Baradar, the deputy chief of insurgents dealing with political affairs, at the Foreign Office on Tuesday.ARTICLE CONTINUES AFTER AD

Ways to clear path to intra-Afghan dialogue will be discussed with Dr Abdullah Abdullah

Mr Qureshi had after the talks said: “After listening to the Taliban delegation, I’m optimistic of progress in the near future despite problems and the presence of spoilers. Hopefully a way out would be found.”

The foreign minister had further said: “The Taliban look ready and agreeable to moving in the direction of a settlement of the outstanding issues through dialogue.” Mr Qureshi’s comments created fresh hopes for talks that have been held back because of an impasse over the issue of release of prisoners.

The Afghan government was to release 5,000 Taliban militants in exchange for its 1,000 Afghan security forces personnel held by the insurgents under an agreement signed by the US and Taliban in February.

The Afghan government is, however, reluctant to release the remaining 320 Taliban prisoners despite an approval by the Loya Jirga and a subsequent presidential decree ordering their release. The latest demand of the Afghan government is that Taliban set free 22 more Afghan commandoes in their captivity.

Mr Abdullah, after talking to Mr Khan, tweeted that both leaders during their conversation emphasised the importance of the “unique opportunity to reduce violence, start I/A talks & pursue a path to a dignified & durable peace”.

While thanking Mr Khan for the invitation, Mr Abdullah said, he would visit Pakistan in near future.

Mr Abdullah too has been advocating the release of the remaining Taliban prisoners so that the long-awaited talks could start.

“We are calling for the completion of the prisoner exchange & immediate beginning of the intra-Afghan talks to put an end to agony of a nation,” he tweeted on Monday.

Foreign minister

In a related development, Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi on Wednesday informed the top outgoing diplomat of US in Islamabad, Mr Paul Jones, that efforts for Afghan peace had reached a critical phase.

“The foreign minister said … the process has now reached a crucial phase and all Afghan sides should seize this historic opportunity and commence intra-Afghan negotiations at the earliest to achieve an inclusive and comprehensive political settlement,” a statement of Foreign Office quoted the foreign minister as telling the US ambassador.

US Charge d’Affaires Ambassador Paul Jones visited Mr Qureshi for a farewell call.