Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan has again rejected accusations that his country is harboring militants, and insisted that his government has done "everything" to facilitate the peace process in neighboring Afghanistan.
"Normally there was an idea that the security forces in Pakistan had their own policy, and the government a different one. This is not the case in Pakistan anymore,” Khan on February 17 told an international conference in Islamabad marking 40 years since hundreds of thousands of Afghans found refuge in the country.
Pakistan is seen as key to helping secure and implement any peace deal in Afghanistan. U.S. and Afghan officials have long accused the country’s military spy agency of harboring Taliban militants. Islamabad has repeatedly rejected the accusation.
“Whatever the situation might have been in the past, right now I can tell you, all of us, there is one thing we want is peace in Afghanistan," Khan said.
With about 2.7 million Afghan refugees living in Pakistan, it was impossible to rule out militants hiding among them, he said, adding that his government has done all it could to prevent attacks in Afghanistan, including by building a border fence.
His comments came after Sarwar Danish, Afghanistan's second vice president, accused Pakistan of allowing the Taliban to recruit fighters from Afghan refugee camps in Pakistan.
Addressing the Islamabad conference, UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres praised Pakistan for supporting Afghan refugees.
"For 40 years, the people of Afghanistan have faced successive crises, for 40 years, the people of Pakistan have responded with solidarity," he said, while calling on the international community to do more for refugees.
Guterres also said he was very encouraged by Pakistan's strong commitment for peace in Afghanistan.
He said it was "time for Afghans to have peace” and that “no Afghan will forgive us if this opportunity is not seized."
The U.S. special representative for Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad, told the conference he was "cautiously optimistic" about progress toward an eventual peace deal with the Taliban.
Khalilzad has for more than a year led talks between the Taliban and Washington.
On February 17, Afghanistan's Chief Executive Officer Abdullah Abdullah said the Taliban had agreed to a seven-day reduction of violence ahead of a peace deal with the United States that may be signed by the end of the month.
However, bloodshed continued over the weekend, including a deadly Taliban attack in the northern province of Kunduz.
With reporting by dpa and AFP