ISLAMABAD — A high-level trade delegation of the Afghan Taliban government held trilateral talks on Tuesday with Pakistan and Uzbekistan in Islamabad. The talks come as Pakistan authorities are carrying out a mass expulsion of Afghans residing illegally in the country.
The delegation of Taliban government officials and Afghan businessmen, led by the acting Minister of Commerce and Industry, Alhaji Nuruddin Azizi, took part in meetings that “centered around advancing the trans-Afg project, trilateral transit and trade, challenges to regional connectivity, and other pertinent matters,” according to a statement by the Afghan embassy in Islamabad, posted on X, formerly Twitter.
The Trans-Afghan project is a 760-kilometer (472-mile) passenger and freight rail line in Pakistan, Afghanistan and Uzbekistan. The three countries signed the agreement in July in Islamabad. The project is slated to be completed by 2027.
Calling the trilateral talks a significant step toward strengthening economic ties and regional connectivity, Pakistan’s Minister of Commerce Gohar Ejaz said on X, “bright prospects for trade, investment and connectivity lie ahead for mutual benefit of three countries.”
The Afghan Taliban delegation’s visit to Islamabad comes at a time when relations between the two sides are tense publicly.
Pakistan accuses the Taliban of taking insufficient action to reign in cross-border terrorism and providing haven to leaders and members of the banned militant outfit Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan.
Pakistan’s Prime Minister Anwaar-ul-Haq Kakar recently told media that Islamabad had asked Afghan Taliban “bluntly to choose between Pakistan and the TTP.” He said that Pakistan shared details and a list of wanted militant leaders with Afghan authorities, but that Kabul did not deliver on its counterterrorism pledges.
In response, Taliban spokesperson Zabihullah Mujahid once again denied Kabul was providing sanctuary to anti-Pakistan terrorists saying, “Pakistan should address their domestic problems instead of blaming Afghanistan for their failure.”
Alleging that Afghan citizens were taking part in terror attacks inside Pakistan, Islamabad last month ordered all those residing illegally in the country to leave or face deportation after November 1. The decision, although applicable to people of any nationality, primarily affected 1.7 million Afghans living in Pakistan to escape war and poverty.
The Taliban called Pakistan’s expulsion of Afghans “unacceptable” and “unjust.”
Speaking to VOA, Special Representative of Pakistan on Afghanistan Asif Durrani downplayed the recent tensions, saying each government was simply expressing its point of view.
“I don’t think there were harsh statements, neither from Pakistan side nor from Afghan side,” Durrani said.
The envoy rejected the notion that Pakistan’s support of the Taliban in its 20-year war against western troops had backfired since his country was seeing terrorism rise since the group’s return to power.
“This is a process, and we hope that good sense would prevail,” he said about the recent tensions in Pakistan-Afghanistan relations. He also denied Pakistan ever supported the then-insurgent group.
Prior to Tuesday’s trilateral trade talks, the Taliban commerce minister met Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Jalil Abbas Jilani.
“The FM [foreign minister] said full potential for regional trade and connectivity can be harnessed with collective action against terrorism,” the Pakistani foreign ministry said on X.
An Afghan embassy statement on X after the meeting said Azizi discussed transfer of property of Afghan refugees with Pakistan, among other issues.
Since the expulsion orders, nearly 300,000 Afghans have left Pakistan voluntarily while more than 1,300 have been deported. Many have been forced to leave their small businesses set up over the years or sell valuables such as cattle or construction material well below market prices on their way out.
Although Pakistan has lifted restrictions on how much currency Afghans returning to their country can take with them, reports of border guards taking cash and jewelry from Afghan returnees have emerged.
Durrani rejected the reports, saying, “I don’t think there is truth in it.” He said Pakistani border guards are disciplined and follow the orders of the government.
Speaking to VOA, Pakistan’s former ambassador to Afghanistan Mansoor Ahmad Khan said the talks were a positive development.
“Since a visit is now already taking place, I see signs of encouragement after the past few weeks when we saw there was no engagement.”
He said he believes the two sides will continue to work together.
After a day of talks, Pakistani commerce minister Ejaz held a brief joint press conference with the visiting Uzbek minister. The Taliban did not make an appearance.
Pakistani and Taliban officials will continue talks on Wednesday.
Source : VOA News