Pakistani prime minister in Afghanistan to ease tensions

FILE - In this July 31, 2017 file photo, Pakistan's Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi arrives at the Parliament in Islamabad, Pakistan. The foreign ministry says Abbasi will travel to the Afghan capital for a daylong visit on Friday, April 6, 2018 to discuss a range of issues, including how to facilitate talks between Kabul and the Taliban. (AP Photo/Anjum Naveed, File)

Pakistani PM in Afghanistan to ease strained relations between the countries, push for peace talks with the Taliban

KABUL, Afghanistan — Pakistan's prime minister arrived in Afghanistan on Friday for a day-long visit many see as an effort to ease strained relations between the two neighbors and revive a push for peace talks with the Taliban.

Shahid Khaqan Abbasi was welcomed by Afghan President Asharf Ghani and the two inspected an honor guard at the Presidential Palace in Kabul before heading in for meetings.

A statement issued by the Afghan presidential palace after the meeting said the two sides discussed counterterrorism, Afghan-led peace talks and border violations. They also discussed refugee and repatriations issues, the exchange of prisoners and finalization of the Afghanistan-Pakistan Action Plan for peace and solidarity.

Abbasi, accompanied by several other top Pakistani officials on the trip, his first to Kabul since becoming prime minister last year, is to hold meetings with a string of Afghan officials, according to Ghani's spokesman, Shah Hussain Murtazawi.

Pakistan has been under pressure from Kabul and Washington to stop offering safe havens to militants blamed for attacks in Afghanistan, a charge Islamabad denies.

Pakistan, widely believed to be the only party that can bring the Taliban to the negotiating table, also insists its influence over the insurgents has been exaggerated.

Kabul and Islamabad regularly trade accusations of harboring the other country's militants and the harsh language has underscored the strains between them.

Late on Thursday, Pakistan's Ministry of Foreign Affairs issued a statement rejecting a claim made by Kabul that Pakistan violated Afghan airspace with Pakistani Air Force raids inside Afghan territory during counter-terrorism operations earlier in the week.

The statement said information about the ongoing "operations is shared with the Afghan security forces on a regular basis." In the latest military actions, Pakistan told the Afghan about them and stressed that these operations were on Pakistani side of the border, it said.

Islamabad accuses Kabul of failing to take action against militant groups who continue to attack Pakistan from their sanctuaries across the border in Afghanistan.

"Pakistan urges Afghanistan to focus on taking effective counter-terrorism actions, including plugging in of large gaps existing along the Afghan side of Pakistan-Afghanistan border," the statement said, adding that "it is also important that the Afghan government should refrain from the blame game."

Also on Thursday, Javid Faisal, deputy spokesman for Afghanistan's chief executive, Abdullah Abdullah, said that Pakistan's support was critical to talks with the Taliban and that Abbasi's visit would help improve the troubled Afghan-Pakistan relations.

In January, President Donald Trump lashed out at Pakistan, saying the United States had "foolishly" given Pakistan more than $33 billion in aid over the last 15 years and had gotten nothing in return but "lies & deceit." Washington later confirmed it is withholding $255 million in U.S. military aid to Pakistan this year.

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Associated Press writers Kathy Gannon in Islamabad and Amir Shah in Kabul, Afghanistan, contributed to this report.

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