ISLAMABAD -- Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and Pakistan’s Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif have held firm to their positions over their tense relations at a regional conference in Islamabad, while India has called for better ties between Pakistan and New Delhi.
The positions emerged on December 9 as Sharif hosts the Heart of Asia meeting, an annual gathering aimed at bolstering regional support for Afghanistan.
The two-day meeting, which began on December 8, is focusing on energy, infrastructure, and investment deals in a bid to shore up reconstruction commitments to Afghanistan.
Delegates also include the foreign ministers of India, China, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Iran.
Ghani told the conference that "enemies" had unsuccessfully tried to divide Afghanistan but had been foiled.
He blamed "regional and international terror groups" for the violence in his country.
In a clear reference to Kabul’s allegations that Pakistan supports the Taliban to maintain influence in Afghanistan, Ghani said: “In the past, there has been the temptation to use nonstate actors as instruments of foreign policy.”
In a remark directed at Sharif, Ghani said: "In Afghanistan, there is considerable uncertainty about whether Pakistan truly acknowledges Afghanistan as a sovereign Afghan state with its legitimate government and its legitimate constitution. Your words would go a very long way to assure us in this regard and that opens up the possibility for a sustain dialogue among us.”
The Afghan president also called for all countries in the region to “create a mechanism of verification” and “regional cooperation” in order to “see how the networks of terror coordinate, who finances them, what is their linkage with the criminal economy and the drug economy.”
He told the foreign ministers at the gathering: "We are fighting on behalf of all of you. We are the ones who are daily suffering some of the worst atrocities, including the butchering of our young children and our elderly.”
Meanwhile, Sharif denied that Pakistan is supporting Afghan Taliban fighters.
He restated a declaration he had made in May that “the enemies of Afghanistan are the enemies of Pakistan.”
Sharif also said his government “will continue to support the Afghan-owned and Afghan-led peace and reconciliation process that remains the most viable option to end violence and promote stability in Afghanistan."
That comment was a reference to Pakistani-hosted talks between Kabul and the Taliban that broke down after an inaugural session in July when it emerged that the Taliban’s founding spiritual leader, Mullah Mohammad Omar, had been dead for two years.
U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Antony Blinken told the conference that Pakistan should use its influence with the Afghan Taliban to push for Afghan reconciliation.
Indian Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj said New Delhi was extending India's hand to Pakistan, a longtime regional rival, and that both countries should show the maturity and confidence to improve ties.
Shortly after the conference began on December 8, Taliban fighters launched a bold attack on an airfield in the southern Afghan province of Kandahar.
With additional reporting by Reuters, AP, AFP, and BBC