Afghan Taliban to Host Female Pakistan Minister for Bilateral Talks

A high-level Pakistani delegation will visit Afghanistan on Tuesday to discuss with the ruling Islamist Taliban cooperation in trade, education, investment, regional connectivity and security.

Officials in Islamabad said Monday that Hina Rabbani Khar, the female Pakistani minister of state for foreign affairs, will lead the daylong meetings with leaders of the men-only Taliban government in Kabul.

Khar will also renew Pakistan’s “continued commitment and support” for strengthening Afghan peace and prosperity, said the foreign ministry statement.

“As a friend and neighbor of Afghanistan, Pakistan will reaffirm its abiding solidarity with the people of Afghanistan, in particular through its efforts to ease the humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan and to create real opportunities for economic prosperity of Afghan men, women and children,” the statement added.

Khar is scheduled to meet Taliban Foreign Minister Amir Khan Muttaqi and Prime Minister Mullah Hassan Akhund.

“The high-ranking Pakistani delegation is arriving tomorrow to discuss political and economic relations between the two countries,” Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid confirmed on Twitter.

The visit comes amid intensified international criticism and calls for the Taliban administration to reverse its curbs on women and girls’ fundamental rights to public life and education.

Last week, a panel of independent experts at the United Nations denounced the restrictions as “the most severe and unacceptable” in the world, warning the Taliban that their treatment of women and girls could amount to a “crime against humanity.”

The Islamist rulers rejected the criticism of their governance, saying it is compliant with Afghan culture and Islamic law. The Taliban regained power in August 2021 from the then-U.S. backed Afghan government as the United States, along with NATO allies, withdrew their troops from the country after battling the insurgent group for almost two decades.

Pakistan’s latest round of talks with the Taliban comes just days after deadly clashes between border security forces of the two countries. The tensions had prompted Islamabad to temporarily seal two out of several border crossings with Afghanistan earlier this month.

The landlocked nation mostly relies on Pakistani overland routes and seaports for bilateral and international trade.

Border tensions between the two South Asian nations are not uncommon along their 2,600-kilometer frontier. Afghanistan disputes the more than a century-old boundary drawn by British colonial rulers.

Pakistan rejects Afghan objections and calls the demarcation an international border, and so does the rest of the world.

While several countries, including Pakistan, Russia, China, Turkey, Qatar and Iran, have kept their embassies open in Kabul since the return of the Taliban rule, the world at large has not yet recognized the new government over human rights and terrorism-related concerns.

Officials in Islamabad, however, downplay mutual tensions stemming from border and security concerns. They maintain the two issues would come under discussion but the focus of Khar’s meetings in Kabul would be to exchange views on projects that could help promote bilateral economic connectivity.

Despite prevailing skepticism, Pakistan says it is determined to boost economic and security cooperation with the Taliban to help sustain fragile peace and stability after four decades of deadly hostilities in Afghanistan.

Islamabad says economic stability is key to deterring cross-border terrorism and preventing an influx of refugees to Pakistan, which already hosts nearly 3 million Afghans, both as refugees and economic migrants.

Pakistani authorities have recently removed tariffs and eased visa rules to facilitate bilateral as well as Afghan transit to address a humanitarian crisis in the neighboring country where the United Nations warns millions of people face acute food shortages.

Islamabad has also increased Afghan coal imports since the Taliban returned to power, tilting the annual trade balance in favor of Kabul for the first time in the history of bilateral relations. The annual trade volume as of Monday stood at more than $1.5 billion, with Afghan exports to Pakistan worth more than $800 million.

The change is attributed mainly to increased purchases of Afghan coal in the wake of rising global prices in a bid to reduce Pakistan’s dependence on expensive supplies from countries such as South Africa.

Traders say about 10,000 metric tons of coal is being exported daily to Pakistan, helping the Taliban generate much needed revenue to govern the country.

Khar is expected to discuss whether daily coal imports could be raised to a level where they enable Pakistan to meet its estimated monthly needs of at least 1 million metric tons.

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