Trump calls Pak PM and Afghan President, thanks them for release of western hostages

Washington, Nov 22 (PTI) US President Donald Trump thanked Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan and his Afghan counterpart Ashraf Ghani for their support in the release of an American and an Australian hostages held by Taliban since 2016, the White House said.

On Tuesday, Australian Timothy Weeks, 50, and Kevin King, 63, an American, were handed over to US forces in Afghanistan's southern Zabul province. In return, the Afghan government freed three high-ranking Taliban prisoners.

The three members of the Taliban-linked Haqqani network who were released include Anas Haqqani, Haji Mali Khan and Hafiz Rashid.

The two separate calls were made by Trump on Thursday, the White House said.

In his phone call with Khan, Trump thanked for Pakistan's support for the recovery of the two hostages, the White House said in a readout of the call.

'Trump hopes this positive development will contribute to furthering the peace process in Afghanistan,' it said.

'The two leaders also reaffirmed their commitment to strengthening the United States-Pakistan trade relationship, which is on track to set a new record this year, as well as investment and people-to-people ties between our countries,' the readout said.

Meanwhile, according to a statement from the Pakistan's Prime Minister Office, Khan also apprised President Trump of the current situation in Kashmir.

Appreciating President Trump’s continued engagement as well as mediation offer, Prime Minister Khan stressed that the US president must continue his efforts for facilitation of a peaceful solution of the Kashmir issue, the statement said.

Trump has repeatedly offered to mediate between India and Pakistan resolve the Kashmir issue.

New Delhi has been maintaining that Kashmir is a bilateral matter between India and Pakistan with no scope for third party mediation.

Recalling their conversations in Washington and New York, the two leaders agreed to deepen bilateral collaboration, including in relevant multilateral fora.

The two leaders further agreed to remain in close contact.

In his call with Afghan President Ghani, Trump expressed appreciation for his support in freeing the two hostages. Trump affirmed the important role of the Afghan government in its country's peace process, it said.

'Both sides agreed a reduction in violence is necessary to move the peace process forward and for any intra-Afghan negotiations regarding a political settlement to be successful,” the White House said. Trump and Ghani reaffirmed their mutual objective of defeating terrorist threats against the US and Afghanistan, it said.

The Taliban control nearly half of Afghanistan, and are more powerful now than they were at any time since the 2001 US-led invasion after the 9/11 terror attacks The US has continued to push for a ceasefire in the war-torn country and the opening of negotiations between the Taliban and the Kabul government. The US has been conducting peace talks with the Taliban and the two sides were hopeful of a deal that included America cutting down on troops in Afghanistan and guarantees by Taliban of not allowing the Afghan soil to be ever used again for terror activities. PTI LKJ/SH AMS AKJ AMS