ISLAMABAD: Afghan President Ashraf Ghani set the tone of his two-day fence-mending trip to Islamabad by pledging stronger defence and security ties with Pakistan.
President Ghani, who arrived in Islamabad on Friday morning on a commercial flight from Kabul, received a warm welcome at the Islamabad’s Nur Khan Airbase where Adviser to Prime Minister on Foreign Affairs and National Security Sartaj Aziz received him.
On his first day Mr Ghani met his Pakistani counterpart Mamnoon Hussain and several ministers, but the highlight of the day was his trip to the military headquarters in Rawalpindi along with his high-ranking delegation, including Defence Minister General Bismillah Muhammadi, Afghan Chief of General Staff General Sher Mohammad Karimi and other senior Afghan security officials.
It’s rare, if not unusual, for a visiting head of state to visit GHQ, but given the security-oriented ties between the two countries, the GHQ trip gave a perfect opening to an Afghan president’s tour.
President Ghani had made peace and security his top agenda point for the Islamabad visit.
Soon after arriving at the GHQ, Mr Ghani lauded Pakistan’s sacrifices in ‘war on terror’ and laid a floral wreath at the Martyrs Monument — again important gestures given the history of strained ties between the two countries.
Bilateral relations have remained strained for most part of former president Hamid Karzai’s tenure owing to border disputes and allegations by the two sides against each other of supporting the Taliban. However, with the change in government in Kabul, both sides look to be inclined towards accentuating the positive aspects of the relationship and seizing the new found opportunity for normalising ties.
The Afghan delegation was given detailed briefing on security situation on the Pak-Afghan border at the GHQ, according to military’s public affairs wing ISPR.
At the GHQ, the Afghan president expressed his government’s interest in “bolstering security and defence ties with Pakistan, including cooperation in training and border management”.
He also assured Pakistani defence leadership of Afghan cooperation to jointly curb the menace of terrorism.
A similar sense emerged from Army Chief Gen Raheel Sharif’s visit to Kabul earlier this month.
Military spokesman Maj Gen Asim Bajwa in a twitter posting about the GHQ meeting said that positivity during Afghan president’s trip bode well for the region. “Security and stability are shared goals. Our security is inextricably linked. Long-term partnership and border coordination mechanism were in focus at the meeting.”
Mr Ghani intends to use his newly generated goodwill in Islamabad to promote the prospects of reconciliation with the Afghan Taliban. The bonhomie being witnessed during Mr Ghani’s visit isn’t new for an Afghan president on an Islamabad trip.
Hamid Karzai, during his 13 years in office, visited Pakistan 20 times and on each occasion he was received warmly, but that never helped the two sides cover the gulf of mistrust.
Actions by both sides, however, suggest that they may have learnt the bitter lesson and could be ready for a genuine transformation of their ties.
President Mamnoon Hussain at his meeting with President Ghani urged close cooperative relations between the two countries.
Referring to the shared concerns of the two countries, President Hussain said that terrorism was a common enemy and ‘we must make joint efforts to defeat it’. He said that Pakistan was committed to providing assistance in training and capacity building of the Afghan security forces.
The second priority for Mr Ghani is the economic ties. In his meetings with Finance Minister Ishaq Dar, he raised the issues being faced by Afghan businessmen in transit trade and demanded immediate clearance of Afghan transit goods from Karachi port.
President Hussain too had stressed on expanding trade and economic collaboration between the two countries for realising full economic potential.
“We need to undertake joint efforts to achieve the target of enhancing bilateral trade to the tune $5 billion,” President Hussain said. He also underscored the need for early completion of regional energy and connectivity projects like CASA-1000 and TAPI.
Published in Dawn, November 15th, 2014