ISLAMABAD: At the end of his two-day path-breaking visit on Saturday, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani vowed to open a new chapter in ties with Pakistan — one which would not be affected by the acrimonious past.
“We must overcome the past…we will not permit the past to destroy the future,” he said at a joint press conference with Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif after their talks at the PM House.
Overcoming the trust deficit between the two countries was the main objective of the visit. If warm words spoken by both sides for each other were any indicator, it appeared that the two were serious in building a new relationship after burying the hatchet.
Sharif offers to increase help for Afghanistan’s reconstruction
Nawaz Sharif described President Ghani as “dear brother” and a “special guest”.
The Afghan president said: “We have overcome obstacles of 13 years in three days.”
Describing his vision of ties with Kabul, Mr Sharif said: “I have the vision of a strong, comprehensive and enduring partnership between Pakistan and Afghanistan, contributing to security and prosperity of our two nations and reinforcing efforts for peace and development in the region.”
He noted that President Ghani shared his vision about the relationship.
“We both recognise that we have a historic opportunity to work together and build a stronger relationship based on mutual respect for sovereignty and territorial integrity and marked by mutual trust, understanding and close cooperation,” the prime minister added.
The Foreign Office said in a statement on the Sharif-Ghani meeting: “Pakistan and Afghanistan reaffirmed their resolve at the highest level to transform bilateral ties and build a relationship marked by close cooperation on the political and security planes and a strong economic foundation.”
Mr Nawaz Sharif noted that extremism, terrorism and transnational crimes were some of the major challenges faced by the two countries and called for jointly dealing with them “through common resolve and common endeavours”.
He reiterated Pakistan’s support for the reconciliation process in Afghanistan, which the Ghani administration intended to resume, and said “a peaceful, stable, united and prosperous Afghanistan” was in Pakistan’s national interest.
At the talks, Mr Sharif proposed enhancement of cooperation in different fields, including border security and defence, Afghanistan’s reconstruction and rehabilitation, capacity building, parliamentary exchanges, culture, education and sports.
The two leaders did not talk much about how they intended to bolster security cooperation.
Mr Ghani had a day earlier visited the military headquarters where the contours of “defence and security cooperation” were discussed. According to a statement issued by the Inter Services Public Relations, the Afghan president had agreed to training of his country’s security forces in Pakistan and cooperation in border management.
Mr Ghani had then also assured of Afghanistan’s cooperation in fighting terrorism.
At the media event, both leaders refrained from touching upon the controversial issues in their relationship.
The Afghan president did not speak about Pakistan’s alleged links with the Taliban and Haqqani Network. Mr Sharif avoided any reference to the presence of sanctuaries of the outlawed Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan in Afghan provinces of Kunar, Nuristan and Paktika. He did not even call for the return of TTP chief Mulla Fazlullah.
But the two issues were discussed at the GHQ meeting and at the PM House, a source said.
“We have begun a comprehensive dialogue on security so that all dimensions of our mutual security can be discussed, can be delineated, and benchmarked processes can be arrived to build confidence,” Mr Ghani said about his meeting at GHQ and previous interaction with Army chief General Raheel Sharif in Kabul.
Journalists were not allowed to ask any question during the press conference.
ECONOMIC COOPERATION: Finance ministers of Pakistan and Afghanistan signed a document titled “Agreed Minutes of the Meeting” to strengthen economic partnership.
Moreover, the two sides agreed to hold the next meeting of the Afghanistan-Pakistan Transit Trade Coordination Authority before the end of the year.
The two sides set a target of taking bilateral trade to $5 billion by the end of 2017.
“We reaffirmed our resolve to forge a robust economic partnership by expanding trade, promoting investment, improving infrastructure, building road and rail links and enhancing energy collaboration,” PM Sharif said.
Connectivity and regional economic cooperation were termed the indispensable elements of the Pak-Afghan engagement.
“We envision trade, energy and communications corridors through trans-regional initiatives like the Central Asia-South Asia electricity transmission line project (CASA 1000) and Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India gas pipeline project,” Mr Sharif added.
APP adds: “What we have agreed on is a shared vision where Pakistan and Afghanistan will serve as the heart of Asia to ensure that economic integration in the continent becomes a reality and does not remain a dream.
“And today we have taken fundamental steps to ensure that South Asia connects with Central Asia and Central Asia to South Asia,” President Ghani said.
He invited Prime Minister Sharif to visit Kabul and said: “We look forward to your next visit to... take even more gigantic steps.”
Published in Dawn, November 16th, 2014