ISLAMABAD: Afghan President Ashraf Ghani on Friday indicated his government’s readiness for talks with Pakistan on normalisation of bilateral relations, saying it was a national priority.

Speaking at the Presi­dential Palace in Kabul after Eid prayers, the Afghan president said his message for Pakistan was that Afghanistan was “ready for comprehensive political talks. Peace with Pakistan is in our national agenda”.

He alluded to changes in Afghan foreign policy and said that Afghanistan’s dream of peace in the country was nearing realisation.

Relations between Islamabad and Kabul have mostly remained strained, except for a brief bonhomie at the start of President Ghani’s tenure in 2014. The two countries have a long-running border dispute, with Afghanistan refusing to accept the Durand Line as the international border.

Their armies skirmished because of border disputes and Afghanistan’s resistance to Pakistan’s attempts to fence the porous border for checking unauthorised crossings. Both sides have also squabbled over terrorist sanctuaries accusing each other of harbouring terrorists.

Ghani asks Taliban to choose path of peace ‘if they are Afghans and not tools of others’

However, the two countries have lately, under the shadows of uncertainty caused by the United States, taken steps towards a possible rapprochement.

It started when Chief of the Army Staff Gen Qamar Bajwa met Afghan Ambassador Dr Omar Zakhilwal at GHQ on Aug 2 for talks on irritants in ties and ways to address them.

Subsequent developments in this regard included a visit by an Afghan military delegation to Pakistan and convening of a meeting of the Pak-Afghan Joint Economic Commission.

Foreign Secretary Teh­mina Janjua visited Kabul for ‘political consultations’ with Afghan Deputy Foreign Minister Hekmat Khalil Karzai. During her trip, she also met several Afghan leaders, including President Ashraf Ghani, National Security Adviser Haneef Atmar, NDS chief Masoom Stanikzai, former president Hamid Karzai and Hizb-i-Wahdat leader Ustaad Mohammad Mohaqiq.

Talks between Ms Janjua and Mr Khalil resulted in consensus on the need to strengthen bilateral institutional cooperation against terrorism. The same was reaffirmed when Afghan Deputy Foreign Minister Nasir Andesha visited Islamabad to participate in Afghan Independence Day celebrations at the embassy and attend the foundation stone-laying ceremony of the new Afghan embassy complex in Islamabad’s Diplomatic Enclave.

The first National Secu­rity Committee meeting after Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi assumed office had endorsed efforts for normalisation of diplomatic and political ties with Afghanistan. The NSC said that the irritants that were intended to be removed in cooperation with Afghanis­tan included “repeated cross-border fire and support network in Afghanistan for terrorist incidents in Pakistan”.

President Ghani’s statement now confirms that normalisation efforts were making steady progress. He used his Eid message to ask Taliban to choose the path of peace “if they are Afghans and not the tools of others”.

Pakistan has consistently supported a political settlement of the Afghan conflict.

National Security Advi­ser retired Lt Gen Nasser Janjua had a day earlier asked the US to strive for an early end to the conflict in Afghanistan instead of intensifying kinetic action.

Published in Dawn, September 2nd, 2017