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ISLAMABAD: A high-level Afghan security delegation on Tuesday visited Islamabad for discussing bilateral security and intelligence cooperation and exploring the prospects for Pakistani support for peace efforts in Afghanistan.

The visit of the delegation comprising Interior Minister Wais Ahmad Barmak, National Security Adviser Mohammad Hanif Atmar, intelligence chief Masoum Stanikzai and other senior officials was shrouded in complete secrecy in Pakistan.

No Pakistani official was ready to comment on the visit. It was not clear which meetings the delegation had in Islamabad and Rawalpindi. The delegation is reported to have left after a few hours stay here.

Afghan interior ministry spokesman Nasrat Rahimi, meanwhile, said that a delegation led by Interior Minister Barmak had travelled to Islamabad.

“During the visit, the delegation would hold talks on recent ceasefire in the country (Afghanistan) and efforts for peace,” he added.

Before leaving for Islamabad, Mr Atmar also spoke to his Saudi counterpart Mohammad bin Salih Alghfaili over the phone and sought his support for the ceasefire. The Saudi top security official assured Mr Atmar of the kingdom’s support for ceasefire and peace efforts.

A Pakistani official, meanwhile, speaking on the background said that the visit had been agreed during Army Chief Gen Qamar Bajwa’s visit to Kabul last Tuesday. He said the visit of the Afghan delegation took place under a new engagement framework.

Pakistan and Afghanistan had recently agreed on the new bilateral ties framework — Afghanistan-Pakistan Action Plan for Peace and Stability — under which five working groups, including the ones on military and intelligence, are being constituted to steer the relationship between the two countries out of the vicious cycle of outrage, distrust and recrimination.

The Taliban have at the end of their three-day Eid ceasefire — the first-ever since the conflict started in 2001 — resumed fighting. However, the Afghan government, which had taken the initiative of unilaterally announcing a five-day ceasefire for Eid that the Taliban technically reciprocated with a three-day truce, has now extended the ceasefire.

The Afghan government’s announcement of extension in ceasefire was widely welcomed by the international community. UN Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Afghanistan Tadamichi Yamamoto said: “The government’s extension of the ceasefire provides a clear opportunity for initiating a negotiated solution to the conflict. ... This opportunity cannot be missed.”

Afghanistan has always looked towards Pakistan for help for bringing the Taliban to the negotiating table and Pakistan has lately renewed its commitment to using all possible leverages to persuade the fighters to join the peace process.

However, this time around there is added pressure on Pakistan from Afghanistan and the US to push the Taliban to end fighting because of elimination of Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan leader Mullah Fazlullah in a drone attack last week.

“I urged the PM (Nasirul Mulk) and COAS (Gen Qamar Bajwa) to take practical steps to bring Afghan Taliban residing in Pakistan to the negotiation table,” President Ashraf Ghani tweeted after informing the two about the killing of Mullah Fazlullah.

Published in Dawn, June 20th, 2018