ISLAMABAD: Afghanistan and Pakistan on Sunday held inaugural meetings of five working groups (WGs) under the Afghanistan and Pakistan Action Plan for Peace and Solidarity (APAPPS) in Kabul.

The Afghan delegation was led by Deputy Foreign Minister Hekmat Karzai and the Pakistani side by Foreign Secretary Tehmina Janjua, a Foreign Office statement said.

The 28-member multi-departmental Pakistan delegation included representatives from the ministries of Foreign Affairs, Safron, Commerce, Railways, Communi­cations and Interior, the Federal Board of Revenue, military and intelligence, who met their Afghan counterparts in respective working groups.

In the inaugural joint meeting of the WGs, the Afghan and Pakistani side assessed prospects for the APAPPS forum that covers all areas of mutual interest, including counter-terrorism and security, peace and reconciliation, bilateral trade and transit, connectivity, Afghan refugees’ repatriation and promoting people-to-people contacts.

US, Pakistan militaries ready to engage in ‘tactical counterterrorism cooperation’

Following the APAPPS inaugural session, five WGs held their respective group meetings at the level of relevant ministries and departments.

The WGs, besides discussing important issues in each area, also deliberated on the terms of reference for future course of action and the agenda items for their next round of meetings to be held in Islamabad at mutually agreed dates.

The concluding session noted the great importance of the APAPPS to deliver on the commitments made under the forum within the mutually agreed timeframe.

The APAPPS framework provides a comprehensive and structured mechanism to enhance engagement among counterpart institutions of the two countries.

The APAPPS comprises five WGs on politico-diplomatic, military, intelligence, economic and trade and refugees issues.

The Afghan deputy foreign minister and the foreign secretary of Pakistan led their respective sides in the politico-diplomatic WG besides co-chairing the opening and closing sessions of the APAPPS, the Foreign Office said.

Meanwhile, top US and Pakistani generals have indicated that the two militaries are ready to engage again in “tactical counter-terrorism cooperation” to promote a negotiated settlement in Afghanistan, adds Anwar Iqbal from Washington.

The statements — made days before the elections in Pakistan — come amidst renewed efforts by the Trump administration to bring the Taliban on board before the Afghan general elections, scheduled in October.

Gen Joseph Votel, commander of US Central Command, told reporters in Washington earlier this week that he had maintained a “very robust relationship” with Pakistan Army Chief Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa while other US officials also have been communicating with their counterparts in Islamabad.

“It is important to talk,” said the general, who maintains weekly communication with Pakistan’s military leaders about the domestic situation and Afghanistan.

Pakistan’s chief military spokesman Major General Asif Ghafoor also expressed similar views in an interview to Voice of America radio earlier this week.

“The military-to-military engagement is likely to yield more positive results within the overall framework of stakeholders,” he said. “Pakistan looks forward to peace in Afghanistan. Pakistan has been doing its bit in this regard with other stakeholders.”

Gen Ghafoor also said that sustained counterterrorism operations over the last four years had eliminated militant’s infrastructure in the tribal areas, forcing insurgents to move back to Afghanistan.

Gen Votel, however, stressed that the US was seeking both tactical and strategic cooperation with Pakistan as Islamabad enjoyed a key place in the Trump administration’s South Strategy.

“This is a South Asia strategy, and cooperation from Pakistan remains key to accomplishing the overall objective of a durable political settlement in Afghanistan,” he said. “We continue to work closely with Pakistan to help them fulfill the important role that they have indicated they want to play. Now is the time for them to step forward.”

Gen Votel also urged Islamabad either to expel or arrest the terrorists who operate across the Pak-Afghan border.

Published in Dawn, July 23rd, 2018

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