ISLAMABAD: Pakistan and Afghanistan on Thursday agreed to reboot their bilateral relations, which have remained mired in mistrust for long, by developing a ‘forward-looking vision’ based on cooperation instead of political competition.
This consensus was reflected in a statement issued by the Prime Minister Office (PMO) after Prime Minister Imran Khan’s one-on-one meeting with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and delegation-level talks between the two sides in which the state of relations was reviewed.
President Ghani is on a two-day visit to Pakistan. The visit is aimed at strengthening bilateral cooperation in political, trade, economic and security fields and forging stronger and multifaceted ties. The visit is, moreover, taking place amid hopes of progress in US-Taliban talks leading to initiation of intra-Afghan dialogue, and ahead of Afghan presidential elections scheduled for September.
• In one-on-one meeting with Afghan president, PM calls for qualitative transformation in relations • Ghani also meets Shahbaz, Bilawal and Siraj
Prime Minister Khan, during the meeting, called for “a qualitative transformation” in ties, whereas President Ghani, in his speech at the Institute of Strategic Studies Islamabad (ISSI), emphasised the need for developing “political alignment” between the two neighbours and taking “bold steps”.
The agreement on improving relations apparently flows from realisation in both capitals that the two neighbours, who were once likened by former Afghan president Hamid Karzai to conjoined twins, could not progress without positively engaging with each other.
President Ghani said Loya Jirga, the traditional Afghan consultative gathering, held last month had authorised him to normalise ties with Pakistan and seek a political settlement with the Afghan insurgents. President Ghani had on May 5, a couple of days after the end of Loya Jirga, phoned Imran Khan. The telephonic call paved the way for his current visit to Pakistan, which is his third while in office, but after a break of almost four years.
The Voice of America, meanwhile, quoted a Pakistani official as having said: “While Afghanistan realises the importance of Pakistan in medium to long term, Pakistan also feels that it is important to remain engaged with the government of Afghanistan regardless of who heads it.”
The PMO statement said the two leaders had agreed to open “a new chapter of friendship and cooperation” based on “mutual trust and harmony” for the benefit of their countries and advancing the cause of peace, stability and prosperity in the region.
Mr Khan underscored Pakistan’s respect for sovereignty and territorial integrity of Afghanistan and said Pakistan remained committed to a peaceful, stable, democratic and prosperous Afghanistan. He expressed his government’s desire to have stronger political, trade, economic, and people-to-people relations with Afghanistan.
Prime Minister Khan reaffirmed Pakistan’s commitment to support the Afghan peace process and underlined that an Afghan-led and Afghan-owned peace process was the only viable option to restore pace. He said Pakistan supported a result-oriented intra-Afghan dialogue.
According to AP, the Afghan president praised Pakistan’s efforts to advance the peace process in the region as he reached out to Islamabad for help in bringing the Taliban to the negotiating table with the Kabul government, Pakistani officials said.
President Ghani first had a meeting with Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi before heading into talks with PM Khan.
Mr Ghani in his remarks at the ISSI made it clear that presidential elections would take place in Afghanistan later this year and there was little room for negotiations on the constitution as it was already Islamic in character.
Trade and connectivity
The Afghan president also said the agenda of connectivity was not a pipedream rather it was a pragmatic vision for future.
Pakistan and Afghanistan are part of major energy connectivity projects such as the Central Asia-South Asia (CASA 1000) electricity transmission line and the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) gas pipeline. However, work on the projects has been slow because of political, financial, security, disruption and environmental risks.
Mr Ghani said all these concerns would get addressed if a political alignment between Pakistan and Afghanistan materialised.
The Afghan president in his meeting with PM Khan proposed a regional task force of leaders for taking forward the projects of regional connectivity.
“The two leaders expressed their commitment to work together to broaden and deepen bilateral trade, streamline transit trade, and strengthen efforts for connectivity. It was recognised that early completion of major energy connectivity projects such as the CASA 1000 electricity transmission line and the TAPI gas pipeline will bring long-term economic benefits to the countries involved,” the PMO statement said, adding that the two sides had deliberated on ways for strengthening trade, infrastructure and energy connectivity.
Agreement was reached at the talks to utilise the Afghanistan-Pakistan Transit Trade Coordination Authority, the Joint Economic Commission and other similar mechanisms to remove difficulties in transit and bilateral trade and explore new possibilities.
Meetings with opposition leaders
The Afghan president later met with key opposition figures Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz president Shahbaz Sharif, Pakistan Peoples Party chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari and Jamaat-i-Islami chief Sirajul Haq. The leaders, in their separate meetings with Mr Ghani, welcomed him to Pakistan and wished well for the Afghan peace process.
Mr Shahbaz also conveyed the greetings of his brother former prime minister Nawaz Sharif, who is currently serving a jail sentence.
Published in Dawn, June 28th, 2019