KABUL: Afghan President Ashraf Ghani gestures to Prime Minister Imran Khan during a guard of honour ceremony ahead of their joint press conference at the Presidential Palace on Thursday.—AFP
KABUL: Afghan President Ashraf Ghani gestures to Prime Minister Imran Khan during a guard of honour ceremony ahead of their joint press conference at the Presidential Palace on Thursday.—AFP

• Document on shared vision for peace issued
• Accord on forming bodies to pursue security, peace-related matters
• Ghani terms ceasefire vital for enduring peace

ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Imran Khan on Thursday assured the Afghan leadership of Pakistan’s full cooperation for reduction in violence in Afghanistan as he sought to fix bilateral ties that have for long been weighed down by mutual mistrust.

Mr Khan both publicly extended this assurance and included it in the official communique on his day-long trip to Kabul that followed a series of confidence-building measures and a flurry of high-level exchanges aimed at creating a conducive environment for transforming the relationship into a cooperative one.

“If you feel there is somewhere Pakistan can help, please let us know. … We assure you that we will do whatever is within our reach,” Mr Khan said at a joint media talk with President Ashraf Ghani.

The prime minister said that the main purpose of undertaking the trip, one he described as “historic” was to assure the Afghan leadership that despite the increase in violence, Pakistan’s major concern remained “peace in Afghanistan”.

Pakistan first facilitated months-long talks between the US and Taliban, whose successful culmination last February paved the way for intra-Afghan dialogue and later helped the Afghans to settle their differences and start the talks in Doha in November.

The talks have so far failed to make progress and the two sides (Afghan government and Taliban) have been blaming each other for the stalemate, whereas violence has increased in the war-torn country.

This was the first visit by a top Pakistani leader since the intra-Afghan dialogue began. It was followed closely on the heels of US announcement of reduction in number of troops from 4,500 to 2,500 by mid-January.

Neither PM Khan nor President Ghani spoke about the reduction in US troops.

President Ghani, while reiterating the need for a ceasefire, said it was vital for enduring peace. “We need to understand that violence is not an answer, but an inclusive politics,” he maintained.

A statement on Mr Khan’s visit issued by the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) said he “called on all sides for taking necessary measures for reduction in violence leading to ceasefire to protect Afghan lives”.

“Underscoring the importance of an inclusive, broad-based and comprehensive political settlement, the prime minister underlined that Pakistan will respect the decisions made by Afghans in the peace process. He also cautioned against those who could spoil the peace efforts,” it added.

Mr Khan reaffirmed Pakistan’s support to “a peaceful, stable, united, democratic, sovereign and prosperous Afghanistan”. He reiterated that a negotiated political settlement was the only way forward for enduring peace, stability and prosperity in Afghanistan.

The prime minister and the Afghan president had wide-ranging talks during which efforts to strengthen bilateral relations and achieve lasting peace and stability in Afghanistan were reviewed.

The PMO said Pakistan and Afghanistan also issued a document titled ‘Shared Vision between Islamic Republic of Afghanistan and Islamic Republic of Pakistan to Support Peace and Stability in Both Countries and the Wider Region’.

The shared vision is aimed at advancing a forward-looking cooperative partnership between the two countries for political, economic and people-to-people exchanges.

The two leaders agreed to constitute committees to pursue security and peace-related matters. It was not clear if the committees would function in parallel to the Afghanistan Pakistan Action Plan for Peace and Solidarity (APAPPS) that was recently reactivated after nearly a year long break or they would be part of it.

The two leaders also agreed to expedite infrastructure and energy connectivity projects. They also discussed development of new rail-road projects between Pakistan and Afghanistan, the PMO said.

Mr Khan, according to the statement, observed that recent high-level leadership exchanges imparted a “steady momentum” to bilateral cooperation in diverse fields.

The recent visit of the PM’s Adviser on Commerce and Investment Abdul Razak Dawood to Kabul on November 16-18 had led to important breakthroughs for commencement of negotiations on Preferential Trade Agreement, progress in revision of APTTA, Customs Assistance Agreement and understanding to sign memorandums of understanding for cooperation between central banks of the two countries.

The prime minister invited President Ghani to visit Pakistan.

Prime Minister Khan, during his maiden visit to Afghanistan, met the Afghan cricket team in Kabul, APP adds. President Ghani was also present on the occasion.

Published in Dawn, November 20th, 2020