Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Hina Rabbani Khar concluded a one-day trip to Kabul on Tuesday where she held wide-ranging talks with Afghan Taliban leadership on security issues and economic cooperation.
Khar, who was leading a high-level delegation, was the first minister to travel to the Afghan capital since the government of Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif took over in April.
The Foreign Office (FO) said in a statement that Khar met acting Afghan Foreign Minister Amir Khan Muttaqi shortly after landing in Kabul. Pakistan’s special representative for Afghanistan Mohammad Sadiq was also part of the delegation.
Pakistan and Afghanistan agreed to introduce new mechanisms for bilateral relations to review all common opportunities and problems through dialogue and to make progress, Afghan officials said.
“Both sides have also agreed to take positive and productive steps for a solution to the problems,” Afghan deputy foreign affairs spokesperson Hafiz Zia Takal said in a statement posted through his Twitter account.
Takal added that FM Muttaqi described relations between the two neighbouring countries as important for the people and the region.
Muttaqi, as per the spokesperson, raised the issues of the release of Afghan detainees in Pakistan, facilities for passengers in cross-border movement, and progress in trade and transit. “The Afghan side also showed readiness to make progress on the TAPI gas pipeline, railway lines, and other projects.”
He also explained the stance of the Afghan Taliban on “political relations, economic development, and security”.
The spokesperson said the Pakistani side promised “good treatment” for Afghan refugees, solutions to the problems in cross-border movement, and issuance of visas. “Pakistani side also said they will take steps to further facilitate transit.”
The Afghan statement quoted Khar as saying that Pakistan and Afghanistan are Muslim neighbours and have cultural similarities, and both governments should cooperate with each other to secure bilateral interests.
Khar later met Acting Deputy Prime Minister for Administrative Affairs of Afghanistan Abdul Salam Hanafi to discuss bilateral trade, connectivity & people-to-people contacts.
The state minister also met the Women’s Chamber of Commerce where she underlined the important role of women in society, expressed Pakistan’s keen interest in strengthening linkages between women entrepreneurs from both countries and announced that Pakistan would give preference to the import of products by women-run businesses.
The state minister met the Taliban leaders amid mistrust over certain issues, including firing exchanges along the border and a spike in Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) attacks. Pakistan says TTP operates from Afghan soil — something that the Afghan Taliban deny.
Earlier, the FO said the minister of state would hold political dialogue with the Afghan interim government.
“Bilateral relations, including cooperation in the areas of education, trade and investment, regional connectivity, people-to-people contacts, and matters related to regional security will be discussed,” the FO Spokesperson Mumtaz Zahra Baloch had said in a press release on Monday.
Khar would also reaffirm Pakistan’s continued “commitment and support for all efforts aimed at strengthening peace and enhancing prosperity in Afghanistan”, according to the statement.
“As a friend and neighbour, Pakistan will reaffirm its abiding solidarity with the people of Afghanistan, in particular through its efforts to ease the humanitarian crisis and to create real opportunities for the economic prosperity of Afghan men, women, and children,” it added.
Khar’s visit to Kabul came hours after the TTP ended its ceasefire and directed its activists to carry out attacks.
The Taliban hosted the talks between the TTP and the Pakistani government and the last meeting of a Pashtoon Jirga was held with the Taliban leaders in Kabul in the last week of July.
Pakistan was expected to press the Afghan side to mount pressure on the TTP leaders for returning to the negotiation table.
A former senator and JUI-F leader Saleh Shah said last week that he has met TTP leaders and the relevant Pakistani authorities in an effort to restart the talks.
TTP Spokesperson Mohammad Khorasani has also confirmed to Dawn.com about the recent contact.
“Yes Saleh Shah has conveyed a government message last week,” he said, giving no further details.
Border security was also possibly on the agenda as incidents of violence have been taking place along the border.
The Kharlachi border in Kurram district was reopened on Sunday after closure for a few days after both sides exchanged fire.
Pakistan was expected to convey its concerns about the rights of women, girls’ education, and human rights during the talks.
Pakistani special envoy Mohammad Sadiq raised these issues in his speech at the Moscow Format Consultations in Moscow earlier this month.
The Afghan side was expected to share its concern at what Taliban officials claim is the use of Pakistani airspace by US drones to enter Afghanistan.
Taliban Defense Minister Mullah Yaqoob had publicly stated that the US drones entering Afghanistan from Pakistan after a US drone struck a house in Kabul and killed the al-Qaeda chief Ayman al Zawahiri on July 31. Pakistan had denied the claim.