Foreign Secretary Salman Bashir shaking hand with Deputy Foreign Minister of Afghanistan Jaweed Ludin prior to their meeting at Foreign Office in Islamabad on Friday. – Photo by APP

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan and Afghanistan agreed on Friday on a blueprint for cooperating on reconciliation with the Taliban and Afghan Deputy Foreign Minister Jaweed Ludin said only an Afghan-led and Pakistan-assisted process could succeed.

“We have prepared ground for action and practical measures will be taken in the next few weeks,” Mr Ludin said at a press conference, along with Pakistan’s Foreign Secretary Salman Bashir, after a meeting at the Foreign Office of the working group of Afghanistan-Pakistan Joint Commission on Reconciliation and Peace in Afghanistan.

Neither Mr Ludin nor Mr Bashir said what collaborative steps they had agreed to take. President Hamid Karzai and Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani will meet next month and Mr Ludin said results of the steps to be taken by the two sides for reconciliation would then be clear. Pakistan and Afghanistan had launched the joint commission in June during Mr Karzai’s visit to Islamabad for backing Kabul’s efforts to reach out to the Taliban. The working group comprising senior officials and representatives of militaries and intelligence outfits of the two countries was set up to discuss modalities for cooperation.

Although it wasn’t clear what concrete progress had been made in the three sessions of the commission and the working group held so far, there was clearly a marked shift in the role the two countries wanted the United States to play in reconciliation since the commission first met in June.

At the inaugural session there was a lot of emphasis on the US involvement, but after the latest meeting neither side appeared to be keen about a US role.

While Mr Bashir said that at the core of international efforts to facilitate reconciliation was the ‘Pak-Afghan’ process, Mr Ludin stressed that it was the “strategic responsibility of both countries to take their affairs in their own hands” for dealing with challenges confronting them.

The Afghan deputy foreign minister said ‘friends’ were expected to help, but only an Afghan-led and Pakistan-assisted process could succeed, while all other processes needed to be streamlined into one unified effort.

It was significant that Mr Bashir said at the press conference that in addition to a facilitation role for Pakistan in reconciliation, both sides agreed to work together for addressing “other bigger issues”.

Notwithstanding the improved understanding between Kabul and Islamabad on how to work together for reconciliation, differences over counter-terrorism appear to persist.

Pakistan raised the issue of sanctuaries in Nooristan and Kunar from where militants, who had fled military operations in Swat, Bajaur and Dir, are attacking border posts. But the Afghan side wasn’t ready to accept Pakistani position that militants enjoyed local support and that (Afghan) security forces avoided action against their hideouts.

Mr Ludin said there was a full-scale war in eastern provinces of Nooristan and Kunar. He even went to the extent of criticising Pakistan’s counter-terrorism record.

“We have also suffered from cross-border attacks,” he said, adding that the incidents highlighted “the nature of threat that could turn any direction”.