Hamid Karzai
Afghan President Hamid Karzai. — Photo AFP/File

ISLAMABAD: In an apparent indication of Pakistan and Afghanistan narrowing their strategic differences, the acting head of the Afghan intelligence service, Hassamuddin Hassam, secretly visited Pakistan in December.

His visit took place after a suicide attack on the Afghan National Directorate of Security (NDS) chief Assadullah Khalid.

The Afghan government had claimed that the attack had been planned in Quetta while President Hamid Karzai accused an unnamed foreign intelligence agency of having masterminded it.

Although Mr Hassam’s visit primarily focused on investigations into the attack on Mr Khalid, it also led to improved bilateral ties at the military and intelligence levels.

Two Afghan nationals have been arrested by Pakistani authorities in connection with the attack. According to sources, the Afghan spy agency was satisfied by the investigation and cooperation of Pakistan.

Information about the visit was shared with the Senate Standing Committee on Defence and Defence Production during an ‘in-camera’ briefing by officials of defence and foreign ministries.

Members of the committee are going to Afghanistan on March 25 for the first parliamentary dialogue between the two countries in the defence sector.

The committee’s chairman, Senator Mushahid Hussain, said the three-day parliamentary dialogue would act as a force multiplier for Pak-Afghan relationship.

The two countries have traditionally had a complicated relationship characterised by mutual suspicion. Ethnic issues, border disputes and lately differences over counter-terrorism strategies have been the major sources of divergence between the neighbours described by President Karzai as ‘conjoined twins’, but lingering mistrust between their spy agencies widened the gulf.

The visit by the acting NDS chief was followed by the first visit to the country by Afghan Defence Minister Gen Bismillah Mohammadi which further improved the relationship. During the visit that went exceptionally well Gen Mohammadi even offered to give Pakistan a role in training the Afghan National Army.

Pakistan and Afghanistan have agreed on a structured military and intelligence dialogue and their army chiefs, heads of intelligence and directors general of military operations have been meeting regularly.

The arrest of a high-ranking Pakistani Taliban leader Maulvi Faqir Mohammad by the NDS towards the end of February was seen as a major step forward towards building trust between the two countries.

Replying to a question about the difficulties at the political level, a Pakistani diplomat said they were related to President Karzai’s sense of insecurity.

Pakistan took the first step towards confidence building by releasing detained Taliban leaders to assist Afghanistan in the peace process.

At least 26 mid- to high-ranking Taliban detainees were released last year in two or three batches. But the process has now been on hold for months.

The two countries have agreed on a mechanism for release of more Taliban to address shortcomings in the previous procedure, but the new system has not yet been activated.

The temporary halt in the process, some say, is because of President Karzai not being too cooperative.

Meanwhile, Foreign Office spokesman Aizaz Chaudhry renewed Pakistan’s commitment to assisting Kabul with peace and reconciliation.

“We are also committed to the process that was initiated by the visit of the High Peace Council which included the element of support to the reconciliation process. We are facilitating reconciliation and will continue our positive contributions,” he said at his meekly media briefing.