Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and Prime Minister Imran Khan on Thursday agreed to bury the past misgivings and open a “new chapter of friendship and cooperation” between Pakistan and Afghanistan.
The upbeat statement came following one-on-one meeting between Ghani and Imran here at the Prime Minister House.
Ghani is leading a high-powered delegation to Pakistan in a first visit in almost four years as part of latest push by the two estranged neighbours to improve their troubled relationship.
The Afghan president last toured Islamabad in December 2015 to attend a regional conference on Afghanistan but after that he repeatedly spurned invitations from Pakistan before he finally agreed to travel at the request of PM Imran.
After a ceremonial welcome, the two leaders discussed the whole gamut of relationship as well as current efforts seeking peaceful end to the lingering conflict in Afghanistan.
They were later joined by their respective aides where the two sides, according to officials, had “frank and candid” discussions.
Relations between Pakistan and Afghanistan have remained tense because of trust deficit between the two neighbours. Kabul for long has kept accusing Islamabad for supporting the Afghan Taliban.
On the contrary, Pakistan has its own list of reservations that include Afghan government’s lack of action against groups involved in cross-border attacks.
A statement issued by the Prime Minister’s Office, nevertheless, spoke positive about the future of ties between the two countries.
The handout said the two leaders agreed to “open a new chapter of friendship and cooperation between Pakistan and Afghanistan, based on mutual trust and harmony for the benefit of the two peoples and countries and for advancing the cause of peace, stability and prosperity in the region.”
The prime minister affirmed that Pakistan remained committed to bring about a qualitative transformation in Pakistan-Afghanistan relations as part of his vision of a “peaceful neighbourhood.” The two leaders agreed on the importance of crafting a forward-looking vision of Pakistan-Afghanistan relations.
Officials familiar with the closed meeting said the Afghan president sought PM Imran’s help for arranging direct talks between his administration and the Taliban.
The US is currently holding talks with the Taliban but the Afghan government has yet to be included in the negotiation process because of objections from the insurgents.
PM Imran on his part expressed Pakistan’s commitment to support the Afghan peace process as a shared responsibility.
He underlined that an Afghan-led and Afghan-owned peace process was the only viable option to end decades-long conflict in Afghanistan. In this regard, Pakistan supported a result-oriented intra-Afghan dialogue.
The prime minister underscored Pakistan’s respect for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Afghanistan and its commitment to stand by the Afghan people at this crucial juncture.
Pakistan remained committed to a peaceful, stable, democratic and prosperous Afghanistan and wished to have stronger political, trade, economic, and people-to-people relations with Afghanistan, he added.
The two leaders agreed that enduring peace in Afghanistan would bring rich economic dividends to both the countries. They reaffirmed 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 Central Asia-South Asia (CASA 1000) electricity transmission line and Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) gas pipeline will bring long-term economic benefits to the countries involved. Further ways of strengthening trade, infrastructure and energy connectivity were explored.
It was agreed to optimally utilise the existing mechanisms, including the Afghanistan-Pakistan Transit Trade Coordination Authority (APTTCA) and Joint Economic Commission (JEC), to remove difficulties in transit and bilateral trade and to explore new possibilities of mutually-beneficial economic and commercial relations.
Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi told reporters that the crux of Ghani-Imran meeting was that there was realisation on part of both sides that there was no point sticking to the past.
Qureshi said both the countries agreed to look into the future and for this purpose discussed various steps leading to restoring mutual trust.