Afghan President’s visit today likely to strengthen Afghan-Pak ties

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KABUL: Afghan and Pakistani officials have attached high hopes to the visit of Afghan President Mohammad Ashraf Ghani, who arrived in the neighboring country on a two-day state visit today morning.

Afghan ambassador in Islamabad Atif Mashal said he was confident that President Ghani’s visit could open a new chapter in bilateral relations.

The Pakistani Foreign Office said the wide-ranging talks between the two sides would focus on strengthening bilateral cooperation in diverse areas – including political, trade, economic, security, peace and reconciliation, education and people-to-people exchanges.

The visit takes place just before the 7th round of US-Taliban talks in Doha on June 29 and the Taliban and the US are hopeful to make further progress on the issues they have discussed over the past eight months.

Just days ahead of the visit, leading Afghan political leaders gathered at the scenic Pakistani town of Bhurban, who unanimously welcomed Pakistan’s peace efforts. Some of the participants welcomed President Ghani’s visit and urged both countries to remove mistrust.

The visit has assumed importance amid high-level diplomatic activity, including the visit to Kabul by US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who anticipated an important announcement on a breakthrough in peace talks. Earlier, the US peace envoy Zalmay Khalilzad visited Pakistan and held meetings at the Foreign Office and with the prime minister and the army chief ahead of the crucial 7th round of peace talks in Qatar, beginning on June 29.

The visit is important and eagerly followed by the international and regional countries because it demonstrates that Afghanistan and Pakistani are finally engaging despite Afghanistan’s earlier approach to put a pause on high level engagement.

The Afghanistan-Pakistan Action Plan for Peace and Solidarity (APAPPS) spirit is now fully revived on Pakistan’s very strong insistence urging Afghanistan to mainly work through established institutional mechanisms. Hopefully all the important strands of cooperation under its APAPPS Working Groups s and other economic forums would be fully revived.

Afghan Ambassador to Pakistan Atif Mashal said the visit would open a new chapter in relations, citing high-level exchanges over the past six months.

Mashal told a group of reporters in Islamabad that the talks would focus on key issues, including peace process, security, anti-terrorism cooperation, trade and transit. He endorsed Prime Minister Imran Khan’s agenda to fight poverty in the region and that Afghanistan could be a partner in such efforts.

Meanwhile, the Foreign Office said President Ghani would be accompanied by a high-level delegation, including ministers, advisors, senior officials and businessmen. During the visit, Pakistani President Arif Alvi would have a meeting with President Ghani while Prime Minister Imran Khan would hold delegation-level talks, a Foreign Ministry statement said.

“The wide-ranging talks between the two sides would focus on strengthening bilateral cooperation in diverse areas – including political, trade, economic, security, peace and reconciliation, education and people-to-people exchanges,” according to the statement.

President Ghani will also travel to Lahore, the capital of Punjab province, where he is expected participate in a business forum attended by business representatives from both countries.

This is President Ghani’s third visit to Pakistan. He last visited Pakistan in 2015. President Ghani had earlier undertaken a bilateral visit to Pakistan in November 2014 and subsequently came to attend the Heart of Asia – Istanbul Process Ministerial Conference in Islamabad in December 2015.

Prime Minister Khan and President Ghani met on the sidelines of the summit of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) in Saudi Arabia last month.

“The people of Pakistan and Afghanistan are bound by fraternal ties reinforced by historical, religious, linguistic and cultural affinities. Closer engagement between the leaders will help foster a stronger and multi-faceted relationship between Pakistan and Afghanistan,” the Pakistani Foreign Ministry said.

Pakistan and Afghanistan have resumed high-level talks in recent month amid signs of improvement in relations.

Afghanistan National Security Adviser Hamdullah Mohib also visited Pakistan on May 28 and held security talks with Pakistani Army Chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa.

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