Islamabad, Aug 26: Afghan President Hamid Karzai on Monday arrived on a day-long visit to discuss the frayed ties and seek release of Taliban leader Mullah Abdul Ghani Barader as a confidence building measure.
This will be the first highest-level exchange between Pakistan and Afghanistan since the democratic transition and swearing-in of the new government. Karzai's visit will carry forward this process of constructive engagement between the two countries, Pakistan Foreign Office spokesperson Aizaz Chaudhry said.
Ties between the two countries nosedived after Pakistan and the US supported a Taliban office that opened in Qatari capital Doha in June to foster talks and also over a reported statement by Pakistan's National Security Advisor Sartaj Aziz that Kabul should cede some provinces to Taliban for lasting peace.
Aziz reportedly proposed this to Afghan ambassador Umer Duadzai during a meeting in Islamabad in June. Karzai is accompanied by a high-level delegation of Cabinet Ministers and senior officials. Sharif has set out an agenda of improving ties with all neighbours and has spoken at least thrice to Karazi since taking office in June.
The two leaders will have in-depth consultations on all issues of common interest, including the evolving situation in the region as well as ways to deepen and broaden bilateral ties. Chaudhry said that peace and stability in Afghanistan are in Pakistan's vital interest and his country has extended consistent support for the promotion of peace and reconciliation in Afghanistan.
"Pakistan remains committed to working with Afghanistan as well as regional and international partners for sustainable peace and development," he said.
Karzai's visit comes at a time when Afghanistan is Karzai's visit comes at a time when Afghanistan is undergoing important political and security transitions and the draw-down of western troops by December 2014. Pakistan wants some sort of political settlement between Kabul and Taliban to avoid a civil war scenario at its restive border.
But there is pervasive suspicion about Pakistan's long term objective and role of its spy agency ISI in backing the Taliban. Islamabad also allegedly torpedoed an effort by Kabul to hammer a deal with the rebels by arresting Barader from Karachi in 2010. Karzai has asked Pakistan to release him to show earnestness towards peace.
Pakistan also want to build trade ties with Afghanistan which had already reached USD 2.44 billion in 2012. The balance is highly favoured in Pakistan's favour with USD 2.24 billion exports.
The two countries also signed the Afghanistan-Pakistan Transit Trade Agreement (APTTA) in 2010, which serves as a key instrument for the facilitation of Afghanistan's access to foreign markets through Pakistani sea-ports and land routes.
Both sides are engaged in efforts for optimal utilization of APTTA and its extension to Central Asia. Pakistan has been involved in reconstruction activities in the war torn countries and been providing bilateral assistance worth USD 330 million in diverse fields including infrastructure, health and education.
Pakistan has also offered USD 20 million for the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF). Peace in Afghanistan is vital for regional countries as its will help to materialize projects like Turkmenistan- Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) and Central Asia-South Asia Electricity Transmission and Trade Project (CASA-1000).