Kabul, Islamabad pave way for new era in bilateral relations

After two days of back-to-back meetings with high-ranking Pakistani officials, Afghanistan’s peace envoy Abdullah Abdullah will wrap up his official three-day visit to Islamabad on Wednesday – taking home a clear message that the “ice has been broken” and both nations realize the need to strengthen bilateral ties.

Chairman of the High Council for National Reconciliation, Abdullah, who had not been to Pakistan since 2008, has so far met with key officials in the country including Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan and Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi.

He has still to meet with President Arif Alvi.

Discussions between Abdullah and Pakistani officials have shown a paradigm shift in relations between the neighboring countries, which have been at odds with each other for years.

Speaking at an event at the Institute for Strategic Studies in Islamabad, Abdullah acknowledged Pakistan’s role in helping to get the Taliban to the talks tables, which are currently underway in Doha, Qatar.

“Pakistan played a critical role in facilitating the talks, and has even a more important role to play here on not only supporting the process through a successful end, but also in standing with the people and government of Afghanistan in building a peaceful and prosperous neighborhood,” he said.

For years, the two countries have had less than favorable relations and on this point, Abdullah said: “After many troubling years, we now need to go beyond the usual stale rhetoric and shadowy conspiracy theories that have held us back.

“We then need to draw the necessary lessons about our gains and losses, threats and opportunities, especially where we could have been today if we had aimed for stronger win-win solutions, reduced tensions, promoted moderation, increased regional connectivity, trade, transit, economic integration, Business to Business and importantly People to People interactions,” he said.

Speaking earlier at the same event, Qureshi called for “recognition of the mistakes of past” and “adding a new chapter to bilateral ties”.

He reassured Abdullah that Pakistan had “no favorites in Afghanistan”, and that Islamabad did not want to “meddle in Afghanistan’s internal affairs”. He said his country respected Afghanistan’s sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity.

Qureshi also stated that Islamabad would support whatever consensus emerges from the intra-Afghan negotiations.

In addition, he said a relationship between the two neighbors based on “cooperation and understanding” was the only way forward and that Pakistan would like to be “friends not masters” of Afghanistan.

On Tuesday night, Abdullah met with Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan.

Following the meeting, Abdullah said in a Twitter post he was “hopeful about prospects of strengthening our bilateral relations”.

He said the two leaders had discussed the need for a peaceful and stable Afghanistan and economic growth around “a regional peace dividend”.

Khan, who has been invited to Kabul by President Ashraf Ghani, said at the meeting he was looking forward to his visit to Afghanistan.

He also stated that Pakistan will continue to undertake all efforts to facilitate Afghan transit trade and deepen bilateral trade and economic ties.