By Baqir Sajjad Syed
ISLAMABAD: Afghan President Ashraf Ghani on Saturday invited Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi to Kabul to kick-start a ‘comprehensive bilateral dialogue’ with the aim of repairing the fractured relationship between the two countries.
Ghani extended this invitation during a meeting with Pakistan’s National Security Adviser retired Lt Gen Nasser Janjua, who was in Kabul on a day-long trip on the invitation of his counterpart Hanif Atmar.
“Today, I received Pakistani NSA at Dilkusha palace. As a follow-up to Kabul Process, I have extended an official invitation to Pakistani prime minister to visit Afghanistan. This is to initiate state to state comprehensive dialogue,” the Afghan president tweeted after the meeting.
President Ghani had in his speech at a meeting of the Kabul Process offered peace talks to Taliban militants, which was seen as a major shift in his position on the insurgent group. At the same time he had indicated his willingness to resume engagement with Pakistan and fix the strains in bilateral relations.
Invitation was extended during NSA Janjua’s meeting with Ashraf Ghani in Kabul
Pakistan had welcomed President Ghani’s offer. Foreign Minister Khawaja Asif had said in his reaction: “We welcome his offer to talk directly to Taliban. It is a good initiative and should be supported.”
Taliban have, meanwhile, been silent on the offer. Some believe that their silence means that they are weighing the offer.
Mr Janjua, a diplomatic source said, in his meeting with President Ghani reiterated Pakistan’s position that it fully supported efforts for a politically negotiated resolution of the Afghan conflict.
In his pre-departure statement, the national security adviser had said: “Both sides will work together and chalk out a way forward to improve bilateral relations and enhance cooperation particularly with reference to the peace initiative undertaken by the president of Afghanistan… Pakistan is always prepared to work in a cooperative framework and provide every help to win peace in Afghanistan.”
A statement issued by the Afghan presidency said that during the meeting between President Ghani and Mr Janjua, both sides deliberated on ways to cooperate on peace efforts and jointly fight cross-border terrorism, criminal networks and drug traffickers.
Chief of the Army Staff Gen Qamar Bajwa had in a recent interaction with journalists said that he was directly in touch with the Afghan president and both of them were keeping up the positive direction in the ties.
Better ties between Pakistan and Afghanistan are considered critical for ending terrorism in the two countries. Kabul accuses Pakistan of allowing the Taliban and the Haqqani network sanctuaries on its soil, whereas Islamabad says Afghanistan has set up bases of Pakistani militants involved in cross-border attacks.
Pakistan and Afghanistan have formed several platforms for bilateral discussions. More lately they were negotiating the Afghanistan-Pakistan Action Plan for Solidarity, which envisioned “constructive and meaningful bilateral engagement” in political, economic, military and intelligence domains through working groups. However, the two sides had not agreed on most of the aspects of the arrangement.
It is unclear if the comprehensive dialogue for which President Ghani is inviting Prime Minister Abbasi is a yet another format.
Continuing conflict in Afghanistan has also been straining Pak-US ties. As efforts for repairing relationship with Washington gain pace, Afghanistan is again in the limelight. Prime Minister Abbasi, who is on a private visit to the US, had an unannounced meeting with Vice President Pence during which he renewed Pakistan’s commitment to peace in Afghanistan and noted that it was as important for Pakistan as its own peace.