Afghan national security czar visits Pakistan to remove irritants in ties

ISLAMABAD: The Afghan national security adviser held crucial talks with Pakistani authorities, including the army chief, as part of the latest push by the two neighbours to remove irritants in their bilateral ties that have undermined efforts for a peace deal in Afghanistan, officials said.

Hamdullah Mohib – who led a high-powered delegation that included the Afghan interior minister – was the first senior Afghan official to have travelled to Islamabad in months.

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani sent the delegation to Pakistan after he spoke to Prime Minister Imran Khan by the phone last month. The prime minister, while renewing Pakistan’s commitment to making genuine efforts for a peace deal, invited President Ghani to visit Islamabad.

According to diplomatic official, Mohib’s tour is part of preparations for a visit by Ghani, who is expected to travel to Pakistan next month.

The Afghan NSA’s visit was apparently kept low profile. The main engagements of the Afghan delegation were with senior Pakistani military and intelligence officials.

The meeting between army chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa and Mohib held on Tuesday but the Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) issued a statement on Wednesday.

The ISPR said that during the meeting, matters related to mutual interest, peace and stability in the region, Pak-Afghan border management and prospects for peace with a particular emphasis on the reconciliation process in Afghanistan were discussed.

The Taliban are currently holding talks with the United States but have so far refused to sit across the table with the Kabul administration.

On Tuesday, Taliban chief negotiator Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar held a rare news conference in Moscow where he said the insurgents would negotiate a peace deal only if the US forces leave the country.

Mullah Baradar is the co-founder of the Taliban movement with Mullah Omar who remained a synonym for the Taliban until his death was disclosed in 2015. Mullah Baradar was arrested in 2010 in joint ISI-CIA operation from Karachi but released by Pakistan last year to help jumpstart the peace process.

But there are many irritants undermining such efforts including the trust deficit between Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Kabul is still wary of Islamabad’s role in the peace process. Pakistan, on the other hand, has its own list of grievances, including Afghanistan’s patronage of certain militant groups that often launch attacks from across the border.

A senior official said the Afghan NSA’s visit was meant to discuss all such issues. The official said Pakistan was trying to improve ties with Afghanistan and the visit of President Ghani could help achieve that goal.