Afghan official visit raises hopes for improved ties, peace process

ISLAMABAD: Chairman of the High Council for National Reconciliation in Afghanistan Abdullah Abdullah has wrapped up his three-day visit to Pakistan with a positive note.
Pakistan’s role in the Afghan reconciliation was one of the key items on Abdullah’s agenda as he is now in charge of the negotiations with the Taliban to decide a future political roadmap.
Abdullah held meetings with Pakistani leadership and discussed Pakistan’s cooperation in the peace process, ways to remove the mistrust between the two countries and to boost trade ties and people-to-people contacts. “I am leaving Islamabad with a very good impression. In fact my whole team, after their visit, thinks that there is an opportunity and we need to capitalize on it,” he said on Wednesday at the conclusion of his visit.
Abdullah told members of a Pakistan-Afghan track-II group on Wednesday that Pakistan and Afghanistan have the opportunity at hand to begin a new era of bilateral relations, based on mutual respect and shared prosperity.
Timing of the visit was important and the Afghan side expected Pakistan’s cooperation to encourage the Taliban to show flexibility and reduce violence.
Pakistani leaders in meetings with Abdullah backed the intra-Afghan negotiations and promised improved relations with the neighbor, according to statements issued after the meetings.
As a goodwill gesture, Pakistan also opened all border crossings with Afghanistan for pedestrians closed due to COVID-19 in March during Abdullah’s visit.
Pakistan also announced a new relaxed visa policy for Afghan nationals with long-term multiple visas to Afghan students, traders, patients, families and tourists. Serious patients will now get a visa on arrival at Torkham, the major crossing between the two countries in northwestern Pakistan.
Experts in Pakistan are of the opinion that Abdullah’s visit was a major step to remove the mistrust between the two neighbors which they believe is a key for Pakistan cooperation in the peace process. Juma Khan Sufi, a Pakistani expert of Afghan affairs, said Abdullah’s visit marked the resumption of high level visits of the two sides as tense relationship has also affected such high level communications.
Sufi, who has authored several books on Afghanistan, said, “I think Abdullah’s visit was very important for boosting the trust between the two countries. This will also encourage Pakistan to play its vital role in the peace process.” Abdullah also met Pakistan’s senior religious scholars in Islamabad on Wednesday and secured their support for the peace process.
Meanwhle, Pakistan has over the past few weeks repeatedly called on all Afghan sides to lower violence, but Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi, during Mr Abdullah’s visit, was more emphatic about the issue, saying it was a “pre-requisite for peace”.
Mr Abdullah, in his interview, while emphasising the need for immediate reduction in violence, said: “That is the only way forward in order to maintain the momentum behind the process and in support of the process”. The peace official appeared hopeful about the dialogue delivering peace, but was clearly dissatisfied at the pace at which it was proceeding.
“I consider it as a real chance for peace,” he said, adding, “but if you were to ask me if I’m happy with the current pace of progress, absolutely not. Is that sufficient? Absolutely not. We need to move forward”.–Agencies