Afghani President Ashraf Ghani traveled to Pakistan’s capital on June 27 to meet with Prime Minister Imran Khan and discuss strengthening what are often strained bilateral relations as well as the ongoing peace process in war-torn Afghanistan.
According to an official statement released by the government of Pakistan, Khan and Ghani agreed to open “a new chapter of friendship and cooperation between Pakistan and Afghanistan, based on mutual trust and harmony and for advancing the cause of peace, stability and prosperity in the region.”
The talks between Khan and Ghani were part of a two-day official visit. Ghani was accompanied by cabinet ministers, top advisers, senior officials and prominent businesspeople. Also present were Afghani National Security Adviser Hamdullah Mohib, National Directorate of Security head Masoom Stanakzai and Acting Interior Minister Masud Andrabi.
Khan “reaffirmed Pakistan’s commitment to supporting the Afghan peace process as a shared responsibility,” the statement continued. “He underlined that an Afghan-led and Afghan-owned peace process was the only viable option to end the decades-long conflict in Afghanistan. In this regard, Pakistan supported a result-oriented intra-Afghan dialogue.”
The prime minister “underscored Pakistan’s respect for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Afghanistan,” the official statement further said.
Ghani was met at Islamabad’s Nur Khan air base by only a mid-level Pakistani official, and Khan received him at the prime minister’s residence with a simple but prestigious welcoming ceremony that included a military honor guard.
After a delegation-level session, the two held a one-on-one meeting.
Ghani also met with Dr. Arif Alvi, president of Pakistan. According to an official statement, the two agreed to move forward and build a relationship that serves the cause of peace, security and prosperity. Emphasizing the need for a peaceful solution to the conflict in Afghanistan, Alvi reassured Ghani that besides playing a role in the peace process, Pakistan stood ready to provide help in reconstruction and development.
Following the meeting, Alvi hosted Ghani and his entourage at an official banquet.
Requesting anonymity, an official serving on the Afghan desk at Pakistan’s Foreign Ministry told The Media Line that the primary theme of Ghani’s visit was to push the Afghan Taliban for direct peace talks with Ghani’s government in Kabul, something the Taliban have refused to do. So far, the only peace talks the Taliban have been willing to hold have been with US mediators in Qatar.
In an exclusive interview with The Media Line, Doha-based Taliban political spokesperson Suhail Shaheen strongly criticized Ghani, claiming the Afghani president had no interest in peace and was interested solely in prolonging his presidential tenure against the will of the Afghan people.
“He is working for the ballot box rather than working for peace,” Shaheen said.
Dr. Fidous Ashiq Awan, a special assistant to Khan, told The Media Line that for centuries, Pakistan and Afghanistan had enjoyed friendly and cordial relations that now needed to be strengthened for the sake of regional peace and stability.
While in Islamabad, Ghani also addressed members and guests of the Institute of Strategic Studies think tank. He told his audience that two issues were crucial to the Afghan government: normalizing relations with Pakistan and finding a political solution to the conflicts in and around Afghanistan.
Also speaking was Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi, who said Islamabad would take every possible step to encourage the Afghani peace process and facilitate intra-Afghan dialogue.
Ghani is known to be miffed by the fact that his bitter rival, former prime minister Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, was received by Qureshi during a recent conference of Afghani opposition leaders in the Pakistani mountain resort of Bhurban.
Back in Kabul, presidential spokesperson Haroon Chakhansuri said that relations between Afghanistan and Pakistan should be based on mutual respect and government-to-government relations.
“We hope this trip [by Ghani] will have a positive result for both nations,” he said in a statement.
Two Pakistani opposition leaders, Bilawal Bhutto and Mian Shahbaz Sharif, met separately with Ghani during his stay in Pakistan. Both vowed their full support for peace efforts in Afghanistan.
Muhammed Hussan, a retired Pakistani general and former lawmaker, told The Media Line that Pakistan and Afghanistan had chosen the correct time for rebuilding ties, with diplomatic efforts intensifying to end the 18-year war in Afghanistan.
The Afghani government, he said, had been acting like “an angry young man” in accusing Pakistan of backing the Afghan Taliban, particularly by providing base camps for its leaders, something Pakistan denies. Hussan added that Ghani was well aware that without Pakistani support, “peace and stability inside and outside Afghanistan is impossible.”
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo paid a surprise visit to Kabul on June 25, at which time he praised Pakistan for its role in peace talks with the Taliban. Speaking with reporters, Pompeo said Pakistan had a particularly important role to play in the peace process, adding his hope that Afghanistan could reach a peace deal ahead of the presidential election, scheduled for September 28.