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Hamid Karzai in Islamabad to mend fences

August 26, 2013 13:31 IST

Afghan President Hamid Karzai is in Pakistan on a day-long visit to mend frayed ties with Pakistan and to seek the release of high-profile Taliban prisoners, including Mullah Barader, to give a fresh impetus to the reconciliation process in his war-torn country.

Karzai arrived at an Air Force base near Islamabad around 10:00 am (local time) where Pakistan's foreign policy advisor Sartaj Aziz received him.

An 80-member delegation, including Defense and Foreign Ministers, head of Afghan peace council and senior officials, is accompanying the Afghan president.

The Afghan President was later given a Guard of Honour at the Prime Minister's house after which both Karzai and Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif held a one-on-one meeting.

Reports said the on-going peace process in Afghanistan and the post-2014 scenario were discussed during the meeting.

This was the first highest-level exchange between Pakistan and Afghanistan since the democratic transition and swearing-in of the new government in Islamabad.

This is also Karzai's first visit to Islamabad in 18 months and it could be a deal-breaker to overcome hostility ahead of the US troops pullout from Afghanistan next year.

Ties between the two sides nosedived after Pakistan and the US supported a Taliban office that opened in Qatari capital Doha in June to foster talks and also over a reported statement by Aziz that Kabul should cede some provinces to Taliban for lasting peace.

Aziz reportedly proposed this to Afghan Ambassador Umer Duadzai in a meeting in Islamabad in June.

Karzai will also meet with President Asif Ali Zardari.

His visit will carry forward this process of constructive engagement between the two countries, Pakistan Foreign Office spokesperson Aizaz Chaudhry earlier said.

Sharif has set out an agenda of improving ties with all neighbours and has spoken at least thrice to Karazi since taking office in June.

The two leaders are expected to have in-depth consultations on all issues of common interest, including the evolving situation in the region as well as ways to deepen and broaden bilateral ties.

Chaudhry said that peace and stability in Afghanistan are in Pakistan’s vital interest and his country has extended consistent support for the promotion of peace and reconciliation in Afghanistan.

"Pakistan remains committed to working with Afghanistan as well as regional and international partners for sustainable peace and development," Chaudhry said.

The Taliban have refused to negotiate with the Afghan government so far, accusing them of being a US' puppet.

Afghanistan on the other hand has often accused elements of Pakistan's security agencies of aiding the Afghan Taliban.

The chairman of the High Peace Council, a body created by Karzai in 2010 to broker peace with the Taliban, is also accompanying him on the trip.

Karzai has made the intentions of his trip very clear.

He told a press conference in Kabul on Saturday that "The first item with Pakistan will be the peace negotiations".

He praised Sharif for having "all the right intentions for stability and peace", but noted that previous visits had not achieved the goal of improving security in Afghanistan.

Karzai believes Taliban safe havens in Pakistan are the main cause of increased violence in his country.

"I will travel to Pakistan hoping to get a result out of it. I'm hopeful, but not sure, I will only go with hopes, and wish they materialise," he had told reporters.

Pakistan too wants some sort of political settlement between Kabul and Taliban to avoid a civil war scenario at its restive border. But there is pervasive suspicion about Pakistan's long term objective and role of its intelligence agency ISI in backing the Taliban.

Islamabad also allegedly torpedoed an effort by Kabul to hammer a deal with the rebels by arresting Abdul Ghani Barader from Karachi in 2010. Karzai has asked Pakistan to release him to show earnestness towards peace.

Pakistan also wants to build trade ties with Afghanistan which had already reached $2.44 billion in 2012. The balance is highly favoured in Pakistan's favour with $2.24 billion exports.

The two countries also signed the Afghanistan-Pakistan Transit Trade Agreement in 2010, which serves as a key instrument for the facilitation of Afghanistan's access to foreign markets through Pakistani sea-ports and land routes.

Both sides are engaged in efforts for optimal utilization of APTTA and its extension to Central Asia.

Pakistan has provided to Afghanistan bilateral assistance worth $330 million in diverse fields including infrastructure, health and education. Pakistan has also offered $20 million for the Afghan Security Forces.

Peace in Afghanistan is vital for region as its will help to materialize projects like Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India and Central Asia-South Asia Electricity Transmission and Trade Project.

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