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Rare Initiative To Improve Fraught Pakistan-Afghanistan Ties

Pakistan -- Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif (R) greets Afghan President Ashraf Ghani upon his arrival at the military Nur Khan airbase in Rawalpindi, December 9, 2015
Pakistan -- Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif (R) greets Afghan President Ashraf Ghani upon his arrival at the military Nur Khan airbase in Rawalpindi, December 9, 2015

ISLAMABAD, Members of parliament from Pakistan and Afghanistan are scheduled to hold a rare official dialogue next week in Kabul to find ways to promote tension-free ties between their two countries.

Officials on both sides told VOA that Pakistani lawmakers will be traveling to the Afghan capital on April 29 for the “open ended substantial discussion.” Speaker Ayaz Sadiq of the legislative lower house of parliament, or National Assembly, will lead the delegation.

The Pakistani members of parliament will stay in Afghanistan until May 1 and also meet Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and other government and political leaders, says Afghan ambassador to Islamabad Hazrat Omar Zakhilwal.

“This is the first time that a high-powered, broadly representative (Pakistani) parliamentary delegation of this nature visits Kabul and gets involved directly in bilateral relations,” Zakhilwal told VOA.

Mutual allegations of harboring anti-state militants and sponsoring deadly terrorist attacks against each other have hurt Afghanistan’s traditionally tense relations with Pakistan. The two countries share a nearly 2,600-kilometer, largely porous border.

However, Pakistani and Afghan officials note recent high-level contacts both at political and military levels have led to an improved atmosphere, paving the way for the coming unprecedented dialogue between parliamentarians of the two countries.

“The discussion would be forward looking with the aim to find a path to improved bilateral relations with responding to our grievances, issues and perceptions,” explained Zakhilwal.

A Pakistan government official told VOA Islamabad proposed the idea of opening direct interaction between lawmakers of the two countries to allow them to exchange views and proposals on how to bring stability to bilateral political and security relations.

The official, who requested he not be identified, said that President Ghani, in a letter to Pakistan’s Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, welcomed the proposal and agreed to receive the Pakistani parliamentary delegation.

Pakistani government and military officials also acknowledge the active role Afghan Ambassador Zakhilwal has played in pushing the two sides to allow parliamentary interaction. Both sides hope the rare initiative will help reduce acrimony often witnessed during government-level negotiations, making the discussions less productive on issues dividing the two nations.

Afghan officials allege that safe havens on Pakistani soil are helping the Taliban to prolong the conflict in Afghanistan and have been demanding Islamabad take effective steps to stop the activity.

On April 20 Pakistan Foreign Ministry spokesman Nafees Zakaria again rejected Afghan allegations that Pakistani security forces are fighting only anti-state militants on their soil and sparing those involved in attacks against Afghanistan.

“We have said this thing time and again that we do not draw any distinction. We have taken action against ally types of terrorists and the manifestation of that is the improved security situation in Pakistan,” Zakaria said.

For their part, Pakistani officials maintain the insurgents have long moved back to Afghan areas where the Taliban has established its control over the past two years, and that security forces are not allowing anyone to use Pakistani soil for engaging in cross-border violence.

Islamabad also lately has stepped up demands for Afghan authorities to prevent anti-state Pakistani Taliban militants from using their territory for plotting attacks against Pakistan.

-- Ayaz Gul wrote this for Voice of America