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Top Afghan Leader to Visit Pakistan Amid Improving Ties

FILE: Abdullah Abdullah
FILE: Abdullah Abdullah

Pakistan says it has formally invited Afghanistan’s chief peace negotiator, Abdullah Abdullah, to pay an official visit to Islamabad at “mutually convenient dates.”

The move is the latest in a series of steps the Pakistani government has taken in a bid to improve the country's often tenuous relations with Kabul.

“Pakistan-Afghanistan relations are moving forward,” said Mohammad Sadiq, the Pakistani prime minister’s special representative for the neighboring country, while announcing details of the invitation extended to the top Afghan leader.

Abdullah heads what is known as the High Council for National Reconciliation, tasked to negotiate peace with the Taliban insurgency to end decades of hostilities plaguing Afghanistan.

“I thanked him for the official invitation extended to visit Pakistan at an opportune time,” Abdullah tweeted after a meeting with the Pakistani ambassador in Kabul. He shared no further details.

Border Openings

Islamabad has recently reopened three major border crossings at the request of Kabul to ease transit and bilateral trade activities.

The outbreak of coronavirus in Pakistan and the ensuing lockdown restrictions had prompted authorities to seal the border with landlocked Afghanistan and other neighboring countries in March to prevent the regional spread of the pandemic.

Sadiq said arrangements have also been made to open two more Afghan border crossings July 12 to further enhance the bilateral trade.

“This is an important step in strengthening bilateral trade between the two countries,” said Atif Mashal, the Afghan ambassador to Islamabad.

“We are certain that the opening of more crossing points will help in the development of bilateral trade between both countries,” Mashal said.

The Afghan envoy told VOA his government is committed to improving relations with Pakistan and that enhanced trade ties will help both sides in achieving the desired outcome.

Political and trade ties between the two countries, separated by a nearly 2,600-kilometer frontier, have long suffered from mutual distrust and acrimony.

Mutual Trust 'Very Tenuous'

Raoof Hasan, chief executive of Islamabad-based Regional Policy Institute, hailed Pakistan’s invitation to Abdullah as a good move and another sign of thaw in bilateral strained relations.

Hasan cautioned about a traditionally “unpredictable” nature of the bilateral relationship, however. “The bond of mutual trust is very tenuous,” he said.

Afghan leaders and American military commanders have long accused the Pakistani military of allowing Taliban insurgents to shelter in and use the neighboring country for directing attacks against local and U.S.-led international forces in Afghanistan.

Islamabad has consistently denied the charges, blaming several million Afghan refugees living in Pakistan for serving as hiding places for insurgents. For their part, Pakistani officials say anti-state fugitive militants use Afghan soil to carry out crossborder terrorist attacks.

The United States, however, has lately praised Pakistan for facilitating a landmark Feb. 29 peace-building deal between Washington and the Taliban to end nearly two decades of Afghan war, America’s longest.

The deal requires U.S. and allied troops to leave Afghanistan by July 2021. In return the Taliban has committed to engage in peace talks with a team of Afghan negotiators led by Abdullah and agree on a sustainable cease-fire as well as a power-sharing arrangement in post-war Afghanistan.

The proposed dialogue is expected to begin later this month at the conclusion of an ongoing prisoner swap between Kabul and the Taliban.