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Pakistan's PM Heads to Afghanistan

Pakistan's Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif travels to Kabul on Saturday to hold "in-depth" consultations with Afghan President Hamid Karzai on how to promote bilateral relations and Afghan peace efforts.

This will be Mr. Sharif's first official visit to Afghanistan since his election after May's parliamentary polls.

A foreign ministry statement issued Friday in Islamabad says the Pakistani leader will also hold talks with members of the Afghan High Peace Council tasked with persuading the Taliban to end violence and join a sputtering political reconciliation process.



Pakistan is accused by Afghans of maintaining links to the Afghan Taliban, and Kabul has been demanding Islamabad use its influence with the insurgency to bring them to the negotiating table.

Earlier this month, Afghan Peace Council members with the former deputy leader of the Taliban, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, who was jailed in Pakistan.

Pakistani authorities released Baradar in September but he is still living in the country. And Afghan officials believe he can use his influence to help jump start peace talks between the Kabul government and the Taliban, seen crucial as NATO forces prepare to leave Afghanistan by the end of next year.

Officials say that Sharif's discussions will also focus on how to enhance trade links with Afghanistan, adding that bilateral trade reached nearly $2.5 billion in 2012.

The Pakistani government says the two countries are also working on "a broad range of road, rail and connectivity projects as well as collaboration in energy sector." In addition, Pakistan has also offered $20 million for training Afghan national security forces.

There are officially over 7,000 Afghan students currently seeking education in Pakistani institutes, including 2,000 on fully-funded scholarships offered by Islamabad.

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