Pakistani Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi visited Afghanistan Friday, where he held wide-ranging official talks with leaders in Kabul on mutual security, counterterrorism, and political and economic cooperation.
Abbasi visited on the invitation of Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, “in the backdrop of Pakistan’s support to Ghani’s offer of peace talks with the Taliban,” officials said.
An Afghan army contingent presented the guard of honor to the Pakistani prime minister when he arrived at the presidential palace for delegation-level talks with Ghani.
The discussions were held in “a very cordial and friendly atmosphere,” according to a brief statement the Pakistani prime minister’s office issued to media in Islamabad.
It noted that “both the leaders agreed on achieving the common aim of regional security through connectivity” - meaning road, rail, trade and transit links as well as importing natural gas and power to Pakistan through Afghanistan from resource-rich Central Asian states.
The statement added that Prime Minister Abbasi extended an invitation to President Ghani to visit Pakistan “at his earliest convenience.”
Officials said that progress on the construction of a multi-billion-dollar pipeline to transport natural gas from Turkmenistan to Pakistan and India through Afghanistan, known as TAPI, was also reviewed.
A video released by Pakistani officials showed Abbasi, Ghani and members of their delegations jointly offering Friday prayers at the palace mosque. Later, the Pakistani prime minister held a separate meeting with Afghan Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah at Abdullah's office.
A separate Afghan presidential statement said both sides agreed to further an Islamabad-proposed plan for a comprehensive bilateral dialogue. It said foreign ministries and national security advisers of the two countries have been tasked with jointly finalizing the proposal, known as the Afghanistan-Pakistan Action Plan for Peace and Solidarity or APAPPS.
Moreover, rail and road connectivity projects to boost trade and transit activities between and through the two countries also came under discussion. Additionally, the Afghan side raised the issue of alleged cross-border violations by Pakistani forces and urged Prime Minister Abbasi to use official channels if his country has concerns with regard to militant activity originating from the Afghan side.
The Afghan statement said Abbasi welcomed and reiterated Pakistan’s full support for Ghani’s offer of peace talks to the Taliban.
The two countries have also agreed to form a joint commission to prepare a timetable and mechanism for the dignified repatriation of nearly 3 million Afghan refugees from Pakistan.
The crucial visit came a day after the Afghan government said Pakistani fighter jets violated Afghan airspace and bombed areas in the border province of Kunar, although officials reported no damage.
Islamabad swiftly rejected the charges as baseless, saying Pakistani security forces were conducting counterterrorism operations inside their own territory to deter Afghanistan-based militants from launching cross-border attacks.
President Ghani offered unconditional talks to the Taliban more than a month ago at an international conference in Kabul to try to end the bloodshed in his country.
The initiative received domestic and international backing, but the insurgents have avoided commenting on the overture. Pakistan, accused of having links to the Taliban, also threw its support behind Ghani’s initiative.
“We stand for peace in Afghanistan,” Abbasi told an international counterterrorism conference in Islamabad on the eve of his visit to Kabul. He emphasized that instability in the neighboring country directly undermines Pakistan's security.
The Pakistani prime minister rejected as “a totally flawed narrative” allegations that his country covertly supports the Taliban to fuel the Afghan conflict. He noted that Pakistani security forces have cleared all their territory of terrorist groups and operations continue to hunt down their remnants.
“We don’t accept the narrative that there are any sanctuaries in Pakistan, which result in instability in Afghanistan. That is not the truth. Today, unfortunately, the reverse is true. The people instigating terror in Pakistan are based in Afghanistan,” said Abbasi .
Officials in Pakistan said fugitive anti-state militants have taken shelter in “ungoverned" Afghan border areas and plot cross-border attacks from there.
U.S. and Afghan officials have long alleged sanctuaries on Pakistani soil have enabled the Taliban to sustain and expand its violent campaign on the Afghan side.
Washington has welcomed Islamabad's renewed diplomatic re-engagement with Kabul, saying an improved mutual relationship is essential in regional efforts against terrorism.
"Obviously, for there to be stability in Afghanistan, there needs to be a strong relationship between Afghanistan and Pakistan,” said Alice Wells, U.S. principal deputy assistant secretary of state for South and Central Asia, as she wrapped up a weeklong visit to Islamabad on Monday.
U.S. President Donald Trump in January suspended military aid to Islamabad until it takes decisive action against the militant havens.