Afghan President Ashraf Ghani (right) and Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan stand before a joint news conference at the Presidential Palace in Kabul, Afghanistan today. Image Credit: Supplied

Islamabad: After years of hopes and pledges, Pakistan and Afghanistan today appeared to have come truly closer to each other with an unprecedented warm welcome to Pakistan’s prime minister on Thursday in Kabul.

Prime Minister Imran Khan and Afghan President Ashraf Ghani both pledged to work sincerely and keenly to bring two nations close and help restore peace in the war-torn country engaged in external and internal strife.

Restore peace

During his maiden one-day visit to Afghanistan, Khan stated that his visit intends “to build trust, to communicate more” and assure assistance to Afghanistan. Addressing a joint press conference alongside Ghani at the Presidential Palace in Kabul, Khan assured the Afghan leadership that Pakistan would play its part in reducing violence in the country. “Pakistan will do everything, whatever is possible… to help reduce this violence and move towards the ceasefire.”

Khan clarified that one of the reasons Islamabad was pushing for peace in Afghanistan is because Pakistan’s tribal areas were devastated by the war on terror. “The only way to help people on both sides of the border is [through] peace, trade and connectivity,” he said. PM Khan reiterated “that the people and the government of Pakistan have only one concern” and that is “peace in Afghanistan.”

Leap of faith

Reciprocating Pakistani premier’s gesture, Ghani stressed that “Practically we have agreed to form committees to deal with key topics to make sure that the foundation for trust that has been established with your [PM Imran Khan’s] trip today becomes an enduring process”. He also accepted the formal invitation to visit Islamic Republic of Pakistan.

Ghani noted tghat “Our common objective is to take a leap of faith to overcome the distrust that has haunted our relationship. We have come to an understanding that a shared vision regarding cooperation is not only essential for Pakistan and Afghanistan relations but harbinger of regional cooperation, connectivity”. He added that “Our common focus and what inspires us both is poverty reduction, empowerment of our citizens within the framework of our constitutions”.

Afghan cricket team

Pakistani premier, a cricket legend, also took time out to meet Afghan cricketers who presented a signed bat to him as a gesture of goodwill.

Khan was accorded a very warm welcome and presented a guard of honour at the Presidential Palace in Kabul. This is the premier’s first visit to Afghanistan since assuming office in 2018 and following the highest-profile visit by a Pakistani officials to Kabul since peace talks began between the Taliban and the Afghan government.

Khan was accompanied by Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi, Director General of Inter-Services Intelligence Lt Gen Faiz Hamid, Foreign Secretary Sohail Mehmood, Adviser on Commerce and Investment Abdul Razak Dawood, Special Representative for Afghanistan Muhammad Sadiq and other senior officials.

Meanwhile, a delegation-level meeting was held between officials of Pakistan and Afghanistan in which both sides discussed Afghan peace process, bilateral relations, regional security situation.

Qureshi thanked his Afghan counterpart Haneef Atmar for the warm welcome by the Afghan government and noted that both countries share a “traditional and historic relationship”. Qureshi said that Khan had always maintained that there was no military solution to the Afghan conflict adding that the regional security and stability “depends upon peace in Afghanistan”.

“We are glad that today, the world is acknowledging Pakistan’s stance and lauding its mediation role in the Afghan peace process,” he said. Pakistan looks forward to gradual and dignified return of anted Afghan refugees to their homeland, he added.

The visit comes days after the Pentagon announced to reduce the number of United States military personnel in Afghanistan from 4,500 to 2,500 by mid-January.