imageISLAMABAD: Afghan President Hamid Karzai will visit Islamabad on Monday at the invitation of Prime Minister Muhammad Nawaz Sharif for talks on contentious issues particularly the on the issue of crossing of Taliban militants from Pakistan into Afghanistan. The Afghan President will be accompanied by a high-level delegation including Cabinet Ministers and Senior Officials.

This will be the first highest-level exchange between Pakistan and Afghanistan since the democratic transition and swearing-in of the new government. After taking office, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has spoken to President Hamid Karzai on three separate occasions. The two leaders have also been meeting during President Karzai’s recent visits to Pakistan.

Diplomatic Observers believe that President Karzai’s visit will impart a strong impetus to ongoing efforts for an enhanced relationship between Pakistan and Afghanistan and enable the leadership on both sides to further strengthen their joint endeavours in the pursuit of durable peace, stability and prosperity.

The Afghan President’s visit comes at a time when Afghanistan is undergoing important political and security transitions and the draw-down of NATO/ISAF forces is due to be completed by December 2014.

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has articulated a forward-looking vision of a peaceful and prosperous neighbourhood defined by close, cooperative relations with all neighbours. His invitation to President Karzai and commitment to work closely with the Afghan leadership is part of that vision.

Earlier, the Adviser to the Prime Minister on National Security and Foreign Affairs, Mr. Sartaj Aziz, had visited Kabul on 21 July 2013. The Adviser carried a message of goodwill and cordiality from the people of Pakistan and the desire of the new government to comprehensively upgrade the Pakistan-Afghanistan relationship. Substantive talks were held on the Afghan peace process and bilateral relations.

President Karzai’s visit will carry forward this process of constructive engagement between the two countries. The two leaders will have in-depth consultations on all issues of common interest, including the evolving situation in the region as well as ways to deepen and broaden Pakistan-Afghanistan bilateral relations.

Pakistan and Afghanistan share a fraternal relationship based on faith, kinship culture and history. The two countries have faced common challenges in the past and stood by each other in times of need. Over the past 3 decades, Pakistan has hosted millions of Afghan refugees who had to leave Afghanistan due to conflict and instability.

Peace and stability in Afghanistan are in Pakistan’s vital interest. Pakistan has extended consistent support for the promotion of peace and reconciliation in Afghanistan. Pakistan remains committed to working with Afghanistan as well as regional and international partners for sustainable peace and development.

Bilateral trade between Pakistan and Afghanistan has witnessed an impressive growth in recent years and reached US $2.44 billion in 2012. Pakistan’s exports stood at $2.24 billion, making Afghanistan the third largest destination for Pakistani products. The major items of exports from Pakistan include rice, petroleum products, animal and vegetable fats and oils, dairy products, construction material, plastic articles, fruits and vegetables, wooden products, chemicals, pharmaceuticals, and electrical machines. The major import items from Afghanistan are vegetables, fruits, raw cotton, carpets and rugs, hides and skins. Recognizing the vast untapped potential, the two countries have agreed to expand bilateral trade to US $ 5 billion by 2015.

The two countries signed the Afghanistan-Pakistan Transit Trade Agreement (APTTA) in 2010, which serves as a key instrument for the facilitation of Afghanistan’s access to foreign markets through Pakistani sea-ports and land routes. Both sides are engaged in efforts for optimal utilization of APTTA and its extension to Central Asia.

To support Afghanistan’s reconstruction and socio-economic development, Pakistan has been providing bilateral assistance worth US $ 330 million in diverse fields including infrastructure, health and education. Pakistan has also offered US $ 20 million for the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF).

Educational and people-to-people contacts have been growing significantly. Over 7,000 Afghan students are currently studying in Pakistan. Of these, 2,000 are on fully-funded scholarships offered by Pakistan; most others are enrolled under full or partial scholarship. More than 30,000 Afghan graduates from Pakistani institutions are now contributing to Afghanistan’s national development.

In the context of regional economic cooperation, the two countries are participating in key energy projects, namely Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) and Central Asia-South Asia Electricity Transmission and Trade Project (CASA-1000).

Copyright INP (Independent News Pakistan), 2013