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Prime Minister Imran Khan and President Ashraf Ghani agreed to open a new chapter of friendship and cooperation between Pakistan and Afghanistan, based on mutual trust and harmony for the benefit of the two peoples and countries and for advancing the cause of peace, stability and prosperity in the region.
This was agreed upon during a one-on-one meeting between Prime Minister Khan and President Ghani, followed by delegation-level talks on Thursday upon Ghani's arrival on a two-day official visit to the country. According to a statement issued by the PM's House, the two leaders exchanged views on the entire gamut of bilateral relations during the meeting.
"The Prime Minister affirmed that Pakistan remains committed to bring about a qualitative transformation in Pakistan-Afghanistan relations as part of his vision of a 'peaceful neighbourhood.' The two leaders agreed on the importance of crafting a forward-looking vision of Pakistan-Afghanistan relations," it stated.
Prime Minister Khan reaffirmed Pakistan's commitment to support the Afghan peace process as a shared responsibility and underlined that an Afghan-led and Afghan-owned peace process is the only viable option to end decades-long conflict in Afghanistan. In this regard, Pakistan supports a result-oriented intra-Afghan dialogue, it added.
The Prime Minister underscored Pakistan's respect for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Afghanistan and its commitment to stand by the Afghan people at this crucial juncture.
"Pakistan remains committed to a peaceful, stable, democratic and prosperous Afghanistan and wishes to have stronger political, trade, economic, and people-to-people relations with Afghanistan," the Prime Minister added.
The two leaders agreed that enduring peace in Afghanistan would bring rich economic dividends to both the countries, it stated, adding that they reaffirmed their commitment to work together to broaden and deepen bilateral trade, streamline transit trade, and strengthen efforts for connectivity.
It was recognised that early completion of major energy connectivity projects such as Central Asia-South Asia (CASA 1000) electricity transmission line and Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) gas pipeline will bring long-term economic benefits to the countries involved. Further ways of strengthening trade, infrastructure and energy connectivity were explored, the statement added.
"It was agreed to optimally utilise the existing mechanisms - including Afghanistan-Pakistan Transit Trade Coordination Authority (APTTCA) and Joint Economic Commission (JEC) - to remove difficulties in transit and bilateral trade and to explore new possibilities of mutually-beneficial economic and commercial relations," it stated, adding that there was also an exchange of views on regional issues.
It further stated that the Prime Minister shared his vision for peace, progress and prosperity in South Asia.
During the delegation level talks, senior cabinet ministers including Minister for Foreign Affairs Shah Mehmood Qureshi, Adviser on Finance Dr Abdul Hafeez Shaikh, Minister for Railways Sheikh Rashid Ahmad, Minister for Science and Technology Fawad Chaudhry, Advisor for Commerce, Textile, Industry and Production, and Investment Abdul Razak Dawood, Special Assistant on Information and Broadcasting Firdaus Ashiq Awan and other ministers as well as Chief of Army Staff General Qamar Javed Bajwa and Director General Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) Lieutenant-General Faiz Hameed, while President Ghani was assisted by his senior cabinet ministers as well as senior defence authorities including the National Directorate of Security (NDS) chief.
Talking to reporters about the visit, Foreign Minister Qureshi said that it was a 'welcoming' development that Pakistan and Afghanistan have joined hands to move ahead together in the best interest of the region by leaving the past behind.
He said that the two sides discussed matters pertaining to trade, transit trade, investment and connectivity in a cordial ambiance, adding that both the countries have also agreed to look into the prospects as to how they can help each other and rebuild confidence. He said that the trust deficit was a major hurdle between the two countries to move forward.
Qureshi said that peace and stability are among the areas in which the two sides agreed to work together, adding that the Afghan Loya Jirga has mandated President Ghani to talk with Pakistan on all the areas of cooperation and building new relationship based on mutual trust.
The foreign minister said the government has decided to keep Torkham border open for 24 hours to ease the process of transportation of goods. He said efforts are also afoot to tackle the difficulties in the visa process between the two countries as well as increasing staff at Pakistan Embassy in Kabul.
He said that the government has also constituted a task force to improve the matters of trade and connectivity between the two countries, adding that there is a need for enhancing connectivity for promoting mutual trade and cooperation.
The foreign minister said that Afghan government desires Pakistan's cooperation in intra-Afghan dialogue. He said the talks between the US and the Afghan Taliban are already under way and Kabul also wants to enter in the talks. However, he said that there are hurdles in the talks between Kabul and the Taliban, adding that efforts are still under way to remove the impediments.
He said that President Ghani will also visit Lahore today (Friday), where he will interact with the business community for economic integration.
To a question about Prime Minister Imran Khan's visit to the United States in July to meet President Trump, he said that the visit cannot be ruled out, adding that the dates for the visit were earlier scheduled but the Prime Minister could not visit because of the ongoing budget session.
"The Prime Minister may visit in July, as you are aware that President Trump has expressed his desire for improving Pakistan-US relations," Qureshi added.
Earlier, on arrival at Nur Khan Airbase, President Ashraf Ghani was received by Advisor for Commerce, Textile, Industry and Production, and Investment Abdul Razak Dawood. President Ghani was given a 21-gun salute.
There was an official welcoming ceremony, including guard of honour, at the Prime Minister's House, where Prime Minister Imran Khan warmly received President Ghani. The Prime Minister also hosted a banquet in honour of the visiting dignitary and his entourage.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2019