389 words - August 28, 2013 | © DiploNews, all rights reserved.
At the invitation of Pakistani Prime Minister Muhammad Nawaz Sharif, Afghan President Hamid Karzai visited Islamabad, the capital city of Pakistan on August 26. The Afghan President was accompanied by a high-level delegation including Cabinet Ministers and senior officials. This was the first highest-level exchange between the two countries since the appointment of Mr. Sharif's government. However, the two leaders have well known each other for several years, Mr. Karzai having met with Mr. Sharif on previous visits to Pakistan.
The talks "were marked by cordiality and mutual understanding," said officials. Afghanistan and Pakistan have had difficult if not tense relations over the last several years, the former often accusing the latter – or its intelligence service ISI – of tolerating extremists like Taliban on its soil with a view to exerting some strategic influence inside Afghanistan. President Karzai's visit to Pakistan came at a crucial juncture for his country as it is undergoing the drawdown of NATO/ISAF forces which is due to be completed by December 2014. Also there will be the presidential elections in April 2014 which will represent the most important security challenge for Afghanistan next year.
"Peace and stability in Afghanistan are in Pakistan's vital interest," the Pakistani Ministry of Foreign Affairs said, adding that Pakistan has offered USD 20 million for the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF). "The year 2014 is particularly crucial for Afghanistan and this region. It is our sincere hope and desire to see this milestone crossed peacefully," said Mr. Sharif. "For the two countries, the primary concern is lack of security for its citizens and the continued menace of terrorism attacking both our populations, our governments, our soldiers and our security forces," Mr. Karzai emphasized.
Beyond security concerns, there is some hope nonetheless. The two leaders have agreed to expand bilateral trade to USD 5 billion by 2015, from USD 2.44 billion in 2012 including USD 2.24 billion of Pakistani exports. Afghanistan and Pakistan are participating in "key energy projects," namely Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) and Central Asia-South Asia Electricity Transmission and Trade Project (CASA-1000). To support Afghanistan's reconstruction and socio-economic development, Pakistan has also been providing bilateral assistance worth USD 330 million.
To conclude, Prime Minister Sharif accepted President Karzai's invitation to visit Afghanistan. The dates are yet be determined through diplomatic channels.
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