By Imdad Hussain
ISLAMABAD -- Pakistan and Afghanistan are showing signs of improved relations and enhanced co-operation in security and countering terrorism.
The latest step in that direction came after consultations in both Pakistan and Afghanistan June 24-25, during which the two sides committed to maintaining regional peace and stability.
"Both Afghanistan and Pakistan are willing to improve relations with each other, strengthen political mutual trust, enhance co-operation in various fields including counter-terrorism and jointly meet security challenges," a joint statement said.
The two sides also agreed to establish a "crisis management mechanism" that includes intelligence and information sharing.
"This would enable the two sides to maintain timely and effective communications in case of any emergencies, including terrorist attacks," the statement said.
Non-violent reconciliation is the fundamental solution to the Afghan issue, they agreed. Pakistan expressed support for an "Afghan-led and Afghan-owned" reconciliation process and called on the Afghan Taliban to join the reconciliation process without delay.
"Pakistan has consistently emphasised that peace and stability in Afghanistan [are] in our interest and a stable Afghanistan would help us promote our shared agenda of economic development and regional connectivity," Sartaj Aziz, foreign affairs adviser to Pakistani Prime Minister Mian Muhammad Nawaz Sharif, said in a press statement June 25.
"The experience of the past 15 years has clearly shown that the Afghan conflict cannot be resolved only through military means," he said. "Sustainable peace in Afghanistan requires a politically negotiated settlement through an Afghan-led Afghan-owned peace process."
The warming relations started earlier in June on the sidelines of an international summit in Astana, Kazakhstan, where Sharif and Afghan President Ashraf Ghani agreed to further talks within the framework of the Quadrilateral Co-operation Group (QCG).
Officials and observers are optimistic about the warming relations and counter-terrorism co-operation between the countries.
"Co-operation between Pakistan and Afghanistan is likely in different areas including counter-terrorism," Afghan Ambassador to Pakistan Omar Zakhilwal told Pakistan Forward, expressing optimism about peace and the future of the region.
"We have consistently emphasised that a politically negotiated settlement is imperative for the Afghan conflict," said Nafees Zakaria, spokesman for the Pakistani Foreign Ministry, responding to media queries after the meeting in Astana. "The QCG is an effective forum in this regard."
Bilateral co-operation in border management, counter-terrorism, intelligence sharing and pressure on the Taliban to choose a political settlement in Afghanistan is essential, say analysts.
"Co-ordinated operations across the border coupled with intelligence sharing and border management will make a difference as far as peace on both sides is concerned," Gen. (ret.) Talat Masood, a Pakistani military and defence analyst, told Pakistan Forward.
Pakistan and Afghanistan share about 2,600km of porous border that makes the security situation very complex, said Sami Yousafzai, an Afghan journalist based in Pakistan with expertise on militancy in the region.
"Nonetheless, co-operation and stability in relations between the two countries can make achieving difficult goals possible," he told Pakistan Forward.
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