ISLAMABAD -- Pakistan is continuing to build ties with Afghanistan as negotiations between the Taliban and Kabul kick off in Doha, Qatar.
The first stage of negotiations began after an opening ceremony on September 12 and established a draft code of conduct for the talks. The next stage is set to begin on Tuesday (September 15), AFP reported.
Pakistani officials have welcomed the talks.
"I warmly welcome the announcement regarding commencement of Intra-Afghan Negotiations on 12 Sep 2020," Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan tweeted September 11.
"Finally, our combined efforts have brought forth the day that the Afghan people have been yearning for," he said.
"For its part, Pakistan will continue to remain in full support and solidarity with the Afghan people as they march forward in this consequential journey for peace and development," Khan said in a separate tweet.
US Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation Zalmay Khalilzad conferred on the Afghan peace process with Pakistani Chief of Army Staff Gen. Qamar Javed Bajwa and other officials in Islamabad on Monday (September 14).
Pakistan is determined to further its mission of promoting regional peace, economic progress and prosperity, an Inter Services Public Relations statement quoted Bajwa as saying.
Khalilzad "appreciated Pakistan's role in the ongoing [Afghan] peace process and said that it could not have succeeded without Pakistan's sincere and unconditional support", the statement said.
"A peaceful and stable Afghanistan will bring new opportunities for the progress and prosperity of not only Afghanistan but also the region," acting Foreign Minister Muhammed Hanif Atmar said on Twitter, hailing Pakistan's role in the process.
Pakistan over the past few months ramped up engagement with Afghanistan and the Taliban to facilitate the talks.
In August key members of the Taliban negotiating team travelled to Islamabad.
Islamabad invited the Taliban to Pakistan to stress the importance of talks, Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi said at the time, adding that negotiations were the "the only way forward" in Afghanistan.
"This is for Afghans to reconcile, and our task is that of facilitator," he said.
Pakistan's support for intra-Afghan talks is just one sign of co-operation between the two countries.
The Executive Committee of the Pakistan-Afghanistan Parliamentary Friendship Group met for the second time in Islamabad on September 3, following a gathering on July 8.
Eliminating trade barriers and facilitating traders will enhance trade volume between Pakistan and Afghanistan, Pakistani National Assembly Speaker Asad Qaiser said at the meeting, The Nation reported.
A task force for overseeing the terms of negotiation of the Afghanistan-Pakistan Transit Trade Agreement, set to expire in 2021, was established during the meeting.
A draft policy on visa facilitation also was prepared and was to be presented at a cabinet meeting, according to Muhammad Arbab Shehzad, special assistant to Prime Minister Khan of Pakistan.
Earlier, on July 16, the Executive Committee of the Pakistani National Economic Council authorised several projects, including the Khyber Pass Economic Corridor, the Express Tribune reported.
The project entails a 48km-long four-lane expressway between Peshawar and Torkham scheduled to be completed by June 2024.
It will link Pakistan and Afghanistan with Central Asia through the Khyber Pass, according to the World Bank, which last December agreed to provide $406.6 million (Rs. 68.1 billion) for the initiative.
"The project has a far-reaching impact on the economy of the region because it has the potential of not only improving trade relations between Pakistan and Afghanistan but also to revive the historic trade link between Central and South Asia," said Shahid Shinwari, convener of the Federation of Pakistan Chambers of Commerce and Industry on trade among Pakistan, Afghanistan and Central Asia.
The execution of the project will benefit the whole border region between Pakistan and Afghanistan by giving impetus to trade between the two countries, he said.