Cyprus Mail

Afghan president visits Pakistan to try to repair damaged ties

By Katharine Houreld

New Afghan President Ashraf Ghani made his first state visit to neighbouring Pakistan on Friday, kicking off a two-day trip aimed at rebuilding damaged ties and eradicating suspicions between the two countries.

Relations have been harmed by regular accusations from both countries that the other is harbouring anti-government insurgents who cross the porous border and mount deadly attacks.

Pakistan Foreign Office spokeswoman Tasnim Aslam said discussions between Ghani and Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, who took power last year, would be wide-ranging.

“Peace and stability, everything to do with bilateral cooperation, political engagement, economic cooperation, the training programme – everything is on the table,” she said.

One of Pakistan’s chief concerns is the growing influence of its arch rival India in Afghanistan as NATO troops pull out this year. India has trained hundreds of Afghan security officers under a bilateral agreement.

Earlier this month, the Pakistani military offered a brigade-level training package to the Afghan military. Such offers have been made before, but the Afghans declined amid suspicions that Pakistan was sheltering Afghan insurgents.

Ghani, who took power in September following a protracted dispute over the election results, has sought a larger role for China as a mediator in peace negotiations with the Afghan Taliban.

China enjoys good relations with both Afghanistan and Pakistan, which also faces a Taliban insurgency, and is concerned about growing Islamist militancy in its Xinjiang region.

Aslam says Pakistan welcomes an expanded role for China and is awaiting any requests from the Afghan government that might help kick-start the moribund Afghan peace process.

Afghanistan has frequently requested custody of Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, the former Afghan Taliban number two, who was captured in Pakistan in 2010. The Afghans think he could play a key role in any peace negotiations.

But Pakistan’s prime minister will have to carefully weigh such requests against domestic pressures at home.

Sharif has been weakened by political protests this year and a bruising run-in with the country’s powerful military, which traditionally regards foreign and security policy as its own domain.

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