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September 16, 2018

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Kabul visit fruitful, no more clouds of fear: Qureshi

ISLAMABAD: Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi termed his visit to Kabul "very advantageous" causing the clouds of fear to fade away.

Qureshi arrived in Kabul on a one-day official visit on Saturday, where he met with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah and other senior Afghan government leaders.

Speaking to Geo News, Qureshi termed his visit to Kabul "very advantageous”. “I understand with our visit, the clouds of fear have faded away." He said both the countries have decided to strengthen contacts and advance the reconciliation process. "We have come here for the betterment of the people of both countries and we will have to deal with mutual challenges together." Qureshi said he had finalised a few things with the Afghan president, chief executive and foreign minister. The minister said President Ashraf Ghani and Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah will visit Pakistan in October. The foreign minister said the Afghan Economic Commission will be visiting Pakistan next month and the next round of talks between the two countries would also be held in October. He said if Pakistan and Afghanistan have to extend their economic ties, then the two countries will have to constitute a joint economic commission.

Upon his arrival at the Presidential Palace, Qureshi was received by his Afghan counterpart Salahuddin Rabbani. The latter noted that establishing peace is as important for Pakistan as Afghanistan. "Our challenges are similar and we have to deal with them through mutual cooperation," Qureshi said. Qureshi said there is a persistent need to focus on the working group in Afghanistan to move forward. He further proposed that a meeting between scholars from both the sides could be arranged to resolve issues.

Later, Qureshi met with President Ashraf Ghani. The two dignitaries discussed diplomatic ties between the two countries. In the meeting between a Pakistani delegation accompanying Qureshi and Afghan officials, matters including bilateral trade matters, closure of the Pakistan Consulate General in Jalalabad due to a security crisis, terrorism, and border management were discussed. The Foreign Office said the foreign minister, during his engagements with the Afghan leadership, conveyed that the new government attached importance to its relations with Afghanistan and would work towards further deepening cooperation in the fields of trade development and connectivity. He also reiterated Pakistan’s support for the National Unity Government’s efforts to bring lasting peace in Afghanistan, assuring the Afghan leadership that Pakistan, along with other partners of Afghanistan, remained ready to play constructive role in facilitating an Afghan-led and Afghan-owned peace process and reconciliation, according to the press statement issued by the FO.

Qureshi underscored the importance of cooperation and coordination between the two countries in the areas of counter-terrorism and security and offered to train Afghan police and law enforcement agencies in Pakistani institutions. The Afghanistan Pakistan Action Plan for Peace and Solidarity (APAPPS) provided most useful platform to deliver the objectives. The foreign minister underlined the importance of frequent high-level engagements between the two countries that have contributed towards building trust and improving mutual understanding and emphasised to maintain this upward trajectory in bilateral relations through more high-level visits during the upcoming months. "In the context of enhancing trade between the two countries, Pakistan decided to waive off regulatory duty on imports from Afghanistan. As a result Afghan exports to Pakistan have recorded substantial increase of 118 percent in 2018," it read. "He (Qureshi) stated that Pakistan will fast-track steps including standardisation and automation of customs procedures, upgradation of infrastructure at crossing points between the two countries. For the second phase of 3000 scholarships, more than 600 scholarships have already been granted and Afghan students would start their semester next fall."

The minister handed over a letter from Prime Minister Imran Khan, addressed to President Ghani, marking the first consignment of 40,000 tonnes of wheat gifted to the Afghan people. The Foreign Office further stated that the two foreign ministers took decisions on four meetings including hosting of the Joint Economic Commission (JEC), to convene the meeting of Afghanistan-Pakistan Transit Trade Coordination Authority (APTTCA), meeting of the Steering Committee of the Joint Ulema Conference and the meeting of the working groups of APAPPS.

Qureshi also highlighted the unmatched hospitality extended by the people of Pakistan for their Afghan brothers and sisters, and underlined the need for dignified and sustainable repatriation of the Afghan refugees to their homeland through a gradual and time-bound plan, according to the FO statement. They also agreed to expedite matters related to providing necessary security to the Pakistan Consulate General in Jalalabad to ensure its early operationalization.

The visit provided an opportunity to set out the contours of the new government’s future engagement with Afghanistan to build mutually beneficial relationship and enhance cooperation between the two countries, it added.

Earlier, Foreign Office Spokesperson Dr Mohammad Faisal said: "Successful outcome of the visit will lead future efforts to enhance bilateral cooperation under bilateral frameworks of cooperation including Afghanistan-Pakistan Action Plan for Peace and Solidarity (APAPPS), Afghanistan Pakistan Transit Trade Coordination Authority (APTTCA), Pak-Afghan Joint Economic Commission (JEC) etc." Furthermore, Dr Faisal said Qureshi's first foreign visit after assuming office underlines the importance that the government attaches to work closely with Afghanistan for regional peace and stability.

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