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Pak-Afghan accord to knock out militant sanctuaries

KABUL: Pakistan and Afghanistan renewed their commitment on Sunday to eliminate militant sanctuaries in their territories, which could have been used for acts of subversion in either country.

Pakistan and Afghanistan PM Pakistan NewsA joint declaration issued at the end of Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani’s two-day visit to Kabul said the two countries would again undertake to effectively cooperate, combat and defeat these (terrorist) threats and eliminate their sanctuaries ‘wherever they are’.

The commitment came as a result of fresh Pakistani demand that the Afghan government should end Baloch insurgent infrastructure on its soil and hand over nationalist leaders, including Brahmdagh Bugti, who are believed to have taken refuge there.

President Hamid Karzai had pledged on Saturday in his meeting with Prime Minister Gilani to end Balochistan insurgency bases in Afghanistan which, he claimed, could have been operating without his knowledge.

But, he told the delegation that he also expected Pakistan to end Taliban safe havens in Fata that have long been alleged to foment violence in Afghanistan.

The commitment isn’t exactly new, but what’s different this time is the newfound understanding between the two sides that peace and stability in their countries were mutually interdependent.

Reiterating cooperation for collectively fighting terror, President Karzai had said: “We need to work together to end violence that continues to hurt both of us and that we should help each other with full knowledge of reality.”

After the talks, a senior Pakistani delegate told Dawn that there was a realisation on both sides that they were facing same issues from same quarters—in a reference to what President Karzai had earlier described in his media talk as ‘outside plots’ to keep both countries unstable.

“Terrorism and violent extremism and their international support networks are a major threat undermining peace and stability in the region and beyond,” the joint declaration noted.

RECONCILIATION: The declaration showed a change in Pakistan’s policy nuances on the issue of reconciliation, which is thought to be critical to peace in the war-torn country.

Neither public statements by Pakistani leaders nor the joint declaration reflected Pakistan’s desire of helping Afghanistan in making peace with Taliban.

The joint statement said: “Pakistan supports the efforts of the president, government and the people of Afghanistan for peace and national reconciliation, which should naturally be Afghan-owned and Afghan-led efforts.”

Weeks before the Kabul visit, Prime Minister Gilani had in an interview emphasised Pakistan’s indispensability to any settlement in Afghanistan and said: “Nothing can be done without us because we are part of the solution; we are not part of the problem.”

A senior Pakistani diplomat, who was part of the talks, said Islamabad no longer sought a role in peace talks. He went on to acknowledge that Pakistan’s unsaid longing for a reconciliation role was a ‘misplaced desire’.

This acknowledgement stems from an understanding that Islamabad’s offer to help Kabul make peace with Taliban was being misconstrued among the Afghans as an attempt to meddle in their internal affairs.

The reconciliation process has, according to a background briefing, reached a point where it is ready to take off. Contacts with leaders of warring factions have been established and a formal dialogue is about to commence soon.

TRADE: Both sides also agreed on ‘full and seamless implementation’ of the Afghanistan-Pakistan Transit Trade Agreement (APTTA) from January 2011. Besides, there was an agreement on pursuing customs and tariff harmonisation and facilitating greater interaction among private sectors of the two countries to enhance trade.

Afghanistan and Pakistan intend to take their bilateral trade to $5 billion from the current $2 billion by 2015.

Apart from the agreement to take forward the Pak-Afghan relationship in a big way, the highlight of the visit was Pakistan government’s fresh initiative to reach out to the people of Afghanistan.

Prime Minister Gilani also addressed two different forums, the Afghan Chamber of Commerce and Industry and newly-founded Pakistan-Afghanistan Graduate Alumni, which comprises 28,000 Afghans, who had graduated from Pakistani universities and professional institutions. In both the meetings, Mr Gilani stressed that expansion of ties could “yield enormous benefits for the people of the two countries”.

In the evening, Prime Minister Gilani inaugurated the reconstruction of Pakistan embassy ransacked by the then Northern Alliance activists in 1995. How much the situation has changed over two and a half decades was mirrored by the presence of Ahmad Wali Masood, brother of slain Northern Alliance leader Ahmad Shah Masood, and number of other figures from the grouping, which was once staunchly opposed to Pakistan, at the ceremony marking the start of reconstruction work.

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