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Pakistan, Afghanistan Agree to Boost Trade, Lower Border Tensions

Pakistan and Afghanistan’s Taliban government have agreed to boost trade and lower tensions along their border amid a surge in attacks on Pakistani security forces, officials said.

Pakistani Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto Zardari and Afghanistan’s Taliban-appointed foreign minister, Amir Khan Muttaqi, struck the deal on Sunday in Islamabad, according to Pakistan’s foreign ministry.

The agreement is designed to improve bilateral trade, combat “terrorism” and boost bilateral ties.

According to a Pakistani foreign ministry statement, Bhutto Zardari and Muttaqi on Sunday “held a candid and in-depth exchange on key issues of mutual concern, including peace and security, as well as trade and connectivity”.

The two sides “reaffirmed their desire to pursue continuous and practical engagement”, it said.

According to the Afghan embassy, Muttaqi and his delegation met Bhutto Zardari and other officials. “During the meeting, matters of mutual interest, Afghan-Pak political, economic, and transit relations as well as challenges of Afghan Refugees in Pakistan have been discussed,” it said on Twitter early on Monday.

Pakistan’s military said Muttaqi also met General Asim Munir, the army chief, to discuss “issues of mutual interest including aspects related to regional security, border management, and formalisation of bilateral security mechanisms for improvement in the current security environment”.

Munir sought enhanced cooperation to “effectively tackle the common challenges of terrorism and extremism”, the statement added.

the Taliban-appointed Afghan Foreign Minister Amir Khan Muttaqi, left, meets with Pakistan's Army Chief General Asim Munir, in Rawalpindi,
Afghan acting Foreign Minister Amir Khan Muttaqi, left, with Pakistan’s army chief General Asim Munir, in Rawalpindi, Pakistan [Inter Services Public Relations via AP]

Relations between Pakistan and Afghanistan have featured ups and down in the past year.

In February, the two sides shut the main Afghan-Pakistan border crossing at Torkham, stranding people and trucks carrying food and essential items. After a Pakistani delegation travelled to Kabul for talks on the crisis, the border was reopened after a week and Muttaqi’s visit to Islamabad was planned.

The Taliban government of Afghanistan has been shunned by most of the international community for the harsh and restrictive measures they have imposed since seizing power in August 2021, when the United States and NATO troops were in the final weeks of their pullout from the country after 20 years of war.

The Taliban has banned girls from education beyond the sixth grade and barred women from most jobs and public life.

Pakistan has lately expressed concern over a surge of deadly attacks across the country by the Pakistan Taliban – an independent armed group that is allied with and allegedly sheltered by the Taliban in Afghanistan.

Islamabad has demanded from the Taliban in Kabul that they do more to rein in anti-Pakistani groups such as the Pakistan Taliban – also known as TTP – which has stepped up attacks on Pakistani security forces in recent months.

Saad Muhammad, former Pakistani military attaché to Kabul and defence analyst, told Al Jazeera he was hopeful of a “positive outcome” and that the Pakistani concerns will be taken on board by the Taliban government.

“When Pakistan sent a high-level delegation in February, we saw that the number of violent attacks emanating from the Afghan soil dropped down, which showed that the Afghan government took action,” he said.

“If Afghanistan wants other countries to invest and help improve its socioeconomic conditions, it has to take onboard these suggestions and bring some reform in their governance.”

Earlier on Sunday, Bhutto Zardari and Muttaqi also held talks with China’s Foreign Minister Qin Gang, a departure from recent years when such dialogue had been on hold, according to analysts, who say Beijing is expanding its influence in the region.

China has also played a role in the resumption of Saudi Arabia-Iran diplomatic ties.

In Pakistan, Beijing is bankrolling the so-called China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) – a sprawling package that includes such projects as road and power plant construction and boosting agriculture production.

The package is considered a lifeline for the Muslim-majority nation, which is currently facing one of its worst economic crisis amid stalled talks on a bailout with the International Monetary Fund.

CPEC, also known as the One Road Project, is part of China’s Belt and Road Initiative, a global endeavour aimed at reconstituting the ancient Silk Road and linking China to all corners of Asia.

Qin arrived in Islamabad on Friday and met President Arif Alvi, Bhutto Zardari and powerful army chief General Munir.

During these meetings, he was assured that Pakistan will boost security for all Chinese nationals working on multibillion-dollar projects in cash-strapped Pakistan.

China has been demanding more security from Pakistan for its nationals residing and working in the Islamic country since 2021, when a suicide bomber killed nine Chinese and four Pakistanis in an attack in the volatile northwest.

Defence analyst Muhammad told Al Jazeera that China also stressed in the meeting that the concerns of regional countries are valid and that the Taliban must act to safeguard its neighbours’ interests.

“However, the world too must realise that abandoning Afghanistan is not a solution. It is imperative to keep them engaged and nudge them towards required reforms,” he said.

Source : AlJazeera