The Afghanistan-Pakistan Transit Trade Agreement (APTTA) will be extended to Tajikistan in the next few months and thereafter to other Central Asian republics. This was decided by Pakistan and Afghanistan on Friday at the Foreign Minister-level engagement that also sought to open negotiations on a Strategic Partnership Agreement (SPA).

While the two countries appeared to be on the same page vis-à-vis extending APTTA to Central Asia — thereby unleashing the soft power latent in these two countries in the words of Pakistan Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar — both capitals varied in levels of enthusiasm towards an SPA.

Briefing mediapersons about her meeting with Afghan Foreign Minister Zalmai Rassoul at a joint press conference, Ms. Khar said the two sides exchanged drafts for SPA, adding later during the question and answer round that Pakistan was keen to have such an agreement in place as soon as possible. “We have started the journey,” she said. Her Afghan counterpart added that the SPA cannot be signed without full trust between the two countries and “these discussions are aimed at paving the way” for that.

Maintaining that Kabul was the most important capital for Islamabad, Ms. Khar sought to dismiss concerns within the international community about Pakistan’s “designs” on Afghanistan. “Pakistan can only be a facilitator”, she said while dwelling on the peace process, adding that Islamabad had no favourites for post-2014 Kabul.

Mr. Rassoul said Afghanistan wanted all the Afghan Taliban members to return and play their role in its reconstruction but underlined the importance for working within the constitutional framework. As for the peace process, he pointed out that it was easier to start a war than usher in peace afterwards. Referring to the release of some middle-level Taliban detainees by Pakistan earlier this month, he said this alone would not lead to peace. “We need the support of all our allies in the peace process. Issues like the Qatar process or the release of prisoners are just technical matters.”

About shelling from the Kunar and Nuristan provinces in Afghanistan into Pakistan, he said they had reduced in recent weeks and that he was hopeful of being able to fully address the issue soon. For her part, Ms. Khar said incursions and shelling were twin issues and had to be addressed jointly. “These are complexities on the ground that are a threat to both countries. It is not an ‘us and them’ issue.”