Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai will visit Islamabad on Monday along with a high-level delegation, including cabinet ministers and senior officials, for the first high-level exchange with Pakistan since the new government took over.
One of the key issues could be the release of Afghan prisoners, though foreign office spokesperson Aizaz Ahmed Choudhry did not comment on this subject at his weekly briefing last Thursday. He only said, “The government of Pakistan will continue to extend its support for the peace and reconciliation process in Afghanistan. In that regard, whatever steps that we deem are helpful will be taken.” According to The Frontier Post, 53 Afghan Taliban — including top ranking commander Mullah Biradar, a close comrade of Mullah Omar — are to be set free.
Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has called for a change in foreign policy with respect to Afghanistan, but has not elaborated this or what Pakistan has in mind as a policy for the country. As the foreign office has been saying, Pakistan is very keen on a peaceful transition in Afghanistan next year after the international coalition forces leave. A ministry of foreign affairs statement on Sunday said that Mr. Sharif has spoken to Mr. Karzai on three separate occasions. The statement said that the Afghan President’s visit comes at a time when Afghanistan is undergoing important political and security transitions and the draw-down of NATO/ISAF forces is due to be completed by December, 2014. Earlier, the Adviser to the Prime Minister on National Security and Foreign Affairs, Sartaj Aziz, had visited Kabul on July 21, 2013. Mr. Karzai’s visit will carry forward this process of constructive engagement between the two countries. The two leaders will have in-depth consultations on all issues of common interest, including the evolving situation in the region, as well as ways to deepen and broaden Pakistan-Afghanistan bilateral relations, the statement said.
Bilateral trade between Pakistan and Afghanistan has witnessed an impressive growth in recent years and reached $2.44 billion in 2012. Pakistan’s exports stood at $2.24 billion, making Afghanistan the third largest destination for Pakistani products. The major items of exports from Pakistan include rice, petroleum products, animal and vegetable fats and oils, dairy products, construction material, plastic articles, fruits and vegetables, wooden products, chemicals, pharmaceuticals, and electrical machines. The major import items from Afghanistan are vegetables, fruits, raw cotton, carpets and rugs, hides and skins. Recognising the vast untapped potential, the two countries have agreed to expand bilateral trade to $5 billion by 2015, according to the statement.
The two countries signed the Afghanistan-Pakistan Transit Trade Agreement (APTTA) in 2010, which serves as a key instrument for the facilitation of Afghanistan’s access to foreign markets through Pakistani sea-ports and land routes. Both sides are engaged in efforts for optimal utilization of the APTTA and its extension to Central Asia.
To support Afghanistan’s reconstruction and socio-economic development, Pakistan has been providing bilateral assistance worth $330 million in diverse fields, including infrastructure, health, and education. Pakistan has also offered $20 million for the Afghan National Security Forces, the statement said.