ISLAMABAD: Pakistan and Afghanistan are working to operationalize bilateral groups that will address each other’s concerns about all key issues and explore ways for cooperation in different fields, officials familiar with the development said Sunday. Separate groups of intelligence officials, military officers, diplomats, border management, trade, refugees and political level are being formed in line with the understanding reached during the talks between the Army Chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa and Afghan President Dr Ashraf Ghani in Kabul on October 1. There was also a consensus on regular and focused dialogue at multiple levels to evolve the bilateral process for minimising misunderstanding, managing crisis situations and enhancing cooperation in order to bring peace and stability in the region, the army had stated in a statement issued after the visit. “Now efforts are underway to operationalize the groups as soon as possible. The process is expected to be completed in November. We are exchanging proposals through relevant channels with Afghan side. There will be 5 to 6 bilateral groups. The groups will deal with all critical issues,” an official source told Daily Times. The source said that the army chief had categorically told the Afghan side that “extremism and Talibanization is neither the agenda of Pakistan nor its narrative. We do not support this ideology.” “Gen Bajwa also told the Afghan side that his country did not protect the Taliban,” the source said. “We told them there is no border post on nearly 700 km in the south – Kandahar and Helmand and illegal cross-border movement takes place and the militants involve in insurgency. We are ready to push them so there should also be no illegal crossing from the Afghan side. We assured the Afghan side we would not allow insurgents to enter this side and the Afghan side does the same,” he said. He said that Pakistani leaders also insisted that no violent incident in both countries should derail bilateral engagement. “The visit of the army chief was successful as this was reflected in public statements by President Ashraf Ghani and the Afghan side since then,” he said. “Gen Bajwa asked the Afghan leaders about what Pakistan could do. The Afghan leaders reiterated their longstanding claims that Taliban had safe heavens in Pakistan and that the militants freely crossed the border and Pakistan did not take any action.” “At this stage we proposed to solve the problems bilaterally. We sought their suggestion as to what mechanism they had in mind that we could find out solution to the problems. We told them Pakistan was keen and serious to address and solve the issue. This is harming Pakistan too. We are trying to return to normalisation. We told the Afghan side they there were US, NATO, EU and the world communities in Afghanistan and they could check accusations supporting the insurgents?” the official said. He said Afghan side also raised the issue of the alleged “shelling” from Pakistan side and Pakistani officials assured them that this issue could be discussed in the context of border management in the proposed groups. Pakistani officials insist that the Afghan side supported their border management system to secure the porous border and stop the illegal movement. Pakistan also believes the US also supports Pakistan’s border management initiative and has always called on both Pakistan and Afghanistan to agree on this. Meanwhile, Afghan Ambassador in Islamabad Omar Zakhilwal said that he was happy Pakistan and Afghanistan were now engaged in bilateral talks to address issues of mutual concern that included the presence of the militants in both countries and Pakistan’s concerns about what Pakistan believed to be Indian influence in Afghanistan. “We want Pakistan to use its influence on the Afghan Taliban for positive. I think Pakistani leaders have now a realisation to review policies about Afghanistan. We consider this a major change,” Zakhilwal told Pashto-language Khyber TV in an interview. “The environment of suspicion still exists but I am confident that there could be some steps in the coming weeks and months to bury the hatchet and to bridge the trust gap. There is no other option with both countries,” he said. The Afghan ambassador pointed out that the “negative rhetoric” in Afghanistan had decreased after the visit of the Pakistani army chief despite a series of deadly attacks in parts of Afghanistan. “President Ashraf Ghani wants good relations but Afghans would expect the roots of Afghan war in Pakistan should be eliminated. It is up to the Pakistani security officials to think how both countries could develop trust during the war in Afghanistan,” the Afghan envoy said. To a question about the status of bilateral ties after General Bajwa’s visit, he said there had been regular contacts and meetings at various levels after the visit. To a question about President Ghani’s anti-CPEC remarks during his recent visit to India, he said President Ghani supported CPEC and his remarks in India were in fact a reply to a question and in the context of the transit and trade relations between Pakistan and Afghanistan. Published in Daily Times, November 6th 2017.