Pakistan, Afghanistan begin two-day follow-up talks on Friday

ISLAMABAD: Senior Pakistani and Afghan officials are scheduled to begin two-day talks in Islamabad on Friday aimed at hammering out details of joint working groups that deal with key issues, officials say.

Despite tensions in the wake of the recent deadliest Taliban-claimed attacks in Kabul, both countries pursuing the policy of engagement that could help officials address to each other’s concerns.

Foreign Secretary Tehmina Janjua will lead a high level Pakistani delegation comprising of senior civilian and military officials while Afghan delegation will be headed by Deputy Foreign Minister Hekmat Khalil Karzai. Afghan delegation will also be comprised of military, intelligence, interior and foreign ministry officials.

Both sides will hold follow-up discussion on Afghanistan-Pakistan Action Plan for Peace and Solidarity (APAPPS) – a joint action plan for cooperation in the key areas of counter-terrorism and reduction of violence, peace and reconciliation, refugee’s repatriation and joint economic development.

The first meeting of the joint working groups was held in Kabul on Feb. 3, just days after the major attacks in Kabul on Jan. 20 and Jan. 27 that had killed nearly 125 people and injured over 250. Afghan authorities blamed the Haqqani Network and some officials even pointed fingers at Pakistan. However, tense environment did not derail the dialogue process and the credit goes to both sides.

An official, who is part of the bilateral dialogue, told Daily Times on Thursday that both sides will explore ways how to operationalize the joint working groups. “Although perspectives are different and there is a big gap on issues, both sides prefer engagement to address to challenges,” the official said, adding that Foreign Secretary Janjua carried the same message when she led senior officials in the first joint working meeting in Kabul on Feb. 3.

“There are differences between the two sides as the issues are very complex but at the same time there is a high level of optimism in Pakistan that government are committed to move the process of bilateral talks forward,” insisted the official, who will be part of the Pakistani side in talks on Friday.

Pakistan had floated the idea of the groups after the Army Chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa led a high level Pakistani delegation in talks with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani.

The official, who was part of the talks between the Pakistani officials and Afghan Interior Minister Wais Ahmad Barmak and spy chief Masoom Stanekzai in Islamabad on Jan. 31 said Afghan officials “did not share any new but repeated whatever they had long been saying.” “There was nothing new but the Afghan officials said whatever they have been saying since long like – there are religious schools which are promoting extremism and there are training centers,” he said. The official, who did not want to be identified, said Pakistani officials reiterated the country’s longstanding stance that Pakistan will act if actionable intelligence is provided to Pakistan. He recalled that Foreign Secretary Janjua had offered joint investigation to the Afghan side into the last month’s attacks in Kabul.

Meanwhile the British Special Representative to Afghanistan and Pakistan, Gareth Bayley, who has visited Islamabad for a series of meetings with the Pakistani government, supported Pak-Afghan engagement.

Published in Daily Times, February 9th 2018.