ISLAMABAD – Pakistan’s consistent peaceful overtures have started yielding positive results as Islamabad and Kabul Friday agreed on a set of concrete measures to deepen bilateral cooperation for addressing their mutual challenges.At talks between Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar and her visiting Afghan counterpart Dr Zalmai Rassoul, the two states agreed to jointly tackle terrorism and illegal narco trade; to increase trade and investment and enhance people to people to contact.They also decided to extend transit trade agreement to Tajikistan and later to other Central Asian States, consider a Strategic Partnership Agreement, phased return of Afghan refugees and a bilateral Visa Abolition Agreement for holders of diplomatic passports, said a joint statement issued after the talks.After the talks the two foreign ministers told a joint press conference that the two countries were committed to further strengthening the whole gamut of their ties and termed the talks “frank and candid” that covered all aspects of their relationship. Pakistan also agreed to release another batch of Taliban prisoners in a bid to facilitate peace talks between insurgents and the Afghan government, read the joint statement. It said both sides have agreed the “release of more prisoners, facilitating contacts and urging the Taliban to renounce ties to al-Qaeda”.Apart from in-depth consultations with his Pakistani counterpart, Afghan foreign minister also met separately with the Prime Minister Raja Parvaiz Ashraf and Chief of Army Staff general Ashfaq Parvez Kyani. According to the informed sources Rassoul conveyed sense of satisfaction of Afghan government over the steps taken by Pakistan largely in connection with the release of scores of Afghan Taliban prisoners to take the Afghan-led reconciliation process to a logical end.“I hope that we will continue to implement other concrete measures in a timely manner and push the peace process forward... so that all those who can help advance the peace process go free,” Rassoul told reporters at the joint press conference, adding that his country will never allow its soil to be used against Pakistan and stressed that “the two countries need to move away from the legacy of the past and move towards an honest, result-oriented relationship.”It was the second high-level delegation to visit Pakistan this month to press for the release of Taliban prisoners in a bid to kickstart peace efforts. Talks two weeks ago between the two neighbours resulted in the release of nine Taliban. The number of prisoners to be released this time was not specified but is not thought to include the Taliban’s former deputy leader Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, who was captured in 2010. Sources earlier said that no decision had been taken on his release.Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar said the visit of Afghan foreign minister marks the initiation of negotiations on the strategic partnership between the two countries. She expressed keenness of Pakistan to build strong bilateral relations with Afghanistan on the basis of mutual respect and sovereign equality. About terrorism and narco-trade, Hina said, “We can fight these together as a common enemy,” adding that “we are on our way to deal with it as such”. Hina said stability in Afghanistan was in the best interests of Pakistan and added that Pakistan would continue to support the Afghan people as it had done in the past. Pakistan has a strong desire to further strengthen cultural and religious affinities existing between the two neighbouring countries, she said, adding that Islamabad would assist Kabul in increasing its educational and trade sectors.The joint statement said the two sides also discussed the issue of cross border incursions and shelling and agreed to have an institutionalised mechanism to address this issue. The Afghan foreign minister said his country will never allow its soil to be used against Pakistan. Afghanistan will do everything possible to avoid the damage coming to Pakistan.Afghanistan and Pakistan blame each other for a number of recent cross-border attacks that have killed dozens of people. Afghanistan shares a disputed and unmarked 2,400-kilometre (1,500-mile) border with Pakistan, and Taliban and other al-Qaeda-linked militants have carved out strongholds along the mountainous border terrain.Noting that shelling into Pakistan from Afghan side has ‘reduced significantly recently’, Rassoul said his country sees relations with Pakistan as the most significant one in terms of the common challenges faced by both the countries. He said peace in Afghanistan is a prerequisite for peace and stability in Pakistan and the region. He said Pakistan has a crucial role to play in the success of reconciliation process.Measures to combat drugs as well as terrorism were also discussed during the meeting, Hina Khar said. The joint statement said Pakistan and Afghanistan have also agreed to operationalise the joint commission on release of prisoners and holding of Ulema conference in Kabul to advance the peace process. Pakistan announced its support for this conference scheduled for January 2013 in Kabul.Realizing that a Strategic Partnership Agreement (SPA) will further deepen the bilateral relations between the two countries, both sides agreed to initiate negotiations for signing of an SPA and Pakistan, in the foreign ministers’ meeting, handed over to Afghanistan a draft of proposed SPA that would include enhanced intelligence and military to military cooperation, increased trade and investment and people to people to contact.Both sides agreed to work together for phased, dignified and voluntary return of Afghan refugees and stressed the need for creating ‘pull factors’ for this purpose. Afghanistan thanked Pakistan for hosting the largest number of refugees in the world for more than three decades. The two sides also agreed to enter into a bilateral Visa Abolition Agreement for holders of diplomatic passports to facilitate visa free travel for the diplomats of the two countries.The two sides also agreed to extend the Afghan Pakistan Transit Trade Agreement to Tajikistan in the first phase, within months, and then extend it to the other Central Asian countries for enhancement of regional trade. Expressing satisfaction at the current volume of annual bilateral trade ($2.5 billion), the two countries agreed to take facilitative steps to further enhance bilateral trade and achieve the target of $5 billion annual trade by 2015.Foreign Minister Hina Khar said that Kabul and Islamabad were connected with each other in more than one way, and apart from strong people-to-people contacts and historical ties. She said that the APTTA had a bright future and Pakistan and other regional countries could use Afghanistan as a transit route for trade with the Central Asian Republics, and added it would be a win-win situation for both the countries.Hina Khar said that Afghanistan was the only country that was getting development assistance from Pakistan and hoped it would be expanded. She mentioned the 7,000 scholarships, which Pakistan was already providing for the Afghan students and expressed confidence that it would help further strengthen their ties in the days ahead.At the meeting, the Afghan side acknowledged the contribution of Prime Minister of Pakistan’s scheme of scholarships in facilitating higher education opportunities for Afghan students in Pakistani universities and thanked Pakistan for announcing 1,000 additional scholarships for Afghan students at the Tokyo Conference.Hina Khar said that the Strategic Partnership Agreement between the two countries could have a very positive impact, as it would help the two countries have a better institutional arrangement. She said that Pakistan fully supported the reconciliation process in Afghanistan, was playing the role of a facilitator and would pursue whatever the Afghans choose for themselves.The foreign minister said that Pakistan fully supported the Ulema conference to be held in Kabul in January next. The Afghan foreign minister appreciated the recent release of a number of Taliban leaders by Pakistan, while Hina Khar termed the recent visit of Afghan High Peace Council “fruitful”.Islamabad took major steps after series of high consolations with Kabul since September including release of score of Afghan Taliban prisoners that not only pleased Kabul but also led to a tripartite military agreement between Pakistan, Afghanistan and the United States. That was why the Foreign Minister Hina Khar acknowledged that Pakistan regards Kabul as the most important capitals of the world.“We are pleased to see a positive change in Kabul’s policy after Pakistan made it clear to all and sundry that it has no ambitions of finding any strategic depth in western neighbour,” Pakistani and Afghan diplomatic sources told The Nation after daylong engagements of Afghan foreign minister with Pakistani authorities.Afghan officials believe senior Taliban leaders held in Pakistan could help bring militants to the negotiating table, if released from jail, to end over a decade of war ahead of the 2014 pull-out of US-led Nato troops. An Afghan official had told AFP ahead of the meetings that Rassoul would ask for the release of further Taliban detainees, including Baradar.But a senior Pakistani security official told a foreign news agency that “no decision” had so far been taken on whether to release him. “We have to ascertain how important he can be. Pakistan believes Baradar may not be enjoying the same clout he used to have before being arrested in Karachi two years ago,” the official said.The Taliban, leading an 11-year insurgency since the 2001 US-led invasion, has welcomed the releases, but refuses to negotiate directly with Kabul, calling the government of President Hamid Karzai a US puppet. Preliminary contacts between the US and the Taliban in Doha were broken off in March when the militants failed to secure the release of five of their comrades held at the Guantanamo Bay prison on the US base in Cuba. Support from Pakistan, which backed the 1996-2001 Taliban regime in Kabul, is seen as crucial to peace in Afghanistan after the departure of Nato forces.