ISLAMABAD - Afghanistan’s High Council for National Reconciliation chairman Abdullah Abdullah’s visit to Pakistan has brought the two neighbours closer as they vowed to work together to achieve the goal of peace.

Just as Abdullah concluded his three-day trip to Pakistan, Islamabad resumed cross-border pedestrian movement with Afghanistan at Torkham for four days a week.

The citizens of Pakistan and Afghanistan will now be able to travel to both the neighbouring countries on legal documents on every Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Saturday. The cross-border movement through Torkham would only be permitted on valid passport and visa.

During Abdullah’s stay in Pakistan and his meetings with the Pakistani leadership, Pakistan and Afghanistan reaffirmed their commitment to closer ties and the Afghan peace process. “After many troubling years, we now need to go beyond the usual stale rhetoric and shadowy conspiracy theories that have held us back,” said Abdullah, adding: “We cannot afford to pursue business as usual. We need fresh approaches and our people demand it of us.”

Afghanistan and Pakistan have in the past accused each other of allowing safe havens for armed groups that target each other’s territory.

Cross-border attacks continue to occur on both sides, often targeting Pakistani security posts on the border, which Pakistan treats as an international boundary but Afghanistan refuses to accept. Abdullah, who served until March as Chief Executive in the National Unity Government led by President Ashraf Ghani, has often accused Pakistan of supporting the militants and their allies.

This week, however, those accusations were not repeated or addressed, with Abdullah choosing instead to commit his country towards not allowing its territory to be used against any other countries. “We do not want a terrorist footprint in our country or to allow any entity to pose a threat to any other nation,” he said. Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi echoed Abdullah’s sentiments saying, “We need to have recognition of the mistakes of the past.” Qureshi also said, “Unless we recognise that, how do we move forward. Let’s not shy away from reality. Let’s accept reality and add a new chapter to our bilateral relations and build a common future for ourselves.”

Pakistan has been a key player in setting up direct negotiations, first between the United States and the Taliban – which has been fighting Afghan forces since it was toppled in a US-led invasion in 2001 – and again in facilitating the ongoing intra-Afghan dialogue process in the Qatari capital. Dr Abdullah said that process was continuing to move forward, after facing several hurdles at the outset. In an op-ed published in the Washington Post, Prime Minister Imran Khan had reiterated the need for the Afghan peace process to move forward but added that it would be a slow process.

“All those who have invested in the Afghan peace process should resist the temptation for setting unrealistic timelines,” he said. “A hasty international withdrawal from Afghanistan would be unwise.”

In a statement later, the Prime Minister’s office said the meeting would usher in “a new chapter” in relations between the South Asian neighbours.

“The Prime Minister reiterated his longstanding position that there is no military solution to the conflict in Afghanistan and that a political solution is the only way forward,” the statement said. “The US-Taliban peace agreement was a major step forward in these endeavours.”

Abdullah met President Arif Alvi, Prime Minister Khan and Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi among others during his visit.

International relations expert Lt. General Raza Mohammed Khan (retd) said Dr Abdullah Abdullah is a powerful politician with a massive following.

“His multicultural ethnic background makes him a popular leader in Afghanistan. His visit to Pakistan will further strengthen the Afghan peace process. Pakistan is playing a proactive role to bridge the gap between rival stakeholders. The peace spoilers are trying hard to derail the peace process,” he said.

General Khan said the key stakeholders must show flexibility for the success of intra-Afghan dialogue.