As neighbours, Afghanistan and Pakistan have always shared close ethnic, linguistic, religious and economic ties. The relationship between the two countries has largely been characterised by mutual mistrust and has been perceived through a narrow security prism. Bringing both nations together requires considerable effort to end deep-seated mistrust sowed between both the countries.

Even though evolving governments have had a series of strained relationships on both sides, there has always been a strong and brotherly people to people connection. It is worth noting that Pakistan has remained home to millions of Afghan refugees escaping the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in the 1980s. Even today, nearly 2 million documented and undocumented Afghans live in Pakistan, run their businesses, send their children to schools and universities, are married in Pakistani families, and, therefore, consider their host country home. Even former Afghan President Hamid Karzai (2004–2014) has described Pakistan and Afghanistan as “inseparable brothers”.

Moreover Pakistan, in recent years, has successfully curtailed terrorism and extremism in the country. This has provided the military establishment with significant first-hand knowledge and information regarding how to stabilise a region. By extending the lessons learnt as well as the expertise gained to Afghan security agencies, Pakistan can prove to be a critical ally in promoting the peaceful settlement of armed conflict in Afghanistan. Afghanistan, must in turn realise how important such a negotiating partner can be and extend full cooperation to Pakistani support in such an important time in their country’s life.

On the other hand, from the Afghan perspective we can also witness the blowing of some winds of change, a similar shift in policy; a softening balm on our frayed ties, no action shows this more than the recent three-day visit of His Excellency Dr Abdullah Abdullah to Pakistan. Abdullah Abdullah is an Afghan politician who leads the High Council for National Reconciliation, which led the intra-Afghan peace talks with the Taliban. He served as Chief Executive Officer of the Unity Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan from September 2014 until March 2020.

The visit had many important underscoring nuances which highlight the gradual positive shift in the Afghan leadership’s attitude towards Pakistan. Firstly, the fact that this visit took place at the exclusive request by the Prime minister of Pakistan speaks for itself. Secondly, this was his first ever official visit to Pakistan, such an event has never taken place before. Thirdly, our esteemed guest was given high diplomatic protocols that other state heads are given upon official visits. Thirdly, his visit included meetings with both high officials in civil and military bureaucracy, including Chief of Army Staff (COAS) General Qamar Javed Bajwa.

Lastly, H E Dr Abdullah Abdullah did not visit alone, the members of his royal entourage included Mustafa Mastoor, former minister of economy for Afghanistan as well as Dr Mujib Rahimi, his senior advisor and director of Strategic Communication at the High Council for National Rehabilitation. The addition of such members to the visit added another dimension regarding furthering talks of trade and development between the two countries.

H E Abdullah Abdullah’s visit proved to be a success as the Prime Minister Imran Khan took to twitter to update the nation about what they discussed. According to a tweet by the prime minister on Wednesday, the main theme of the discussion between the two centred on how Pakistan and Afghanistan should both earn lessons from the past and not remain in it.

Moreover, Abdullah Abdullah seemed to agree with Imran Khan according to statement during his talk at the Institute of Strategic Studies in Islamabad on Tuesday, “The time is now for both nations, to make a further detour, define a new vision, address outstanding issues as well as our shared interest, [and] realise that peace and stability in Afghanistan or any country in our south and central Asian geography [will] have a far reaching ripple effect.”

He also emphasised the start of negotiations between Kabul and the Taliban movement is an “important opportunity”. He added that as he was speaking in Pakistan, delegations from both the sides were in Doha “sitting around a table discussing ways and means of ending the decades of conflict through a political settlement in Afghanistan”.

Hence, as His Excellency mentions it is important to view the timing of his visit within the context of the larger picture. The visit came at a time when efforts were being made to evolve consensus among various Afghan groups, including the Afghan Taliban, for the future political dispensation. This signifies the strategic and tactical importance of Pakistan in the eyes of the leadership of H.E Abdullah Abdullah.

It is time Afghanistan welcomes the winds of change, peace and stabilisation. The people of Afghanistan have suffered tremendously over the last few decades, perhaps no one knows the pain and trauma that they have gone through more than the Pakistanis, who have had to endure much of the same treatment over the last many years. Now, is the time for both partners, neighbours, friends and allies to start working together to break this spell of brutality and violence that has suppressed their innocent people for so long and usher in an era of peace.