ISLAMABAD - Pakistan Thursday expressed the hope that Islamabad and Kabul would cease the opportunity to re-set their relations during the two days official visit of newly sworn-in Afghan President Ashraf Ghani beginning from today (Friday).

Sharing details of the important visit of the Afghan President at weekly press briefing, Foreign Office spokesperson Tasnim Aslam said President Ghani will hold bilateral meetings with President Mamnoon Hussain and Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and discuss bilateral relations and regional security situation. “Issues pertaining to border security will also come under discussion during meetings with the top leadership”, she added.

President Ghani’s visit comes on the heels of a trip undertaken by Chief of Army Staff General Raheel Sharif to Kabul, which was widely seen as the ice breaker between the two sides after the presidential elections in Afghanistan. The spokesperson said the Afghan president would be accompanied by a high-level delegation, including senior leaders, cabinet ministers, high-ranking officials and business representatives.

She sounded upbeat that the visit of President Ghani would help advance this process of consolidation and further expansion of Pakistan-Afghanistan relations, to the mutual benefit of the two countries and of peace, stability and development in the region. She noted that recent developments offer a unique opportunity to transform the bilateral ties and build a stronger and forward-looking relationship.

This is the first visit of President Ashraf Ghani to Pakistan after assuming office in September 2014. The visit comes at a historic juncture in Afghanistan, marked by the recent peaceful transfer of power and formation of the Government of National Unity.  During the visit, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and President Ashraf Ghani would hold in-depth consultations on all dimensions of Pakistan-Afghanistan relations – with particular focus on bilateral political engagement, trade and economic cooperation, border security and counter-terrorism, energy and connectivity, reconstruction and rehabilitation, and people-to-people contacts. The prime minister would also host a luncheon in honour of President Ashraf Ghani. President Mamnoon will have a meeting with President Ghani and also host a banquet in his honour.

The spokesperson said that relations between Pakistan and Afghanistan are based on immutable bonds of faith, culture and kinship. The two nations are also linked by geography and shared history. They have faced many challenges together and stood by each other in times of need. Pakistan continues to host millions of Afghan refugees.

Peace and stability in Afghanistan are in Pakistan’s vital interest. Pakistan has consistently supported an Afghan-led and Afghan-owned peace and reconciliation process. In the economic realm, it has been our constant endeavor to ensure that Pakistan-Afghanistan relations are underpinned by a strong trade and economic partnership, Tasneem said.

The current volume of bilateral trade is over $2 billion, but has the potential for tremendous growth. Pakistan’s major exports to Afghanistan include rice, petroleum products, animal and vegetable fats and oils, dairy products, construction material, plastic articles, fruits and vegetables, wooden products, chemicals, pharmaceuticals, and electrical machines. Major imports from Afghanistan include vegetables, fruits, raw cotton, carpets and rugs, and hides and skins.

The transit trade is regulated by the Afghanistan-Pakistan Transit Trade Agreement (APTTA), which facilitates Afghanistan’s access to foreign markets through Pakistani sea-ports and land routes. Both sides have been engaged in efforts to ensure the optimal utilisation of the APTTA and are considering its extension to Central Asia.

The spokesperson said that Pakistan has all along supported peaceful democratic transition in Afghanistan and to underscore the importance Pakistan attached to this process, President Mamnoon Hussain travelled to Kabul to attend the swearing-in ceremony on September 29, 2014.

Subsequently, Adviser to the PM on National Security and Foreign Affairs, Sartaj Aziz, visited Kabul on October 19, 2014 as prime minister’s special envoy to deliver his formal invitation to President Ashraf Ghani to visit Pakistan. There have since been other high-level exchanges as well, including the visit of the Chief of Army Staff Gen Raheel Sharif to Kabul on November 6, 2014.

The spokesperson refuted media reports that Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif had written a letter seeking a meeting with his Indian counterpart Narendra Modi on the sidelines of South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) Summit scheduled to be held in Kathmandu later this month. She made it clear that no such letter was written.

Answering questions about Pakistan’s role in counter terrorism, Tasneem Aslam said Pakistan condemns terrorism in all its forms and manifestations and is fighting terrorism through a meaningful and effective ongoing military operation.