ISLAMABAD - Foreign Minister Makhdoom Shah Mehmood Qureshi Saturday reiterated Pakistan’s support for the Afghan national unity government’s efforts to bring lasting peace in Afghanistan.

He assured the Afghan leadership that Pakistan, along with other partners, was ready to play a constructive role in facilitating an Afghan-led and Afghan-owned peace process and reconciliation.

The foreign minister led a high-level official delegation on his maiden foreign visit to Kabul.

During the visit, he met Afghan President Mohammad Ashraf Ghani and Chief Executive Dr Abdullah Abdullah and held delegation-level talks with his Afghan counterpart Salahuddin Rabbani.

“The visit provided an opportunity to set out the contours of the new government’s future engagement with Afghanistan to build mutually beneficial relationship and enhance cooperation between the two countries,” the Foreign Office in a press statement said.

During his visit, Qureshi conveyed to the Afghan leadership that the new government attached importance to its relations with Afghanistan and would work towards further deepening cooperation in the fields of trade development and connectivity.

The foreign minister handed over a letter from Prime Minister Imran Khan addressed to the Afghan president marking the first consignment of 40,000 tonnes of wheat gifted to the Afghan people.

He underscored the importance of cooperation and coordination between the two countries in the areas of counter-terrorism and security and offered to train Afghan police and law enforcement agencies in Pakistani institutions.

The Afghanistan-Pakistan Action Plan for Peace and Solidarity (APAPPS) provided the most useful platform to deliver the objectives, he added.

Qureshi also underlined the importance of frequent high-level engagements between the two countries that had contributed in building trust and improving mutual understanding.

He emphasised to maintain the upward trajectory in bilateral relations through more high-level visits during the upcoming months. He also invited President Ghani to visit Pakistan.

In the context of enhancing trade between the two countries, Pakistan had decided to waive off regulatory duty on imports from Afghanistan. As a result Afghan exports to Pakistan have recorded substantial increase of 118 percent in 2018.

The minister said Pakistan would fast-track steps, including standardisation and automation of custom procedures, upgradation of infrastructure at crossing points between the two countries.

For the second phase of 3000 scholarships, more than 600 scholarships had already been granted and Afghan students would start their semester next fall.

The two foreign ministers took decisions on four meetings, including hosting of the Joint Economic Commission (JEC), to convene the meeting of Afghanistan-Pakistan Transit Trade Coordination Authority (APTTCA), meeting of the Steering Committee of the Joint Ulema Conference and the meeting of the working groups of APAPPS.

Foreign Minister Qureshi highlighted the unmatched hospitality extended by the people of Pakistan for their Afghan brothers and sisters, and underlined the need for dignified and sustainable repatriation of Afghan refugees to their homeland through a gradual and time-bound plan.

They also agreed to expedite matters related to providing necessary security to Pakistan Consulate General in Jalalabad to ensure its early operationalisation.

VISIT WAS ‘VERY ADVANTAGEOUS’

Foreign Minister Qureshi said his visit to Kabul was "very advantageous" and the "clouds of fear have faded away."

Speaking to a private TV channel after having met Afghan leadership, he said "Today's visit to Kabul remained very advantageous. I understand that the clouds of fear have faded away."

He said both the countries had decided to strengthen contacts and further the reconciliation process. "We have come here for the betterment of the people of both countries and we will have to deal with mutual challenges together."

Qureshi said he had finalised a few things with the Afghan president, chief executive and foreign minister. The minister said President Ghani and CE Abdullah will visit Pakistan in October.

Following his meeting with CE Abdullah, Qureshi said the Afghan economic commission will be visiting next month and the next round of talks between the two countries would also be held in October.

He noted if Pakistan and Afghanistan had to extend their economic ties, then the two countries will have to constitute a joint economic commission.

Monitoring Desk adds: Kabul and Islamabad agreed to hold the second round of trilateral meeting between Afghanistan, Pakistan and China, reported Tolo News.

After his arrival in Kabul, Qureshi went to Presidential Palace where he met with President Ghani and later with Rabbani at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Ghani and Qureshi discussed peace, security and stability in the region, joint efforts against terrorism and the implementation of Afghanistan-Pakistan action plan, the Afghan Presidential Palace said in a statement.

In his meeting with Abdullah at Sapedar Palace, both sides discussed a range of issues including fighting terrorism, improving Kabul-Islamabad relations.

“We expressed the hope that the relations between the two countries will improve under the new administration (in Pakistan) and we hoped that the two countries will cooperate with each other in fighting terror and using the opportunities on the ground for improvement and expansion of economic ties (between Afghanistan and Pakistan,” Chief Executive Abdullah said on his Facebook page after his meeting with Pakistani foreign minister.

The Afghan Ministry of Foreign Affairs said Rabbani and his Pakistani counterpart discussed Afghanistan-Pakistan Action Plan for Peace and Solidarity (APAPPS), Afghanistan-Pakistan’s Ulema Meeting, and holding of the second round of the trilateral meeting between Afghanistan, Pakistan and China.

The Afghan ministry said the two sides agreed to hold the Ulema meeting in the near future and they also agreed on holding the trilateral meeting. The ministry however did not give information that when and where the meetings will be held.

“Afghanistan also requested Pakistan to hand over to Kabul the murderer of Afghan diplomat ((Mohammad Zaki) Abdu who was assassinated in Karachi,” Afghan Foreign Ministry spokesman Sebghatullah Ahmadi said.

The last trilateral meeting between the three countries was hosted by China in December 2017 where Beijing tried to mediate between Kabul and Islamabad to help them improve their relations. Afghan Foreign Ministry has said it is optimistic about Pakistan’s new government policies and hopes that Islamabad fulfills its promises on fighting terrorism.