ISLAMABAD - Pakistan military is leading efforts to normalise its ties with Afghanistan amid a standoff, officials said yesterday.

Senior government officials told The Nation that the recent visit by the Inter-Services Intelligence chief Lt. Gen. Faiz Hameed and Foreign Secretary Sohail Mahmood had been ‘positive’ and the two sides had agreed to soften the tone.

The high-level Pakistani delegation has travelled to Kabul on November 11 to discuss efforts to normalize relations between Islamabad and Kabul. The two neighboring Muslim-majority nations have an uneasy relationship. Kabul has long blamed Islamabad for supporting the Taliban in the country’s protracted war - a charge Pakistan rejects.

Last month, Afghanistan shut down its consulate in Peshawar over a dispute regarding ownership of a market. And in late October, Afghan and Pakistani security forces clashed along the countries’ disputed border, leaving several people dead.

This month, Pakistan’s embassy in Kabul said it was indefinitely closing its consular office in the Afghan capital due to security reasons, amid mounting tensions between the neighbouring countries.

Islamabad, Kabul to investigate thorny issues

Closure of the visa section came as a huge blow for many Afghans, hundreds of whom apply daily for permits to travel to Pakistan where they seek medical treatment, goods and university educations.

Pakistan’s foreign ministry said the Afghan charge d’ affaires had been summoned to “convey serious concerns over the safety and security of the diplomatic personnel of the embassy of Pakistan, Kabul, and its sub-missions.” Pakistan said the embassy staff members were being harassed.

“They were obstructed on the road and the embassy vehicles were also hit by motorcycles while going towards the embassy,” said a statement.

But weeks after the tension, ISI chief and foreign secretary’s visit to Kabul – carrying civil and military leadership’s messages - saw improvement in relations.

At the meeting with met Afghan National Security Adviser Hamdullah Mohib, ways to resolve the matter of harassment of diplomats in both Kabul and Islamabad, dispute over an Afghan market in Peshawar and border firing incidents were discussed.

“The two sides agreed that there will be a proper investigation and there will be efforts to resolve the issues to the satisfaction of the two countries. There will be more meetings soon to discuss the progress,” said a government official.

He said the military had always played a great role in building Pakistan’s ties with the international powers and neighbours.

“The military is again playing a positive role. The ISI chief assured the Afghan side that Pakistan is committed to friendship with Afghanistan and Kabul should not listen to the anti-Pakistan elements,” the official said.

Another official said Pakistan had tried to convince Afghanistan that the talks with the Afghan Taliban were not designed against Kabul. “(Pakistan told them) the only aim of talks with the Taliban is peace in Afghanistan,” he said citing the recent meeting in Kabul.

Lately, Pakistan and the United States are moving forward to resolve the Afghanistan issue as Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad visited Islamabad a few times.

Zalmay Khalilzad met Prime Minister Imran Khan, Chief of Army Staff General Qamar Javed Bajwa, and other government officials and discussed the current status of the Afghan peace process and the importance of reducing violence.

The Afghan government has set new conditions for talks with the Taliban and appeared to shed a previously conciliatory stand towards Pakistan.

Last month, Hamdullah Mohib, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani’s security adviser, said that Kabul wanted Pakistan, which says it wants peace, to not incite the conflict in Afghanistan and aid the Taliban. Kabul insists on a one-month ceasefire as a precondition for talks with the Taliban.

Pakistan has been pushing for a resumption of US-Taliban talks since they collapsed in September after US President Donald Trump declared the negotiations ‘dead.’

Trump’s declaration followed a series of violent attacks in Kabul that killed several people, including a US soldier.

Afghan President Ghani has been opposed to the US-Taliban deal negotiated in Qatar by Zalmay Khalilzad, because the Afghan government had been excluded from the talks.

Pakistan is leading the Afghan peace process as Afghan Taliban met the Pakistani civil and military leadership last month amid the group’s stalled dialogue with the United States.

The two sides agreed that peace was a mutual goal and talks were the only way to achieve normalise situation in the war-torn Afghanistan.

In October, the delegation of the Taliban Political Commission in Doha - led by Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar - held an important meeting with Prime Minister Imran Khan as part of negotiations to end persisting deadlock with the US regarding Afghan peace process.