WASHINGTON - A new US Defence Department report says that improving Pakistan-Afghanistan relations since President Ashraf Ghani came to power represent a “promising trend for regional security”, while also welcoming that the desire indicated by both countries to coordinate cross-border security.

“The role of Pakistan remains critical to stability in Afghanistan,” the Pentagon report on Enhancing Security and Stability in Afghanistan said.

“Since President Ghani’s inauguration, Afghan and Pakistani leaders have conducted several high-level engagements and engaged in a cooperative security dialogue, representing a promising trend for regional security,” it added.

“Afghanistan and Pakistan also share mutual concerns over the potential emergence of ISIL elements in the region,” according to the report, which was submitted to Congress this month. It especially noted that Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif at a press conference on May 12 reaffirmed Pakistan’s support to an Afghan reconciliation process.

“Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif publicly condemned the Taliban’s spring offensive, insisting, “the enemies of Afghanistan cannot be friends of Pakistan”, the report noted. “President Ghani reinforced this message by similarly saying that the enemies of Pakistan cannot be the friends of Afghanistan.”

The Pakistani government created a National Action Plan to eliminate terrorism from inside its borders; this remains a long-term plan that will have to overcome significant obstacles, the report said.

The report notes that Afghanistan and Pakistan began to cooperate on shared security interests, especially in the wake of the terrorist attack on a school in Peshawar on December 16, 2014.

Since the start of the current year, the United States is no longer engaged in a combat mission in Afghanistan, and the Afghan government is responsible for its own internal security.

”The military-to-military relationship between Afghanistan and Pakistan is also showing improvement, and plans for future engagement have been gaining momentum,” the report said.

Since December 2014, the Pakistani military has pressured extremists and terrorists operating in the border region through operations, such as Operation Khyber II.

While undertaking Operation Khyber II, the Pakistani military attempted to coordinate bilaterally with Afghan military representatives instead of through US or coalition channels.

“Both the Afghan and Pakistan governments have indicated a desire to coordinate cross-border security and are in the process of finalising a Bilateral Military Coordination Standard Operating Procedure (SOP).”

The ANDSF (Afghan National Defence and Security Forces) are now attempting to capitalise on the Pakistani military operations on their side of the border.

“Recent Pakistan military operations have caused some disruption to the Haqqani Network. However, it has still been able to plan and conduct attacks.”

Regarding challenges confronting Afghanistan, the report says anti-Afghan forces, Al-Qaeda, the Taliban, the Haqqani Network, and others will continue to present a formidable threat to US, coalition and Afghan forces.

Going forward, “Pakistan remains critical to Afghanistan’s security and stability.”

The day after the school attack, General Raheel Sharif, Pakistan’s Chief of Army Staff, flew to Afghanistan to meet with President Ghani.

By the end of December 2014, the Pakistani government created a National Action Plan to eliminate terrorism from inside its borders; this remains a long-term plan that will have to overcome significant obstacles, the report said.

On December 23, 2014, Afghanistan’s Army Chief General Sher Mohammad Karimi met with General Raheel Sharif in Pakistan to discuss coordinating Pakistan-Afghanistan military and counterterrorism operations on both sides of the border.

According to the report, the “subsequent consultations between Afghan and Pakistani corps commanders showed some promise.”

Unlike his predecessor, President Ghani has accepted Pakistani offer for formal training of Afghan personnel and in February this year six Afghan cadets arrived to attend a course at the Pakistan Military Academy in Abbottabad.