ISLAMABAD          -          Pakistan and the United States are coming closer to clinching a permanent solution to the Afghan issue, top officials said on Sunday.

Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi said Pakistan had played a key role in setting the stage for the Afghan peace.

“Peace in Afghanistan is in our interest. We have played a great role in the process with all those who helped us (in this regard). We have worked with the US too,” he told The Nation. FM Qureshi said that both Pakistan and the US were satisfied over the progress on the Afghan peace.

Over the weekend, Pakistan opened its two border terminals at Torkham and Chaman for transit trade and exports to Afghanistan on the request of the Afghanistan government.

“Now, keeping in view both the countries’ desire to further increase mutual trade, in view of strong fraternal ties and due to renewed Afghan government’s request, it has been decided that with effect from June 22, 2020, the third border terminal at Ghulam Khan will be opened for bilateral trade and to allow transit trade and import from Afghanistan through Torkham and Chaman border terminals as well,” said a foreign ministry statement, announcing new developments.

This arrangement on trade, it said, will be in operation six days a week. Saturdays will be reserved for pedestrian movement at these border crossing terminals.

“These steps are being taken after implementing all necessary protocols related to COVID-19 pandemic,” the statement added.

The opening of Ghulam Khan border crossing terminal and allowing imports from Afghanistan reflects Pakistan’s resolve to help Afghanistan and facilitate its trade.

Pakistan is a major trading partner of Afghanistan and largest market for Afghan exports. The opening of Gwadar Port for Afghanistan’s export and import has further strengthened trade linkages between the two countries.

“Pakistan will continue to support a peaceful and economically stable Afghanistan,” the foreign ministry statement said.

Last week, Pakistan and Afghan Taliban discussed the peace process this week in Doha.

Special Representative for Afghanistan, Ambassador Muhammad Sadiq visited Doha, Qatar on June 16-17 and met Taliban leaders including Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar to discuss the peace and reconciliation process in Afghanistan.

“The Special Representative underlined that Pakistan will continue to play its role as facilitator for peace and reconciliation in Afghanistan. In this context, he referred to the highly productive visit of the Chief of Army Staff to Kabul recently, which had imparted a new impetus to Pakistan’s efforts,” a foreign ministry statement said.

The Special Representative appreciated the Taliban’s commitment to implement the US-Taliban peace agreement. He also noted that the release of prisoners as per the US-Taliban peace agreement would be a stepping stone towards an immediate re-start of Intra-Afghan negotiations.

“Pakistan hopes that all concerned parties will make sincere efforts for peace and reconciliation in Afghanistan. Pakistan, on its part, remains fully committed to support the Afghan Peace Process,” the statement said. This month, the US had lauded Prime Minister Imran Khan and Army Chief Qamar Javed Bajwa’s role for Afghan peace.

US Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad had visited Islamabad on June 7 and met Chief of Army Staff General Qamar Javed Bajwa. Ambassador Khalilzad discussed steps required for the start of intra-Afghan negotiations.

Zalmay Khalilzad said that prisoners releases in Afghanistan had reached a new milestone. “We welcome the government now having exceeded 3,000 Talib prisoners released and the Taliban 500+. It is important that the process continues and the prisoners release roadblock resolved,” he said.

He added: “The Afghan-owned and Afghan-led negotiations between the inclusive Islamic Republic team and the Taliban negotiating team must begin immediately thereafter. From the start, getting to intra-Afghan negotiations has been a key objective of our diplomacy.”

Khalilzad welcomed the Taliban statement specifying they will participate in IAN within one week of the prisoner release commitment outlined in the peace agreement.

“Although many practical details need to be worked out, these developments are all very positive. We are closer to the goal of IAN than ever before. All sides must work to get to the negotiations table ASAP (as soon as possible) and prevent spoilers from undermining the process & betraying the hopes and yearning of Afghan people for peace,” he tweeted