WASHINGTON - On the eve of Afghan President Ashraf Ghani's visit to the United States, the White House has expressed appreciation for consistently improving Pakistan-Afghanistan relations, seeing cooperation between the two neighbours toward regional stability at the important time of ongoing transition.

In this regard, senior American officials noted the importance of collaboration between Pakistan and Afghanistan toward Kabul’s reconciliation with the Taliban and acknowledged Islamabad’s stakes in the Afghan success.

Meanwhile, in an opinion piece in The Washington Post, President Ghani and Chief Executive Office Abdullah Abdullah noted that “our cooperation with Pakistan is increasingly depriving rebels of sanctuaries.”

In a White House conference call, US Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan Dan Feldman said “given the importance of the relationship with Pakistan and with other neighbours, and given the emphasis that Ghani and Abdullah have placed on reconciliation, it will certainly be part of the broader discussion,” during Ghani's visit beginning Sunday.

Hosting the Afghan leaders, Secretary of State John Kerry will chair one session at the Camp David on regional engagement and reconciliation in particular.

Feldman said the role Pakistan plays there is a “particularly important one and one that has really - the bilateral relationship between Afghanistan and Pakistan has really grown much stronger over the course of the last six months, given the outreach” by the top Pakistani and Afghan political and military leaders including Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, Army Chief Gen Raheel Sharif and President Ghani.

The two capitals are “through a variety of ways that they’re seeking to knit their two countries together in a variety of channels - economic and trade, by trying to continue to further the promise of the Afghan-Pakistan Transit Trade Agreement that was signed a few years ago, on cross-border military issues, on counterterrorism issues.”

The special envoy also noted that Pakistan credited Afghanistan for detaining six of the people wanted in relation to the Peshawar Army Public School massacre. Referring to the security cooperation, he said the first-ever military cadets from Afghanistan are now being trained for 18 months in Pakistan.

“So some very positive signs. And obviously all - moving towards opening this space for a strengthened relationship that provides stability on both sides of the border and that also paves the way for reconciliation process, should the Taliban senior leadership decide that they will take up the offer that President Ghani talked about in his inauguration address and elsewhere.”

“And we hope that we can continue to build on these gains for more stability in the region,” Feldman added.

Jeff Eggers, Senior Director for Afghanistan and Pakistan on the National Security Council, reaffirmed the US view that “Pakistan has an interest in promoting reconciliation because Pakistan has an interest in Afghanistan’s stability.”

“So this is something that’s now more clearly in both their interests because of the complexity and the degree to which the militancy in that border region can move in both directions. So it’s our hope that Pakistan’s commitment to promote, enable Afghan-led reconciliation will manifest in some real progress because it is through reconciliation that Afghanistan stands to gain the most in terms of peace and stability going forward,” Eggers added.

He noted that efforts aimed at reconciliation could potentially lay out a process for peace in Afghanistan.

“That is being pursued - more importantly directly between Kabul and Islamabad, and there’s been a series of discussions there to enable that.”

Besides focusing on the US-Afghan bilateral relations, the pace of US troops withdrawal from Afghanistan, and the economic support for Kabul, the White House discussions will cover Afghan reconciliation and regionally the importance of cooperation between Kabul and Islamabad, as Afghan leaders look to lead the country in all spheres, after 14 years of 9/11-sparked conflict in their country.

Regarding reports of IS militants trying to expand their reach to the region, Eggers said “There’s been some concern raised with the spread of the Islamic State and its potential emergence in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

“This is something that President Ghani is of course paying attention to and we are as well,” he said.

The IS is a factor, he said, “but it’s one of several ... that we see as emerging and developing over the last year that we’ll continue to monitor.”

Eggers said the US-Afghanistan relationship is markedly better now than what it was under former president Hamid Karzai.

“This is a qualitatively different relationship than we had with President Karzai,” he said.

Meanwhile, quoting top American officials, the Voice of America reported that during the visit President Ghani will discuss keeping more troops in Afghanistan than originally planned.

Washington had planned to draw down the number of US troops in Afghanistan from nearly 10,000 to just over 5,500 by the end of the year.

President Barack Obama was considering slowing down the withdrawal, officials said.

The officials said Obama was considering a request Ghani made several weeks ago for flexibility on the pace of the drawdown, according to Dan Feldman.

"Absolutely, we expect some discussion with regard to President Ghani's request for flexibility," Feldman said. "But no decisions have yet been made on that," he added.

q