ISLAMABAD - Pakistan yesterday said it was ready to help Afghanistan in its quest for peace and development as two important developments came on both these fronts the same day.

The two neighbours on Monday vowed to enhance bilateral trade and agreed to initiate two massive regional infrastructure projects, which in effect would be an extension of China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) – a master interconnectivity and development project that is believed to change the fortune of the whole region.

A Joint Economic Commission of the two countries agreed to launch an energy corridor to bring 2000 megawatt electricity from Turkmenistan to Pakistan through Afghanistan and start work on a road project connecting Herat-Khuzdar-Gwadar.

In a boost for peace hopes, the Afghan Taliban on Monday named a new head for their political office in Qatar, who is considered to be a supporter of peace talks with Kabul. Sher Mohammad Abbas Stanekzai, a former anti-Soviet fighter, and his deputy Abdul Salam Hanafi were reportedly appointed by the insurgents’ leader Mulla Akhtar Mansour.

These developments have come after the separate visits of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and Army Chief General Raheel Shareef to the US where Afghanistan was a key item on the agendas of their talks with US officials.

“Both the sides (Islamabad and Kabul) reaffirmed the commitment to enhance the trade volume between the two countries to $5 billion by the end of 2017,” Finance Minister Ishaq Dar said while addressing joint press conference along with his Afghan counterpart Eklil Ahmad Hakimi.

Current level of trade volume between two sides is around $2-2.5billion. Dar said that construction of Torkham-Jalalabad road, Rehman Baba School and Nishtar Kidney Centre are already on track.

“Apart from the economic and trade issues, the security issues would also remain on top of the agenda of Pakistan and Afghanistan. We both, Pakistan and Afghanistan are committed to bring peace in the region by eliminating terrorism,” the minister added.

To a question regarding giving access to India to Afghanistan through Pakistan, Dar said, “We want access to the Central Asia and Afghanistan want access to South Asia. Both the countries are working on it”.

He announced that the 5th meeting of the Afghan Pakistan Transit Trade Agreement would be held in Kabul in March next year. Similarly, the first meeting for Preferential Trade Agreement would also hold on the sideline of APTTA meeting. The meeting of joint business council would meet in the first quarter of the upcoming year, he added.

Speaking on the occasion, Afghan Finance Minister Eklil Ahmad Hakimi said both the countries have tried to work closely on solution of the common challenges they are facing. He said that officials of the both countries would hold monthly meeting through video call.

Both countries want to exploit the potential gains that would emerge from the Herat-Khuzdar-Gwadar Corridor and electricity project from Turkmenistan to Pakistan through Afghanistan, said the Afghan minister, who is visiting Pakistan along with a ministerial delegation for the 10th Session of Pakistan-Afghanistan Joint Economic Commission.

Hakimi, who later headed a delegation to the PM House, was told by Prime Minister Nawaz that as part of its vision for peaceful and prosperous neighborhood, Pakistan was ready to help Afghanistan in its efforts for peace, prosperity and development.

Pakistan believes that a peaceful, prosperous and progressive Afghanistan is in the best interest of Pakistan and the region, the PM told Hakimi. He stressed the need of both the neighbouring countries to work strenuously to meet the target of taking bilateral trade volume to $5 billion.

The prime minister said that Pakistan attaches great importance to its brotherly relations with Afghanistan. He expressed his satisfaction over the positive momentum in the bilateral relations under the leadership of President Ashraf Ghani and stressed that new understanding of brotherly relations between the two countries must be sustained and further strengthened.

The prime minister also expressed his satisfaction over the resumption of work by Pakistani side on incomplete projects in Afghanistan’s health, education and other sectors and said that Pakistan would extend all possible support to Afghanistan in all sectors of development to consolidate long term bilateral and regional partnership.

Afghan finance minister thanked PM Nawaz for his special interest in peace and development of Afghanistan. He stated that President Ashraf Ghani shares the prime minister’s vision of economic development of the region through regional connectivity.

He lauded the prime minister’s efforts to improve regional connectivity through rail and road links. Afghanistan, in this regard, can be the transit hub between Pakistan and the Central Asian States, he added. Referring to CASA-1000 and other connectivity projects, Mr Hakimi stated that early realisation of these projects will provide a win-win situation for all the countries of the region.

Earlier in the day, addressing the Joint Economic Commission, Finance Minister Ishaq Dar said Pakistan and Afghanistan will have to work single-mindedly and with great zeal to meet the five billion dollars trade volume target till 2017, as the current trade volume between the two countries does not match the potential of the countries.

He also drew the attention towards some of the tariff and non-tariff barriers to bilateral and transit trade between the two countries. He said reasonable progress has been made towards facilitation of trade.

Ishaq Dar said for trade facilitation, Pakistan hoped Afghanistan would consider relaxing the visa issue regime, which impedes visits of Pakistani businessmen. He emphasised that the process of issuance of visa to the businessmen may be reciprocated.

He said the development projects being discussed are tangible milestones of cooperation between our two countries. “What is even more important is the spirit and commitment to peace and prosperity that we have for each other,” he said. He added educational scholarships to over two thousand Afghan students have been awarded in different disciplines.