ISLAMABAD   -   Pakistan and Afghanistan on Thursday agreed to forget the past and open a new chapter of friendship and partnership based on mutual trust.

Pakistan told the visiting Afghan President Dr Ashraf Ghani that Islamabad supported the reconciliation process in Afghanistan and warned Kabul to stay away from trouble-makers.

The two countries agreed to cooperate based on mutual trust and harmony for the benefit of the two peoples and countries and for advancing the cause of peace, stability and prosperity in the region.

During a one-on-one meeting between Prime Minister Imran Khan and President Dr Ashraf Ghani here, it was decided to remain in contact and work jointly for peace. Ghani also met President Arif Alvi and Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi.

The Afghan president is accompanied by a high-level delegation including ministers, advisers, senior officials and businessmen. The main one-on-one meeting with PM Khan was followed by delegation-level talks.

The two leaders exchanged views on the entire gamut of bilateral relations.

Over the weekend, Prime Minister Khan said that Pakistan had “no favourite” in the upcoming presidential elections. The PM, who met a delegation of senior Afghan leaders leading different groups here, said Pakistan respected the Afghan people’s right to elect their leadership.

The Afghan leaders had earlier participated in the Lahore Peace Process organised by the Lahore Centre for Peace and Research in Bhurban. Fifty-seven Afghan politicians, including Hizb-e-Islami leader Gulbadin Hekmatyar, former Balkh governor Atta Mohammad Noor, Second Deputy Chief Executive Mohammad Mohaqeq, and presidential candidate Abdul Latif Pedram, attended the peace conference in Pakistan.

The presidential election scheduled for 28 September will be a key moment to reaffirm the legitimacy of Afghanistan’s democratic political structure. There are significant operational and technical challenges to be overcome.

President Ghani had undertaken a bilateral visit to Pakistan in November 2014 and later came to attend the Heart of Asia - Istanbul Process Ministerial Conference in Islamabad in December 2015.

Prime Minister Khan affirmed that Pakistan remained committed to bring about a qualitative transformation in Pak-Afghan relations as part of his vision of a ‘peaceful neighbourhood.’ The two leaders agreed on the importance of crafting a forward-looking vision of Pak-Afghan relations.

The premier reiterated Pakistan’s commitment to support the Afghan peace process as a shared responsibility. He underlined that an Afghan-led and Afghan-owned peace process was the only viable option to end decades-long conflict in Afghanistan. In this regard, Pakistan supports a result-oriented intra-Afghan dialogue.

Prime Minister Khan underscored Pakistan’s respect for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Afghanistan and its commitment to stand by the Afghan people at this crucial juncture.

He added that Pakistan remains committed to a peaceful, stable, democratic and prosperous Afghanistan and wishes to have stronger political, trade, economic, and people-to-people relations with Afghanistan.

The two leaders agreed that enduring peace in Afghanistan would bring rich economic dividends to both the countries. They reaffirmed their commitment to work together to broaden and deepen bilateral trade, streamline transit trade, and strengthen efforts for connectivity, said an official statement.

It was recognised that early completion of major energy connectivity projects such as Central Asia-South Asia electricity transmission line and Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India gas pipeline will bring long-term economic benefits to the countries involved. Further ways of strengthening trade, infrastructure and energy connectivity were explored.

It was agreed to optimally utilise the existing mechanisms, including Afghanistan-Pakistan Transit Trade Coordination Authority and Joint Economic Commission, to remove difficulties in transit and bilateral trade and to explore new possibilities of mutually-beneficial economic and commercial relations.

There was also an exchange of views on regional issues. The Prime Minister shared his vision for peace, progress and prosperity in South Asia.

Later, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and his delegation held meeting with Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi and his delegation.

President Ghani appreciated Pakistan’s efforts in peace process in Afghanistan. He said Pakistan should continue the efforts.

Qureshi said Pakistan will continue playing its role for peace in Afghanistan with sincerity, good intentions and open heart. He said Afghan people have suffered a lot due to the instability prevailing in Afghanistan for decades.

He said Pakistan had always emphasised on result-oriented talks believing that this is the only way to establish durable peace in Afghanistan. He expressed confidence that the Afghan President’s visit to Pakistan will bring the two countries closer and strengthen bilateral relations.

During the meeting, both the leaders also deliberated on the regional security and trade relations.

The wide-ranging talks focussed on strengthening bilateral cooperation in diverse areas including political, trade, economic, security, peace and reconciliation, education and people-to-people exchanges.

In a statement, the Foreign Office said the people of Pakistan and Afghanistan are bound by fraternal ties reinforced by historical, religious, linguistic and cultural affinities. Closer engagement between the leaders will help foster a stronger and multi-faceted relationship between Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Speaking to journalists after the meeting, Qureshi said Afghanistan should be aware of the trouble-makers who do not want peace in Afghanistan. “Some elements are not happy over the growing ties between Pakistan and Afghanistan. We should remain alert,” he said.

Qureshi said Pakistan had kept the Torkham border open to facilitate the trade. “We have also made the visa process easy. There is a consensus on further improving the relationship,” he added.

The FM said the two countries had decided to forget the past and work on a new beginning towards peace and trust. “The conference in Murree was also successful. The talks today (June 27) were also positive,” he said.

Earlier, addressing a ceremony at Institute of Strategic Studies, the Foreign Minister said Pakistan was expecting betterment in peaceful and prosperous Afghanistan. “Pakistan is very clear in its objective with regard to peaceful Afghanistan. There will be challenges on the road to peace and prosperity that needs to be overcome jointly. We both are aware of the challenges,” he remarked.

He said prosperity of Pakistan was possible if there was peace and tranquillity in Afghanistan. “We assure our utmost cooperation for a peaceful Afghanistan. Pakistan and Afghanistan stood by each other through thick and thin and shared grief of each other,” he reminded.

He said both countries had common agenda of peace and people of both countries also want better relations between the two countries. He said both countries have to look for the future of coming generations.

President Ghani will also travel to Lahore where he will participate in a business forum that will be attended by business representatives from both countries.

Ghani also separately met PML-N President Shehbaz Sharif and PPP chief Bilawal Bhutto Zardari and discussed issues of mutual interest.