ISLAMABAD/LONDON: Pakistan and Afghanistan on Thursday reported incremental progress during their overnight talks in London following the latest impasse in their relationship over terrorist sanctuaries, hinting that the dialogue process may continue.
There was, however, no immediate breakthrough on the most pressing issue: reopening of border crossings that Pakistan shut after last month’s spike in terrorist attacks, blamed on terrorists with sanctuaries on Afghan soil.
The two sides, nevertheless, agreed to take “tangible” confidence building measures related to each other’s concerns.
Sources in the Pakistani High Commission described Wednesday’s interaction as “positive, productive and held in a cordial atmosphere”. They said Pakistan had raised the issue of Afghan-based groups involved in terrorist activities in the country, such as the recent attacks in Lahore and Sehwan.
Discussions between Sartaj Aziz, Afghan NSA continued on the second day of London meeting
The meeting between PM’s Adviser on Foreign Affairs Sartaj Aziz and Afghan National Security Adviser (NSA) Haneef Atmar — the first high-level face-to-face contact between the two countries since tensions escalated — was facilitated by British NSA Mark Lyall Grant.
Mr Aziz and Mr Atmar had been talking to each other over the telephone earlier as well to defuse tensions and explore prospects of cooperation against terrorism. These chats, however, had failed to break the impasse. Both sides met again on Thursday night.
In a message posted on his Facebook page after Wednesday’s talks, Dr Omar Zakhilwal — the Afghan ambassador to Islamabad — said the London meeting was held “to discuss and agree on a mechanism for genuine bilateral cooperation on fighting terrorism, agree on steps and measures to improve the current tense bilateral relations and mutual trust”.
“We are positive that the implementation of the mechanism we agreed upon can inject the needed trust and confidence for constructive forward-looking state-to-state relations and cooperation,” Dr Zakhilwal wrote.
A senior Pakistani diplomat, who attended the meeting, described the outcome of the discussion as “forward-looking”.
“Some progress was achieved, but discussions would continue,” he added.
The Afghan side, meanwhile, said the meeting was “good and constructive” and there was movement towards addressing concerns on both sides. “We will continue talking to build on the progress made during the meeting,” an Afghan diplomat told Dawn.
In response to a question about the reopening of border crossings, whose continued closure was turning into a humanitarian crisis for the landlocked Afghanistan, the Pakistani diplomat said they would be opened soon, depending on how Kabul proceeded on agreed steps.
Speaking at the weekly media briefing in Islamabad, Foreign Office spokesperson Nafees Zakaria explained that the border closures were “a temporary measure” and steps were being taken to address the challenge of sanctuaries in Afghanistan “so that sooner than later we are able to open the border, and resume the trading of goods and interaction of the people as usual”.
“I can’t give you the date, but we are mindful and are taking measures which are essential,” he said.
The dialogue in London was focused on mutual concerns about existence of terrorist sanctuaries on each other’s soil. Soon after the bombing of Lal Shahbaz Qalandar’s shrine, the Pakistan Army had handed over a list of wanted 76 TTP and Jamaat-ul-Ahrar (JuA) terror suspects living in hideouts along the Pakistan-Afghan border to Kabul.
Afghanistan then responded by sending a list of 85 Taliban and Haqqani network ‘commanders’, allegedly residing in Pakistan and linked any action against TTP and JuA terrorists to “verifiable action” by Pakistan.