November 18, 2013
ISLAMABAD – During Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s first official visit to Kabul for consultations with the top Afghan leadership, major joint declarations to establish vital energy and communication links between the two neighbouring countries are expected, according to diplomatic sources.
“The visit is likely to take place sometime between November 30 and December 4 and dates are currently being firmed up through diplomatic channels,” well-placed sources told The Nation Saturday.
The need for consultations was discussed and Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s visit tentatively planned during the trilateral Pakistan-Afghanistan-UK meeting in London hosted by the British prime minister last month. Preparatory work for the PM’s day-long visit is almost complete and Pakistan’s Ambassador to Afghanistan Muhammad Sadiq also arrived here over the weekend to fine-tune the proposed plan, it is learnt.
The focus of the talks would be political and economic as it was when Afghan President Hamid Karzai visited Pakistan in August, sources said. Afghan peace and reconciliation process will be high on the agenda as will be collaboration in reconstruction, power and infrastructure projects. Progress has been made on all fronts and it would be reflected in a joint statement to be issued after the bilateral talks in Kabul, according to informed sources.
The two sides have reached an understanding on key areas of cooperation like infrastructure projects, communication and energy sectors. Broad declarations are expected during the PM’s upcoming visit to Kabul on specific joint ventures, including Kunar dam which has a potential capacity to generate 1,500mw of electricity, Peshawar-Kabul motorway and other connectivity projects like Chaman-Kandahar railway line. Officials do not rule out the possibility of signing of a couple of bilateral agreements.
Both the sides have agreed to jointly pursue the construction and utilisation of a hydroelectric dam on the Kunar River which flows through Afghanistan into Pakistan. Reportedly, Pakistan is helping Afghanistan design and develop the project as part of its support for reconstruction of Afghanistan at this point.
In the context of Afghanistan, the PM’s thrust has been that bilateral relations must be underpinned by a strong trade and economic partnership with a particular focus on expanded trade, economic cooperation and trans-regional projects for connectivity.
President Karzai had said at a joint press conference during his visit here in August that he expects Pakistan to facilitate and help in manners it can the peace process in Afghanistan and in providing opportunities for talks between the Afghan High Peace Council and the Taliban movement.
Pakistan responded to the Afghan president’s call and the Afghan High Peace Council’s request by releasing a number of important Taliban leaders, including top commander Mulla Baradar, to help advance the Afghan reconciliation process.
While there is no official confirmation, informal contacts between members of the Afghan High Peace Council (AHPC), Taliban and Mulla Baradar have been reported. However, it is not clear if Baradar has been authorised and given a clear mandate by the Taliban leadership for a formal peace dialogue with the AHPC members. It is widely believed that these talks would be politically meaningless without the backing of Taliban.
There may be some difficulties for Islamabad on the question of organising Kabul’s talks with Mulla Baradar or his meeting with the AHPC delegation, but the bigger issue seems to be of Baradar getting a mandate from the Taliban leadership for the talks as without that it would be a futile exercise.
The PML-N government’s message to the Afghan leadership throughout has been that Pakistan does not have any favourites. Mindful of the past policies of favourites, the Nawaz Sharif government does not want to be seen as supporting favourites any more or be blamed on that score.
Islamabad’s repeated assurance to the Afghan government has been that Pakistan’s role in the Afghan peace process will only be as much as the Afghans would want from it. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has consistently conveyed Pakistan’s strong support for peace and reconciliation in Afghanistan, through an inclusive, Afghan-owned and Afghan-led process.
PM lands in Thailand
Agencies add: Prime Minister Muhammad Nawaz Sharif on Sunday arrived here on a three-day official visit. He was received by Deputy Prime Minister of Thailand Pracha Promnok at the airport. The Prime Minister will hold a meeting and delegation-level talks with his Thai counterpart who will also host a gala dinner in honour of Nawaz Sharif and his spouse during the visit.The Prime Minister will also address the inaugural session of Connect Asia Pacific Summit 2013 and will visit the IMPACT Exhibition in Bangkok. The Prime Minister will also attend a luncheon meeting with prominent Thai and Pakistani businessmen.
Executive Secretary of United Nations Economic & Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (UNESCAP) Noeleen Heyzer will call on Nawaz Sharif during his visit. Begum Kulsoom Nawaz, Minister for Information Technology and Communication Anusha Rahman Ahmad Khan, Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on Foreign Affairs Tariq Fatemi and Foreign Secretary Jalil Abbas Jilani accompanied the prime minister. Pakistan’s Ambassador to Thailand Dr Sohail Khan said that the visit of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to Thailand would accelerate economic activity in the area. Talking to Pakistan Television (PTV), the ambassador said that the Prime Minister’s visit would enhance relations between the two countries in agriculture, defence, information technology and telecommunication sectors. The envoy said that vast opportunities were available in different sectors of Pakistan including agriculture and telecommunication. He said that the Asia-Pacific summit would boost business activity in the region. The ambassador said that business council and investors meetings would also be held to discuss ways for improving trade in the region. Dr Sohail Khan said that a number of products could be exported to Thailand, which would increase business volume.
Replying to a question, he said that different business delegations, including Lahore Chamber of Commerce and Industry would soon visit Thailand.