Islamabad and Kabul are close to signing a deal that will allow the Pakistan Army to train Afghan national security forces, in the latest sign of improving ties between the neighbouring nations.
The progress was made during talks between visiting Afghan Defence Minister Bismillah Khan Mohammadi and army chief General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani at the General Headquarters in Rawalpindi on Monday.
Pakistan has long been offering Afghanistan to train its army but, until now, Kabul had shown little interest, largely due to the trust deficit between the two countries.
The talks, led by the Afghan defence minister and the Pakistani army chief, proved to be decisive as the two sides agreed to explore the possibility of “military training exchanges,” a senior military official disclosed to The Express Tribune.
The official said the Afghan delegation would visit military institutions as part of efforts to assess how the two neighbours could enter into an accord to strengthen military-to-military contacts.
He added that that Pakistan has one of the best military training institutions in the region and this could help Afghan forces, including its officers and soldiers.
A statement issued by the Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) also hinted at progress in talks over military training.
The statement said the two sides discussed matters of professional interest, with particular focus on “enhancing mutual defence cooperation and measures that the Afghan National Army and Pakistan Army intend to initiate for an enduring training relationship.”
Another official said that the visit is “likely to mark a new page in the history of Pak-Afghan relations.”
“It is also of note that General Bismillah is a non-Pashtun, a Tajik, by origin. This vindicates the fact that Pakistan is moving ahead with the vision of a broad-based relationship with Afghanistan,” said the official.
Pakistan is considered crucial for the peace process in Afghanistan because of its historic ties with Afghan insurgents, including the Taliban.
The official said General Kayani told the Afghan defence minister that Pakistan would make all-out efforts for a “peaceful, stable and united Afghanistan”.
Gen Kayani maintained that the release of Taliban detainees was part of Pakistan’s ‘sincere efforts’ to help the Afghan-led and Afghan-owned reconciliation process.
He also assured the Afghan delegation of full support to bring normalcy to the border region, which “should have a direct and positive effect on the stability in Afghanistan so that situation could become ripe for the drawdown of Isaf forces in 2014”.
The two sides also discussed the possibility of converting the existing trilateral border control mechanism into bilateral arrangement once the US-led foreign forces leave the country.
In his remarks, the Afghan defence minister thanked Pakistan for releasing some important Taliban prisoners, which, he said, would help kick-off a broad-based intra-Afghan dialogue.
The Afghan defence minister also called on President Asif Ali Zardari and discussed defence cooperation and the fight against extremism.
President Zardari said Pakistan attached great importance to its ties with Afghanistan and added that the delegation’s visit would help further cement relations.
Published in The Express Tribune, January 29th, 2013.