Afghan, Pakistani leaders in talks to end ‘growing mistrust’

Pakistani PM Imran Khan meets with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani on the sidelines of the 14th Islamic Summit in Makkah. (AFP)
Updated 01 June 2019

Afghan, Pakistani leaders in talks to end ‘growing mistrust’

  • Breakthrough meeting offers hope on security, economic ties, analysts say

KABUL: Afghan President Ashraf Ghani held talks with Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan on Friday in what analysts described as a move to ease growing tensions between the neighboring countries.

The leaders met on the sidelines of the 14th Islamic Summit in Makkah and discussed improving relations and the Afghan peace process.

The meeting was the first between the two leaders since Khan took office last year.

With US and Taliban talks gaining momentum outside Afghanistan in recent months, Khan’s comments about the formation of an interim government in the country — to replace Ghani’s leadership — angered Kabul.

Afghanistan has also accused Islamabad of backing militants — a claim that Pakistan denies — and hampering its trade ties with India.

The meeting on Friday follows a visit to Pakistan by Hamdullah Mohib, Ghani’s national security adviser, several days ago.

Khan told Ghani that Islamabad supports “peace and stability in Afghanistan,” and favored an “Afghan-led and owned peace process,” the Pakistani prime minister’s office said in a statement.

Both leaders will discuss security and economic ties during Ghani’s coming visit to Pakistan, the statement said.

An official in Kabul confirmed that the meeting between the two leaders was the first since Khan became prime minister last year, but could not say when Ghani will visit Pakistan.

A statement issued by Ghani’s office said the two leaders also discussed “regional connectivity, trade and transit.”

Khan has promised to resolve the issue surrounding the closure of Pakistani air space to Afghan flights bound for India, the statement said. Pakistan barred the flights after clashes with India in the disputed Kashmir area.

Ties between Afghanistan and Pakistani have historically been uneasy, mostly due to a dispute over a border drawn by British rulers in the 19th century, which divided Pashtun families of Afghan origin and annexed swathes of Afghan territory to Pakistan.

Successive Afghan governments have accused Pakistan of aiding militants, which has further strained relations.

Zalmay Khalilzad, US special envoy for Afghanistan, welcomed the meeting between Ghani and Khan.

“Improved Afghan-Pakistan ties are key to reaching, implementing and capitalizing on opportunities for regional connectivity, integration and development,” he said in a tweet, adding that Washington was ready to help both sides mend ties.

An Afghan lawmaker, Daud Kalakani, told Arab News that the meeting “can be the start of a process for improving ties.”

Khan’s suggestion that Afghans lead the process was a “positive development,” he said.

However, political analyst Waheed Mozhdah said “mistrust” between Kabul and Islamabad runs so deep that the meeting offered little hope of an immediate change of relations.

“There are lots of problems and complications. There have been far more promising meetings in the past, but we have not seen any improvement. On the contrary, things have become worse,” he told Arab News.

Kabul assumes that Pakistan can influence the Taliban, while Pakistan opposes the growing presence of India in Afghanistan. Both factors make it difficult to improve ties, Mozhdah said.

Pompeo pledges close cooperation with India but trade, defense issues unresolved

Updated 26 June 2019

Pompeo pledges close cooperation with India but trade, defense issues unresolved

  • But US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo gave few specifics of how they would overcome disputes on issues
  • The disputes have led to higher trade tariffs by the two countries and created unease over the depth of their security alliance

NEW DELHI: US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo sought to reduce heightened trade tension with India on Wednesday, promising a renewed focus on negotiating improved trade and investment ties between the two nations.
But Pompeo, on a visit to India, gave few specifics of how they would overcome disputes on issues ranging from access to Indian markets for leading American companies to New Delhi’s demands for foreign firms to store Indian data in the country, and exports of steel and aluminum to the United States.
The two nations are “friends who can help each other all around the world,” Pompeo told a joint news conference with Indian Foreign Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar after they met.
The current differences were expressed “in the spirit of friendship,” he added.
The disputes have led to higher trade tariffs by the two countries and created unease over the depth of their security alliance.
In particular, the sudden introduction of new e-commerce rules for foreign investors in February angered the Americans because it showed New Delhi was prepared to move the goalposts to hurt two of the largest US companies, discount retailer Walmart, and Inc.
Walmart last year invested $16 billion to buy control of Indian e-commerce firm Flipkart.
Just days before Pompeo’s visit, India slapped higher retaliatory tariffs on 28 US products following Washington’s withdrawal of key trade privileges for New Delhi.
Jaishankar, a former Indian ambassador to the United States, played down the spat on Wednesday.
“If you trade with someone and they are your biggest trading partner, it is impossible you don’t have trade issues,” he said.
India’s ties with Russia and Iran, both now subject to US sanctions, are also a sore point.
US pressure has led India to stop buying oil from Iran, a top energy supplier. The United States has also stepped up pressure on India not to proceed with its purchase of S-400 surface-to-air missile systems from Russia.
The missile deal and Iranian oil were both discussed during their meeting, Jaishankar and Pompeo said, but mentioned no resolution of either at the news conference.
Earlier, Pompeo met Prime Minister Narendra Modi for talks at his official residence in the capital, New Delhi, and they exchanged handshakes in images broadcast on television.
“The Prime Minister expressed his strong commitment to achieve the full potential of bilateral relations in trade and economy, energy, defense, counterterrorism and people-to-people contacts,” the foreign ministry said in a statement, without elaborating.
Pompeo is expected to round off the trip with a policy speech hosted by the US embassy, before departing on Thursday for a summit of leaders of the Group of 20 nations in Japan.