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Tue, Oct

Afghan Officials Optimistic About Pakistani Army Chief Trip

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The cautious hope that has emerged around relations between Kabul and Islamabad in recent months was propelled to new heights this week with Pakistani Army Chief General Raheel Sharif's trip to Afghanistan on Tuesday.

General Sharif met with high ranking Afghan officials, and pledged that any enemy of Afghanistan was also an enemy of Pakistan, including militant groups like the Taliban.

While the Afghan government, along with the United States, has welcomed Sharif's visit and the verbal commitments he made, officials have said they await action on the part of Pakistan to prove the sincerity of their intentions.

Nevertheless, Sharif's trip and the comments he made during it appear to mark a major shift in relations between Afghanistan and Pakistan, which have been strained over the years as Islamabad has maintained covert support for militants groups inside Afghanistan and Kabul has increased ties with India. "Raheel Sharif has explicitly stated that the enemies of Afghanistan are the enemies of Pakistan as well," said Mujiburrahman Rahimi, a spokesman for Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah.

While meeting with President Ashraf Ghani, the Pakistani army chief was said to have pledged Islamabad's firm commitment to persuading the Taliban to attend peace negotiations. He reportedly said they would likely have a response within a matter of weeks. "We have conveyed the message to the Taliban that if they do not attend the peace negotiation table with Afghanistan at this stage, then we [Pakistan] will join Afghanistan to fight the militancy," General Rahimi was quoted saying.

The trip, and negotiations around security cooperation, have come at a time that the Afghan government has looked to improve relations with Pakistan across the board. "A new chapter of relations between Kabul and Islamabad has begun and the two sides are struggling to work together for the establishment of peace and expand their economic cooperation," Ministry of Foreign Affairs Strategic Studies Department head Faramarz Tamanna told TOLOnews.

Usually more skeptical when it comes to verbal commitments exchanged between the long-bitter neighbors, independent analysts have shown an unprecedented degree of optimism about the apparent shift in relations between Kabul and Islamabad that has occurred under the national unity government.

"Alongside peace restoration, Raheel Sharif has also pledged not to allow any insurgent groups, including the Taliban, to operate on its soil," political analyst Mia Gul Waseeq said.

Members of the public have also responded positively to the reports of progress. "We hope that suicide attacks do not happen in Afghanistan after these trips," Kabul resident Ghulam Farooq said.

Sharif's visit comes after a recent trip to Islamabad by Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu, who made it clear to the press that Turkey supports regional cooperation geared toward stabilizing Afghanistan. Turkey, one of the most powerful Muslim nations in the world, is now expected to play a complimentary role in burgeoning cooperation between Afghanistan and Pakistan.

"The peace and stability of Afghanistan is the peace and stability of Pakistan and Turkey," Prime Minister Davutoğlu said. "Therefore, we have a trilateral mechanism between Turkey, Pakistan and Afghanistan, and next month our ministers for foreign affairs will meet again and the trilateral summit will be held in Turkey."