At the invitation of the Centre for Strategic Studies (CSS), Kabul, a delegation of the Institute of Strategic Studies Islamabad (ISSI) visited Afghanistan from 21-23 August 2023. The delegation was led by Director General ISSI, Ambassador Sohail Mahmood and included the Director of the Centre for Afghanistan, Middle East and Africa (CAMEA), Ms. Amina Khan.
During the visit, the ISSI delegation held several interactions, which included a call on the Acting Foreign Minister of the Interim Afghan Government (IAG), H.E. Mr. Amir Khan Muttaqi; and Bilateral Dialogue with the Centre for Strategic Studies, headed by Mr. Waliullah Shaheen, Director General CSS. Amb. Sohail Mahmood also delivered a lecture on Pakistan-Afghanistan relations at the Institute of Diplomacy, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Afghanistan.
During the ISSI delegation’s meeting with Acting Foreign Minister Muttaqi, Mr. Obaid Ur Rehman Nizamani, the Chargé d’ Affaires of Pakistan in Kabul, was also present. The meeting focused on Pakistan-Afghanistan relations, where Acting Foreign Minister Muttaqi underlined the closeness of ties between the two countries, reinforced by numerous commonalities of faith, culture and geography. Mr. Muttaqi apprised the delegation regarding progress achieved under the Interim Government regarding ensuring overall security in the country, improving the economy, controlling poppy cultivation, and addressing corruption. He also highlighted notable progress registered in bilateral trade between Pakistan and Afghanistan and talked about the need to further focus on regional trade and connectivity. He stressed strengthening of bilateral dialogue particularly on issues of mutual concern.
During the meeting, Amb. Sohail Mahmood reviewed the developments during the two years of Afghan Interim Government, particularly in the realm of security and stability, economy, curbing corruption, and reducing poppy cultivation. He also talked about the importance of Pakistan-Afghanistan relations and the recent positives in terms of enhanced bilateral trade. Amb. Sohail Mahmood underscored Pakistan’s role in efforts for stabilization of Afghanistan and stressed the urgency of addressing matters relating to border security and counter-terrorism through close consultations and collaboration. He further stressed that a peaceful, stable and prosperous Afghanistan was in Pakistan’s interest and would be best suited to advance the common interests of trade and connectivity through CPEC and other mega infrastructure projects.
During the Bilateral Dialogue between the ISSI delegation and CSS, DG ISSI Amb. Sohail Mahmood, while shedding light on the relationship, said that there are no other two countries in the region that have so much in common as Pakistan and Afghanistan do; from geographical proximity to common faith to shared history to ties of ethnicity and kinship to cultural and linguistic affinities, the two peoples are bound by indissoluble bonds. “This makes positive mutual engagement a matter not of choice, but of necessity,” he stressed. He added that it is time for Pakistan and Afghanistan to place the bilateral relationship on a sounder basis that addresses the security concerns, strengthens the efforts for a robust economic partnership, and promotes the agenda of regional connectivity and economic integration.
Mr. Waliullah Shaheen, Director General, CSS, stressed the importance of bilateral relations – stressing that the relationship must be approached through the prism of a new narrative revolving around ‘friendship and mutual understanding’ as there is no other way to approach the relationship, since ties are intertwined. A new approach should be evolved in order to deal with sensitive matters and develop bilateral cooperation into a complimentary relationship. Think-tanks like CSS and ISSI could help promote such an approach, he observed.
Amb. Sohail Mahmood also delivered a lecture at the Foreign Ministry’s Institute of Diplomacy, in which he focused on the evolving geopolitical environment at the global and regional levels and other developments in the economic and political realms that should be a matter of concern for the international community. He noted several key developments in the post-August 2021 Afghanistan including the prevalence of relative peace, albeit with continuing attacks from Daesh/ISKP; increase in IAG revenue generation; expansion in Afghanistan’s overall trade volume; decrease in poppy cultivation; and efforts to combat corruption. He also underlined the international country’s expectations regarding inclusivity, womens’ rights and girls’ education, and effective counter-terrorism action. Amb. Sohail Mahmood also spoke about the importance of the Pakistan-Afghanistan relationship and underscored that both countries suffer from trans-national terrorism, which warrants mutual cooperation and a collective response. He added that Islamabad and Kabul should explore the formation of a broader framework of institutional engagement, which entails regular consultations and identifies pathways for cooperation in other areas. He stressed that a pragmatic and holistic approach needs to be adopted to addresses the key issues with the aim to find practical solutions that alleviate the concerns and maximize the convergences.
During the visit, the ISSI and CSS agreed to strengthen mutual exchanges as part of think-tank collaboration and people-to-people contacts between Pakistan and Afghanistan. DG ISSI Amb. Sohail Mahmood also extended an invitation to Director General CSS Mr. Waliullah Shaheen to pay a return visit to Pakistan.