ISLAMABAD (AP) — Afghanistan's new President Ashraf Ghani on Friday visited Pakistan's military headquarters in a sign of warming ties after more than a decade of mutual distrust between the two U.S. allies.
Ghani appeared to be aiming for a reset of a relationship that was often tense under his predecessor Hamid Karzai — who routinely accused Pakistan of turning a blind eye to the Taliban and other militants carrying out cross-border attacks from lawless tribal regions. Pakistan in turn accused Kabul of failing to police its own borders.
The Afghan leader was received at the military headquarters in the garrison city of Rawalpindi by Pakistan's army chief, Gen. Raheel Sharif, and given a briefing on the security situation along the Afghan border, the Pakistani military said in a statement. Ghani was accompanied by his defense minister, the Afghan army chief and other officials.
The Pakistani army said Ghani praised its efforts to fight terrorism and expressed his desire to bolster security and defense ties with Islamabad, including cooperation in training and border management.
The Afghan president's office in Kabul meanwhile said the two countries had agreed to double bilateral trade, currently worth an annual $2.5 billion, within two years. It did not mention security issues.
The Afghan leader is expected to meet his Pakistani counterpart, Mamnoon Hussain, as well as Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif.
On Thursday, Pakistan's foreign ministry spokeswoman Tasnim Aslam said that during Ghani's visit — his third foreign trip since his inauguration in September — the two sides would discuss a range of issues, including how to improve economic cooperation, border security and counterterrorism.
"Peace and stability in Afghanistan are in Pakistan's vital interest," Aslam said.
Ghani hopes Pakistan can help convince the Taliban to return to peace talks. In the past Pakistan has released jailed militants to facilitate negotiations.
Aslam said Islamabad supports "an Afghan-led and Afghan-owned peace and reconciliation process."
During his meetings, Ghani has raised the issue of improved access to Pakistan's markets for Afghan businessmen. His delegation of 145 includes businessmen as well as senior Afghan security officials.
Associated Press reporter Amir Shah in Kabul, Afghanistan contributed to this report.