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Pakistani trade delegation visits Kabul in sign of easing tensions over cross-border attacks


ISLAMABAD (AP) — A delegation from Pakistan’s Ministry of Commerce arrived in Kabul on Monday to meet its Afghan counterparts to discuss how to improve trade relations, after tensions have risen over cross-border militant attacks.

Last week, Pakistan’s military carried out rare airstrikes against suspected hideouts of the Pakistani Taliban inside Afghanistan, killing eight people and prompting Afghan forces to return fire.

The March 18 exchange came after seven Pakistani soldiers were killed in a suicide bombing and coordinated attack in northwest Pakistan. It had further strained ties between the sides, and officials believe that Monday’s visit by a senior bureaucrat, Mohammad Khurram, will play a role in easing tensions.

In Kabul, Abdul Salam Jawad, spokesman for the Afghan Commerce Ministry, said that the Pakistani delegation had arrived at the invitation of Afghan Minister of Industry and Commerce Nooruddin Azizi.

Pakistan’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson, Mumtaz Zahra Baloch, said the visit was aimed at promoting trade and people-to-people ties with Afghanistan.

Relations between Pakistan and Afghanistan have been strained in recent years mainly because of Kabul’s backing for the Pakistani Taliban, who are known as Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan or TTP, and are a separate organization from the Afghan Taliban. However, TTP is an ally of the Afghan Taliban and it has been emboldened since the Afghan Taliban seized power in Afghanistan in 2021 as the U.S. and NATO troops were in the final stages of their pullout.

The Afghan Taliban say they do not allow TTP to use Afghan soil to launch attacks in Pakistan.

Tensions between the neighbors mainly affect trade because of the closure of the key border crossings of Torkham and Chaman. Trucks carrying goods from Pakistan to Central Asian countries are also blocked from transiting through Afghanistan.

Ziaul Haq Sarhadi, a director of the Pakistan-Afghanistan Joint Chamber of Commerce and Industry, said the bilateral trade between Pakistan and Afghanistan currently stands at $1.4 billion. He said the trade could reach $5 billion if Pakistan and Afghanistan cooperate.

He said Pakistan requires Afghan truck drivers to get a visa before entering Pakistan. A relaxation of the rule expires March 31.

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Associated Press writer Rahim Faiez in Islamabad contributed to this report.



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