Afghan President Ashraf Ghani will make his first state visit to neighbouring Pakistan Friday, seeking to improve ties that are crucial to his hopes of reviving Taliban peace talks as US troops end their 13-year war. Ghani and Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif are expected to attend a cricket match between the two countries in Islamabad on Saturday, officials said, in a public demonstration of better relations despite fraught cross-border tensions.
But diplomats say that Ghani’s presidency, which started in September, presents a major opportunity at a time when US-led Nato troops are withdrawing from the fight against the Taliban. “Both sides are very interested in seizing the opportunity presented by the political transition,” US ambassador in Islamabad Richard Olson said this week. “There is quite genuinely a basis for a new relationship between Afghanistan and Pakistan. Both sides are aware of this historical moment and making efforts to seize it.”
The long-standing tensions between the two countries were highlighted last week when a US Pentagon report said Pakistan continues to use “proxy forces” to destabilise Afghanistan. A foreign office spokeswoman in Islamabad said Ghani’s two-day visit would start on Friday. Afghan cricket board spokesman Mohammad Aziz Gharwal said the two leaders plan to attend a match between Pakistan A and Afghanistan A on Saturday. Ghani, who emerged as president after a long dispute over fraud-mired elections, has said that seeking peace is his first priority after decades of conflict in Afghanistan.