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Pakistani President Arrives In Kabul Looking To Improve Ties

Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari (right) is looking to forge closer relations with his Afghan counterpart, Hamid Karzai.
Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari is paying his first official visit to Afghanistan, where he'll meet with Afghan President Hamid Karzai for talks expected to focus on how to tackle the Taliban and Al-Qaeda insurgencies in both countries.

The visit was originally planed for last month but was postponed because of bad weather. "They will mainly be discussing bilateral relations, economic cooperation, trade, and the regional situation," Naeem Khan a spokesman for the Pakistani Embassy in Kabul, was quoted by AFP as saying.

Talat Masood, a former Pakistani general turned analyst, says that the Zardari-led civilian government wants to "turn the page" in its bilateral relations with Afghanistan.

He notes that when General Pervez Musharraf was Pakistan's president, "the relationship between Pakistan and Afghanistan deteriorated. And especially the personal relationship between President Karzai and President Musharraf was very poor. So I think he [Zardari] wants to improve the chemistry. He wants to have a personal sort of relationship. And [he] wants to see that at least one side of [Pakistan's] border is peaceful."

The two leaders have already taken steps to build a closer relationship. In early September, Karzai was the only foreign leader to attend Zardari's swearing-in ceremony. They met again in Istanbul in a Turkish-sponsored meeting and pledged to "confront the scourge of terrorism in all its forms."

Many Hurdles To Better Ties

But analysts in Kabul still see Taliban sanctuaries in Pakistan as the fundamental security issue, and thus view the recent improvement in Afghan-Pakistani relations with caution.

Ahmad Saidi, a former Afghan diplomat and political commentator, says that Pakistan's civilian government wants to mend fences in Afghanistan, but its powerful military establishment is not fully on board.

"This visit will not be without results. But it will not solve all the problems between Pakistan and Afghanistan," Saidi says. "This is a window [of opportunity] and it needs to be further developed by following up on its achievements and exchanging more delegations. They should build strategies on the agreements they have, and move ahead on a common struggle [against extremism] in the region."

But for Pakistan, there is another factor complicating prospects for better Afghan-Pakistani cooperation -- India. Masood, the former Pakistani general, says some in Islamabad look upon India's growing influence in Afghanistan with alarm.

"Afghanistan is also become a playground between India and Pakistan to assert their influence," Masood says. "And in a way, this is the second Kashmir of India and Pakistan." India and Pakistan fought two wars over the disputed Himalayan region of Kashmir in 1948 and 1965.

Still, Masood says the rising violence from the growing Taliban and Al-Qaeda insurgencies on both sides of the Afghan-Pakistani border give both Kabul and Islamabad strong incentives to cooperate -- no matter what else happens in the region.

"It is in the interest of President Zardari and he has said that also categorically. And he is also intellectually, ideologically, and also policy-wise, is very much oriented against the Taliban and wants their elimination and their reduction in power in Pakistan. And he also considers it as a personal threat," Masood says.

"So I think, all things combined, President Zardari is very much willing to cooperate with Afghanistan on this issue."

RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan contributed to this article