By Aamir Latif
KARACHI, Pakistan (AA) - Islamabad and Kabul made the first diplomatic contact on Wednesday following a fresh spate of terrorism in Afghanistan, which has claimed over 200 lives in less than a month, officials and local media reported.
A top-level Afghan delegation, comprising Afghan Interior Minister Wais Ahmad Barmak and National Directorate of Security (NDS) chief Masoom Stanekzai, met Pakistani authorities in capital Islamabad to discuss ways to improve receding security cooperation between the two neighbors, Muhammad Faisal, Pakistani Foreign Ministry’s spokesman, said in a tweet.
Local broadcaster Express News quoting unnamed Foreign Ministry officials reported that the two sides had agreed to resume the meeting of the joint working group against terrorism.
The group’s meeting will be held in Kabul on Feb. 3, where Pakistani delegation will be led by Foreign Secretary Tehmina Janjua, the broadcaster said.
Meanwhile, a top Afghan official told Anadolu Agency that Stanikzai and Barmak had handed over "undeniable concrete" evidence to Pakistan's top military and civilian leadership about the Pakistan-based terrorists involved in the latest spate of bloodshed in Afghanistan.
"It has been decided to hand over credible and undeniable evidence to authorities in Pakistan about the involvement of Pakistan-based terrorists in recent bloody attacks. We would demand them [Pakistani officials] to hand over these terrorists", Javed Faisal, spokesman for the Chief Executive Officer of the Afghan government said in Kabul.
The visit came after Pakistani Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi had conveyed a message of condolences to Afghan President Ashraf Ghani over the loss of innocent lives.
-Havoc in Afghanistan
In response, Ghani tasked his top security officials to head to Islamabad and hand Abbasi the "proof" of Pakistan-based terrorists' involvement in causing havoc in Afghanistan.
A senior Pakistani diplomatic official, who wished not to be named due to restrictions on talking to the media, told Anadolu Agency that the meeting between the two sides was held at the Prime Minister House. Pakistani side was led by Abbasi and attended by top civil and military officials.
Earlier, the Afghan media reported that the Afghan delegation would hand over evidence to Pakistan regarding the fresh wave of terrorism in capital Kabul and elsewhere.
The Afghan government blames powerful Haqqani network for the attacks, and accuses Pakistan of providing sanctuaries to the militant network on its soil.
Islamabad, for its part, denies the charge and accuses Kabul of allowing anti-Pakistan Taliban factions to use its soil for terrorist attacks on civilians and security forces inside Pakistan.
Faisal said his country would continue to push the suspected elements belonging to the Afghan Taliban and the Haqqani network to prevent them from using its soil against Afghanistan.
In this context, he added, Islamabad had handed over 27 individuals suspected of belonging to the Afghan Taliban and the Haqqani network, to Afghanistan last November.
However, Omar Zakhilwal, Afghan Ambassador to Pakistan, has not confirmed this claim. "This certainly is news to me! It would be a huge step forward in our important bilateral relations if this indeed happens", he said in a statement on Wednesday.
Pakistan brokered the landmark first round of direct talks between the fragile Afghan government, and the Taliban in Islamabad in July 2015, but the process broke down after Taliban announced the death of their long-term leader Mullah Omer, triggering a bitter power struggle within the militia.
Chance for resumption of the stalled process went further dim following death of Mullah Omer’s successor, Mullah Mansur in a U.S. drone strike last year on Pakistan's side near Afghan border.
Since then, several attempts to resume the stalled peace process have been made by a four-nation group comprised of Pakistan, Afghanistan, the U.S. and China.
However, the attempts have failed to bear fruit until now.
Local media earlier this month reported that a three-member delegation of Afghan Taliban met Afghan government officials near Islamabad in an attempt to resume the stalled peace talks. Pakistan, however, officially denied the happening of any such meeting.
Taliban have opened new battlefronts across Afghanistan in recent months as security forces -- suffering casualties and desertions -- struggle to beat back a revitalized insurgency.
*Shadi Khan Saif from Afghanistan contributed to this report.