In a path-breaking deal Pakistan’s premier intelligence agency Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) and the Afghan intelligence outfit National Directorate of Security (NDS) have signed an accord for cooperation, which is aimed at bolstering fight against terrorism.

The first-of-its-kind deal between the two intelligence agencies followed a landmark visit by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif along with Army Chief Gen Raheel Sharif and ISI Chief Lt Gen Rizwan Akhtar to Kabul last Tuesday during which the Pakistan government denounced Taliban and said that future violence by the militant group would be treated as terrorism.

The agreement signed in Kabul some time last week was officially announced only by the ISPR, which besides being the public affairs wing of armed forces also speaks on behalf of the ISI, after Pakistani media outlets came to know about it because of its criticism by Afghan parliamentarians in a debate in Wolesi Jirga (the lower house of Afghan parliament).

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In a late-night tweet, now the ISPR chief’s usual mode for releasing news, Maj Gen Asim Bajwa said: “MoU signed by ISI and NDS includes intelligence sharing, complementary and coordinated intel operations on respective sides.”

President Ashraf Ghani’s spokesman Ajmal Abidy, was quoted by Afghanistan’s ToloNews, as saying: “The focus of this agreement is mostly on jointly fighting terrorism.”

Agreement for complementary and coordinated operations signed in Kabul with NDS

The ToloNews quoted the Karzai government officials as saying that no such agreement existed in the past.

Under the agreement, the two intelligence agencies would cooperate in counter-terrorism operations. An essential element of the accord is a provision for joint probe of the terrorism suspects. The ISI would also equip the NDS and train its personnel.

The deal reflects growing cooperation between the two countries after years of mistrust. The bilateral acrimony was mostly due to a rivalry between the two intelligence agencies.

A government official said that the signing of the agreement represented the new-found trust between Islamabad and Kabul, particularly between their security and intelligence establishments.

The signing of the ISI-NDS agreement is the latest in a series of steps that Pakistan and Afghanistan have taken since the installation of the National Unity government in Kabul for moving past their bitter past.

It all started with President Ashraf Ghani’s extraordinary visit to the GHQ during his first visit to Pakistan after assuming the presidency.

The two countries later went on to cooperate in ways not known before following the tragic Dec 16 Peshawar school massacre which left over 140 schoolchildren and school staff members dead. Troops from both countries also conducted coordinated operations along the border. But, the most significant development was the arrival of the first batch of Afghan cadets for training in Pakistan’s Military Academy early this year.

The presence of Afghan defence forces chief Gen Sher Muhammad Karimi at the passing-out parade at the PMA as the chief guest only served to reinforce the impression that the defence cooperation was growing in an unmatched manner.

Notwithstanding the cooperation at the official level, mistrust lingers on among Afghanistan’s general public and political circles because of Islamabad’s past relations with Taliban and its failure to convince their leaders to join the peace process.

Spike in violence in Afghanistan following the start of Taliban’s Spring Offensive had fuelled doubts about Pakistan’s cooperation.

Criticism of the deal in Afghan parliament was also because of this scepticism about Islamabad’s sincerity in countering Taliban.

An unnamed Pakistan government official, while speaking to the VOA, dismissed those blaming Pakistan for the rise of Taliban attacks as “detractors” in Afghanistan who have long opposed an improved bilateral relationship.

The official said: “There is an improved atmosphere between the two countries with all things being done in a very transparent manner and sharing of information.” He added that if there is something happening from within Afghanistan “they (Afghans) need to take stock of those things and put them right”.

For Pakistan