A kink in Pakistan-Afghanistan relations


Patience and perseverance are the key

               In the backdrop of recent terrorist attacks in Kabul, Kandhar and Helmand which claimed nearly 60 lives including five UAE diplomats, the COAS according to a press release of the ISPR made a telephone call to the Afghan President. While expressing sympathy with the families of the victims he reiterated cooperation of the government of Pakistan with the Afghan government and people of Afghanistan to eliminate the scourge of terrorism and suggested robust border management and intelligence cooperation to put an end to cross border movement of the terrorists instead of blame-game that strengthened the forces inimical to peace in the region. The press release said that the Afghan President thanked the COAS for his sentiments and reiterated that both the countries must work together for peace and stability in the region.

               However, the details of the conversation placed at the website of the Afghan President claimed  that the Afghan President told the Pakistani COAS that those who carried out recent attacks “lived, were recruited and operated freely within Pakistan and no action was taken against them”  Vowing to take revenge from the perpetrators of the attacks he described terrorism and extremis as a serious threat for the region and the world and said that lack determination to fight against the common threat could pose dangers to Pakistan itself and the region. He said that he wanted serious talks to discuss Kabul’s future relationship with Pakistan.

               As is evident there is a marked contrast regarding the contents of the telephonic talk between the two. Why the ISPR chose to reveal the reaction of the Afghan President knowing that in this age of information revolution it was absolutely impossible to keep the things under wraps, can only be explained by them but one thing that comes out clear is that the Afghan President was not willing to buy the position taken by Pakistan in regards to working for the elimination of terrorism from the region and promoting peace in Afghanistan. He continues to look askance at every Pakistani initiative without any let up in the blame-game. That however does not mean that Pakistan should feel discouraged from playing its role in bringing peace to Afghanistan – on which hinges the peace in Pakistan and the region.

               The call made by the COAS needs to be seen in the perspective of Pakistan’s unswerving commitment to taking the fight against terrorism to its logical end and making its earnest contribution in restoring peace in Afghanistan. It is an irrefutable reality that terrorism is a common enemy of Afghanistan and Pakistan and both of them need to cooperate with each other against this common enemy. Therefore one cannot take an issue with the part of Ghani’s statement that lack of determination to fight against the common threat could pose dangers to Pakistan itself and he want serious talks in regards to future relationship between the two countries.

                However, he also needs to accept the reality that peace in Afghanistan could not be established without Pakistan and vice versa. The fact is that Pakistan has taken an indiscriminate action against all the terrorist outfits based in North Waziristan including the Haqqanis through operation Zarb-e-Azb. The US commander in Afghanistan General John F Campbell in a written testimony to the Senate Armed Committee in last October said “Senior Pakistan military officers have repeatedly declared that they can no longer discriminate between good and bad terrorists. They appear to be taking meaningful actions to back up their words”. Noting that considerable obstacles existed between Pakistan and Afghanistan which were likely to persist past 2016, he emphasized that the common threat of violent extremism could still serve as a catalyst to improve cooperation between the two countries. He felt that before working for reconciliation between the Afghan government and the Taliban, rapprochement between Pakistan and Afghanistan has to occur first as the fight against terrorism and terrorist outfits needed concerted Pak-Afghan efforts. His assessment conforms to the position taken by Pakistan.

           Both the countries need to avoid blame game as reiterated by the COAS and also hold serious negotiations in regards to future relationship between them as pointed out by the Afghan President. The Afghan President though needs to match his words for serious dialogue with serious and realistic steps as well. He must honestly evaluate all the variables involved in the obtaining situation in Afghanistan instead of impulsively blaming Pakistan for terrorist acts in Afghanistan. It is a permeating view among the political analysts and observers of the developments in the region that the blame-game mode of the Afghan President is attributable to weak structure of the Afghan state incapable to deal with the threat posed by the Taliban which in turn is a cumulative consequence of the continuing rift between Ghani and Abdullah, frequent desertions from Afghan Army, weak Afghan economy, rampant corruption within the government departments and failure of the Afghan Army in checking the onslaught of the Taliban. Under the circumstances Ghani finds it convenient to use Pakistan as a fall guy for all his troubles.

           That stance is hypocritical. If the Afghan President is really serious in removing the kink in relations between the two countries, he will have to accept the ground realities earnestly. The fact is that those who are carrying out acts of terrorism in Afghanistan including the Haqqanis are all based in that country in the areas controlled by the Afghan Taliban. Even the TTP operatives who are orchestrating attacks in Pakistan are also based in Afghanistan. They all fled to Afghanistan during operation Zarb-e-Azb because the Afghan government did not try to prevent their escape to Afghanistan in spite of requests from Pakistan to the Afghan government to make sure that they were not allowed to enter Afghanistan.

           The situation in Afghanistan, particularly the emergence of Daesh in that country demands collaborative efforts between the two countries supported by other states of the region like China and Russia. Therefore both the countries need to let the bygones be bygones and make a new beginning by removing the ambience of mistrust. For that the Afghan President will also have to end his connivance with India to malign and isolate Pakistan in the region as well as at the global level, which he has been doing in the recent past. The Afghan President must understand that peace in Afghanistan was absolutely imperative for dealing with phenomenon of terrorism in Pakistan, therefore, the latter could not afford to foment acts of terrorism in that country.

           An earnest beginning can be made by enhancing intelligence cooperation between the two countries and also taking effective collaborative measures to manage the border between the two countries. Pakistan on its part has already started strict monitoring of the border and repatriation of the Afghan refugees which can go a long way in checking the menace of terrorism. Reciprocal steps by Afghanistan could supplement these efforts and eventually pave the way for eventual solution of the Afghan conundrum.