During Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s latest visit to Kabul, the leaders of Afghanistan and Pakistan once again reiterated their determination for building close relations and cooperating on the Afghan peace efforts. The Premier’s visit was the first since the inauguration of a National Unity government in Afghanistan. The Kabul rendezvous highlights recent efforts of the Afghan government to kick-start Pakistan-assisted peace talks with the Taliban. At a joint press conference in Kabul on May 12, 2015, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani stressed that the two nations will never again become victims of short-sighted approaches. Nawaz Sharif also reciprocated this gesture by specifically saying that “no enemy of Afghanistan can be a friend of Pakistan,” and that peace in Afghanistan and Pakistan is in best interests of both countries.
The US policymakers coined the Af-Pak neologism as they saw Afghanistan and Pakistan, through single myopic lens, as being single “theatre of operation”. They had assessed that the Pak-Afghan border has turned into a breeding ground of terrorists and most terrorist plots are hatched in this region. It was under the influence of this dominant perception that Pak-Afghan relations went quivering amidst dense fogs of accusations. With the changed dynamics of war, policies altered and priorities shifted that consequently changed the parameters of this bilateral relationship.
A thicket of reasons can be held responsible for distrust between both the countries but the one that is most glaring is ever-altering state policies and fluctuating priorities. The porous border along the Durand Line has long been a source of irritation because the region hosts numerous terrorists that carry out the gruesome terror acts on both sides. Seemingly, Pakistan and Afghanistan claim to be the frontline states in the global War on Terror; fighting insurgency and terrorism, yet a proper cleanup operation in order to eliminate the militants’ hideouts across the border is still wanted. The terrorists easily undertake their malicious activities and then make safe return to their bastions. A joint and coordinated operation to uncover the terrorists and foil their evil intention is more than inevitable now. Without boosting the bilateral confidence level, the two states cannot undertake a joint venture to fight this very menace.
During his recent visit to Kabul, Mian Nawaz Sharif met with President Ashraf Ghani and CEO Abdullah Abdullah and discussed ways to build close cooperative relations and to revitalize the bilateral relationship. The visit certainly will go a long way in strengthening the positive momentum in bilateral relations and will also help in intensifying common endeavours in the pursuit of durable peace, stability and prosperity in the region.
The visit, in fact, is a part of follow-up diplomatic efforts to draw up the two countries’ future course of cooperation in terms of not only mutual relations but also on the Afghan peace process. Since the new unity government came into power in Afghanistan, Islamabad has made specific and clear commitments to help Afghanistan in bringing the Taliban to the negotiating table. The policy shift in Islamabad complements new Afghanistan government’s policies towards the neighbours and other countries in the region in order to have their backing for resumption of Afghan-led peace talks. It is due to this reason that in recent months, the relations between Afghanistan and Pakistan have improved rapidly and the two sides have reached remarkable understanding on how to cooperate for peace in Afghanistan, and the whole region at large.
In fact, the incumbent Government of Pakistan had already expressed its readiness to do everything possible in order to help Afghanistan reach a peace deal with the Taliban. Initially, this helped the two countries in building mutual trust that is highly required for cooperation on peace efforts. However, the two sides have failed time and again to overcome distrusts and view the issue of peace in Afghanistan through a strategic and long-term approach.
Another crucial change in Pakistan’s policy towards Afghanistan during recent years has been the unison between the country’s military establishment and the civilian government. While the mood in Islamabad was ready for pushing the peace in Afghanistan, the formation of the National Unity Government (NUG) in Kabul came at a right time to take a cohesive approach with Pakistan.
The recent improvements in the two countries’ relations set high expectations in Afghanistan both among political class and the public for restart of peace talks and an eventual deal for ending the conflict. Afghan government suggested an imminent resumption of peace negotiations between the Taliban and the Afghan government. As a result of the diplomatic efforts by leaders of the Afghan unity government, both military and civilian officials in Pakistan publicly suggested that the Taliban would have no choice but negotiations for peace, and that “enemy of Afghanistan would be enemy of Pakistan”.
However, despite the early announcements of soon-to-be-held peace talks with the Taliban, the government of Afghanistan failed to start an immediate process of peace negotiations with the militant groups. With the warmth of the weather, the Taliban have launched concerted and deadly attacks as part of their Spring Offensive in many parts of Afghanistan. The onset of a deadly fighting targeting vast swathes of lands, particularly in the north of the country, brought many to the conclusions that the peace negotiations may not resume as the war escalates.
Pakistan had a supportive role in the recent ‘peace discussions’ between Afghan officials and the Taliban delegation in Qatar. While the informal talks were taking place in Qatar, Pakistan welcomed the talks and encouraged the Taliban to engage in talks for exploring ways for ending the conflict in Afghanistan. The Pakistani government has had constructive role in facilitating travel of Taliban members and arranging Qatar as the venue for talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban.
Pakistani and Afghan governments do not have many choices for testing each other and delaying the much-awaited talks with the militant groups. The Pakistani premier rightly condemned the ongoing Taliban attacks in Afghanistan and expressed concerns over continued violence in the country. He also asserted that his country will stand against any efforts aimed at destabilizing Afghanistan. Very promising, but perhaps now it is the time for both countries to do something practically.