Editor in Chief: Moh. Reza Huwaida Tuesday, February 18th, 2020

Pak-Afghan Relations- Time to Break the Ice


Pak-Afghan Relations- Time to Break the Ice

On Friday, April 06, 2018 Pak Premier had a full day visit to Kabul where in addition to the President Ghani and Chief Executive Adbullah Abdullah, he met Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, Haji Mohammad Mohaqiq, Abdur Rab Rasool Sayyaf, Mohammad Karim khalili and Hamid Gilani. Undoubtedly, the meetings with such leading Afghan stakeholders from various ethnicities show a fair degree of realization on the part of Pakistani establishment and increased desire of Pakistani government in helping Afghanistan resolving its internal issues which are barricading both the countries to excel in their relationship.
Although, the recent visit of Pakistan’s Premier Shahid Khaqan Abbasi to Kabul, like always, is treated on the fairway of positive optimism in contributing towards lasting solution for Afghan political problems – the persisting mutual stalemate on multiple fronts are still made on the cheap for Afghans in particular. Both, the political narrative on Pakistan’s side and rampant anti-Pakistani sentiments on Afghan side, breed to distrust between both the states that demands much more than such occasional political showoffs by the heads of states for bringing both the nations in the fold of regional cooperation interdependence. 
However, the fact that issues of peace and security remained atop of agenda on both side, both heads of states, according to the Afghan Presidential Palace, also focused on how to materialize seven key principles leading to finalize Afghanistan-Pakistan Action Plan for Peace and Solidarity. As sign of good gesture, ahead of his visit Pakistani Premier Abbasi also gifted Afghan government with 40,000 tons of wheat for Afghan people and promised to further ease regulatory duty on Afghan goods exports in Pakistan.
While both sides underlined the importance of peace and cooperation, Pakistan vowed to support an Afghan led and owned Peace Process by all means available. Taliban were again invited to positively respond to the call of peace, lay down their arms and join in to promote negotiated peace as a political entity rather than a militant group. Insofar, Taliban has observed silence in response, instead, vow to avenge the attack of Dasht-e Archi, Kunduz, which caused Taliban the death of many of its field commanders. The attack was carried out by the Afghan Forces on Monday April 02, 2018.
Bones of Contention
The prevailing soft tone and joint commitment towards peaceful settlement of Afghan deadlock, there are always issues discussed mutually without clear and well defined outlines.
Three out of seven issues discussed in Pak-Afghan dialogue during PM Abbasi’s visit, deals with the border issue and cross border activities of unwanted elements from both sides. Afghan press release reported both sides agreement on the issue and reassured that they would undertake actions against fugitive and rogue elements posing security threats to either side. Both countries agreed to avoid territorial and aerial violations of each other’s territory and would not allow their soils to be used by any country, network, group or individuals for anti-state activities.
In this context the followings could be thought provoking points,
1.                    Since last couple of years, instead of a shared and joined mechanism to fight the same menace, both countries wasted time and money to play counter blame game for harboring anti-state elements. The only beneficiary of this lack of coordination between the two effected countries has been the terrorist elements on both sides. No doubt that there are shortcomings on both sides which is natural in dealing with such a challenge which is a threat still strategic in nature for the region in particular for Afghanistan where in spite of the presence of US led coalition with huge resources it controls a reasonable portion of territory and the graph of violence has been remained on its hike.
2.                    The second issue is the definition of border which differs from Afghanistan to Pakistan. Kabul has been reluctant to call the Durand line as the official border between the two countries and matters that concerned the Pashtuns of Pakistan remains the area of their interests. No doubt cultural and intra community communication between the Afghan and Pakistani Pashtuns are normal but ambition beyond that is not only against the international norms but also could be dangerous in nature for Afghan peace and prosperity. The quote from ….a famous hard-liner Pashtun Nationalist based in Kabul that Pakistan is an artificial country; they copied religion from Saudi Arabia, culture from India and soil from Afghanistan, is not helpful rather may provoke certain circles in Pakistan.   
In this regard the issue of sudden rise of “Pashtun Tahafuz Movement (PTM)” in Pashtun dominated Pakistani areas could be a good case in point.  The Pashtun Ethno-centric circle of Afghanistan as well as the President Ghani himself enthusiastically became involved with this issue in support of PTM.   Although it is still a big question that what really is it? Is it really an indigenous uprising against the status quo in Pakistani Pashtun society suffering from a lengthy wave of violence since the last four decades? Or a natural revolt against the tradition Pashtun nationalist and religious parties who have been unable to deliver for decades and involved in corruption?
Any role or support from the state or non-state actors or even invisible forces in Afghanistan for PTM to engage Pakistani establishment could further complicate the already unsmooth relations with the immediate neighbor.
3.                    The last but not the least issue which is raised in the press release is the probable interference of a third party or countries from the soil of one country against the other. It is undeniable fact that some areas around the Pak-Afghan borders (so called Durand Line) being used by the terrorist elements against both countries which can’t be curb by unilateral efforts and will remain as a problem for sometimes but intentionally and systematic plan to sabotage the affairs may have grave consequences. In this regard both neighbors need to address their legitimate concerns. In particular, Afghanistan where the multiple actors with different approach persuading different interests.
The importance of the Pak-Afghan mutual relations was also acknowledged by Binlali Yildirim, the Turkish Prime Minister on Sunday April 08, 2018. During visit to Kabul in a joint press conference with Abdullah Abdullah, the Afghan Chief Executive, he supported the improving Pak-Afghan relations and extended further assistance to through a trilateral forum.
Turkey is an important regional player and has the capacity to be a useful bridge among the regional countries. Afghanistan and Pakistan should get the best advantage of this capacity of Turkey.     
It is hope that for the sake of peace and stability of the region and prosperity of both nations, the Pak-Afghan statesmen will start a new chapter in bilateral relations.

Dr. Hussain Yasa is the founder of Afghanistan Group of Newspapers and currently is the coordinator of Munich Process.

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