Dr Muhammad Khan
The unscheduled meeting between Pakistani Premier, Nawaz Sharif and Afghan President, Ashraf Ghani on the side-lines of SCO is considered to be a big step forward at a time, where there existed tension in their bilateral relationship for almost over a year. The tense relationship further worsened after a series of attacks in Afghanistan, where Afghan Government accused Pakistan for those. On its part Pakistan not only condemned those attacks, but also offered its help in the investigation of these attacks. The meeting between two leaders discussed the possibility of establishing a mechanism for the verification of counterterrorism actions by each side. Besides, the issues like; ‘terrorism, border fencing and regional security’ were also came under discussion for over an hour.
According to Foreign Office of Pakistan, “The two leaders agreed to use the Quadrilateral Coordination Group (QCG) mechanism as well as bilateral channels to undertake specific actions against terror groups and to evolve, through mutual consultations, a mechanism to monitor and verify such actions.” They also agreed to use the QCG to promote peace and reconciliation within Afghanistan. Whereas, Prime Minister of Pakistan highlighted the Pakistani contributions to combat the terrorism, he also underlined the Pakistani efforts for promoting a peace process in Afghanistan, which should be Afghan owned and Afghan led.
The most significant aspect, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif emphasised to President Ashraf Ghani was, the significance “of reconciliation and a politically negotiated settlement as the best solution to the Afghan conflict.” In fact, reconciliation and political negotiations provides a real and long-term solution for any dispute. Unrest, instability and factional fighting in Afghanistan are purely Afghan issues, therefore needs to be negotiated and settled by Afghan themselves, rather blaming Pakistan for these. Afghan Taliban is a reality, who ruled Afghanistan for five years (1996-2001) as a political force and forced out the foreign occupation in 2014. They are Afghans, live there and still control over 50% territory of Afghanistan.
At Astana, both leaders agreed for a Mechanism to verify the counter terrorism actions on both sides. The details of this verification process are yet to be worked out by the officials on both sides. However, it will be more prudent and workable, if the bilateral mechanism of verification is made functional and relied upon, rather the Quadrilateral Coordination Group (QCG) mechanism. The QCG has China and US as its members besides Pakistan and Afghanistan. The question arises, why to invite and involve others for the verification of an issue, which is purely bilateral in nature. Then, it is a commonly known fact that, China and U.S are in a state of cold war over many global and regional issues, Afghanistan being one of them.
Then, U.S considers China as its peer competitor in the global politics; uni-polarity vs multi-polarity. Would their involvement in the verification mechanism (QCG) really bridge the gap of current distrust between Pakistan and Afghanistan? Or else, it will open a new phase of proxy wars in war-torn Afghanistan, which can neither be afforded by Afghanistan nor Pakistan. The joint statement of Astana Summit of SCO-June 9, 2017, has obliquely hinted for a new world order, indeed, a reiteration of Ufa Summit of SCO-2015. It states, “The heads of state noted the importance of the Organisation’s further consolidation as an effective full-fledged regional platform aimed at active participation in building a more equitable, polycentric model of the world order that meets the interests of each and every state, promoting the process of democratisation of international relations.”
It is still unclear, whether it will be the same Ashraf Ghani at Kabul, as he was at Astana, since he is known for taking U-turns frequently. But, one thing Kabul has to understand that, the more countries it involves to settle its domestic issues, the more trouble, it is inviting for the future of Afghanistan. With more forums and more actors, the problems will be multiplied with each country pursuing its own interests that may not coincide with the Afghan interests. Afghanistan can ill afford further complication of its domestic problems.
The more dictation it gets from any capital or those supporting its economy, there will be more deterioration in the law and order situation of Afghanistan. Moreover, there are fewer convergences in the interests of Kabul and Taliban. At regional and global level, there are some players, who may not like a very stable and peaceful Afghanistan. They would like an Afghanistan just standing on their economic support and getting dictation too, indeed, the current state of affairs.
The bilateral Pak-Afghan predicaments need a bilateral approach to resolve. In this regard, bridging the trust deficit between Islamabad and Kabul is the first step, which requires patience, clarity and sincerity at both sides.
Having achieved that milestone, let us establish a verification mechanism, consisting of officials from both sides to monitor the implementation process of counterterrorism actions on both sides of Pak-Afghan border. Since the terrorists are common enemies of Pakistan and Afghanistan, therefore their elimination should be through a joint mechanism and joint verification process without involving any third country that may look for its own interests, not coinciding with Pak-Afghan interests.
— The writer, Professor of Politics and International Relations, is based in Islamabad.
Email: [email protected]