Islamabad-Kabul in retrospect


Reema Shaukat
IRONICALLY both Pakistan and Afghanistan were not able to enjoy relations in fine fettle since post-Cold War time frame. Pakistan being a neighbour to war-torn Afghanistan and for the sake of humanity hailed migrants of Afghan war. But these relations were time tested after 9/11 and war against terrorism. This war against terrorism pressed Afghanistan security and stability towards more chaos. Instead of finding long term peace this country was pushed into muddle of proxies, insurgencies, political chaos, poverty, regional and international powers interest, thus all augmented Afghan morass.
Time and again Pakistan has always understood Afghan dilemmas and extended helping hand to restore steadiness in Afghanistan and particularly for regional harmony it has played crucial role. Pakistan has always stretched its role on forefront to ensure that peaceful Afghanistan turns out for peaceful Pakistan too. Recently when US President Trump announced new policy for Afghanistan encompassing role of India and regional players, that dogma apart from raising brows on the role of US and NATO for past several years asks Pakistan to do more. US President announced that more troops will be sent to Afghanistan and Pakistan in this regard must do more to harness militants or face sanctions if not able to do so.
Afghan officials welcomed Trump statements but for Pakistan such charges of sheltering militants are not acceptable. Pakistan has always initiated efforts to bring back amity in Afghanistan and world acknowledges its energies to curb menace of terrorism. For accusations of Trump it answered simply that Afghan war cannot be fought in Pakistan and demanded that the U.S. military should eliminate sanctuaries for terrorists on the Afghan side. For Pakistan, both US and now role of India which has proven facts to export terrorism, want Afghanistan soil to be used against Pakistan.
On the other hand, US very well understands that without the role of Pakistan, it cannot achieve success in war against terrorism. US General Joseph Dunford while highlighting Pakistan’s efforts said that “we cannot be successful in Afghanistan which we’ve seen over the last several years, unless we have a higher degree of cooperation from Pakistan. So Pakistan is absolutely an integral part of the strategic review that’s ongoing. Pakistan has key role in the region as well as in Afghanistan”. Whereas after announcement of new Trump policy, US Defence Secretary Jim Mattis said that US, with its new strategy for breaking the deadlock with Taliban insurgents, is not going to give up the fight in Afghanistan. In a recent visit to Afghanistan Jim Mattis said that “we will not abandon Afghanistan to a merciless enemy trying to kill its way to power.
With our new conditions-based south Asia strategy we will be better postured to support Afghanistan, as your forces turn the tide against the terrorists. The U.S. plan calls for a larger military presence in Afghanistan”. With all such steps one can analyse that the Trump administration hopes its more assertive stance in Afghanistan will result in enough military gains to pressure the Taliban to the negotiating table. But there appears no reason for the insurgents to lay down their weapons. Currently, the US backed Kabul government controls only around 60 percent of the country while the Taliban controls the other 40 percent. Therefore, US must act wisely and review its previous strategies in war against terrorism.
To enhance mutual cooperation between Pakistan and Afghanistan, Pak Army Chief recently visited Kabul for constructive talks with Afghan leadership. Apart from talks with Afghan counterparts to strengthen bilateral security cooperation ways for effective border management were also discussed. Relations between Islamabad and Kabul have been tarnished by mistrust and misgiving, with Kabul mostly accusing Pakistan for supporting anti-state militants. Apart from blame game by Afghanistan, Pakistan has always stressed for effective cooperation on matters of border management. Army Chief met Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and both sides discussed regional security, bilateral relations, fight against terrorism, trade and transit. The Afghan president highlighted that the time has come to take practical steps towards creating an atmosphere of mutual trust. After talks he said that Pakistan assured of its readiness to cooperate in tackling the threat of terrorism which both countries are facing and supported Afghan-led efforts to promote peace. Whereas, Pakistan has always emphasised the need for the two countries to resolve differences by relying on bilateral mechanisms and dialogue. The Afghan government and the United States claim insurgents using sanctuaries on Pakistani soil for launching attacks in Afghanistan.
While Islamabad has always rejected such charges and insists that no such activity takes place on its side of the border because of sustained anti-terrorism operations the security forces have undertaken over the past few years. To ensure proper border security Pakistan proposed building of a fence and new security outposts on the nearly 2,600-kilometre border between Pakistan and Afghanistan. In past the border was free of observation posts and infiltrators were able to move freely from both sides but today 90 percent of the areas from Pakistani side is difficult to infiltrate.
However, nothing concrete comes up on border management from Afghan side as they oppose fencing saying this time old international border demarcation is disputed. For a long term peace and stability in Afghanistan, a clear message and steps should be taken by Kabul. Afghanistan’s internal peace, political stability, sincerity in efforts to restore peace and determinations from all segments of society should come up for stable Afghanistan. Pakistan has always guaranteed and will continue its support for peaceful Afghan solution and eradicating terrorism.
— The writer works for Pakistan Institute for Conflict and Security Studies, a think-tank based in Islamabad.

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