A new beginning in Pak-Afghan ties

Dr Muhammad Khan

After remaining in a tense and hostile environment for over a year, the visit of two high level Pakistani delegations to Kabul is a step towards restoration of trust and confidence building measures (CBMs). The military delegation under General Bilal Akbar, Chief of General Staff (CGS), met all significant military commanders of Afghan Army and Afghan Defence Minister. Since the visit was undertaken immediately after the attack on a military base in Mazar-i-Sharif, which killed over 140 soldiers, therefore, Pakistani Army delegate offered condolence and treatment of the injured soldiers in Pakistani hospitals. On its part, the parliamentary delegation had a meeting with Afghan President and significant members of the Afghan parliament. Both visits aimed at easing the tense environment, existed between both countries owing to distrust and intrusion of external factors.
The positive developments noticed before and during these visits were; Afghan Government did not accuse Pakistan, following the Mazar-i-Sharif military base attack and Pakistan did not react negatively to the revelations of Ehsanullah Ehsan, the former spokesperson of the TTP. The spokesperson was loud and clear in his disclosures that, TTP people were given a refuge by Afghan Government. It was also admitted by Ehsanullah Ehsan that, NDS and RAW were providing them all funding, weapons and training till their launching back to Pakistan with a clear objectives of attacking Pakistani Army, installations, schools and innocent masses. Their stay in Afghanistan and movement anywhere was facilitated by Afghan Army, NDS and RAW officials. All these were aimed at their usage against Pakistani state, institutions and Pakistani society.
No doubt, there was consent of Afghan Government for the both visits, but initiative rest with Pakistan. In this regard, the efforts of Afghan Ambassador to Pakistan Dr Omar Zakhilwal are worth appreciation. He is instrumental to all positive steps in the bilateral relationship between Pakistan and Afghanistan. Pakistan realizes that, a cooperative mechanism and CBMs are most needed between Pakistan and Afghanistan for a stability and peace in both countries. Peace in Pakistan is directly proportional to peace in Afghanistan and vice versa. In order to achieve pace, both countries need to show flexibility in their traditional stances and attitudes towards each other. The biggest problem has been the trust deficit, the basis of all problems existing or have existed between these two Muslim brothers countries, having contiguous border, common beliefs, common origin, having similar norms and values.
ndeed, no nation states in the world have such similarities, as Pakistan and Afghanistan have. Had there been exploitation of these similarities positively, Pakistan and Afghanistan would have been most coherent nation states in the world with total stability, economic prosperity, strategically significant and politically viable. Unfortunately, the past seven decades have proved quite opposite and unfolding of the regional and global happenings did not let these two nation states work in harmony. Whereas, regional and global forces had their respective geo-strategic and geo-economic interests served by creating a split between Pakistan and Afghanistan, did the successive leadership of both countries ever realized this missing link in their bilateral relationship. Why did they opt to be used as tools at the hands of others? Where were the strategic planners, policy formulators and above all, the intellectuals of both countries, who could have provided needed acumen to the rulers for better a future of two countries, rather fragmented relationship, we are witnessing today.
Since, Pakistan has taken a step forward towards a transformed and constructive engagement with Afghanistan, therefore, these visits from Pakistan are to be reciprocated from Afghanistan; first, for the continuation of CMBs and second for gradual bridging of the trust deficit, both countries experienced since decades. It is worth mentioning that there is a realization among the intellectuals and academic circles that, decades of bitterness, abhorrence, enmities, political disharmony and conflicts have neither served the Afghan cause nor the Pakistani interests. Therefore, to begin with a new era of harmonious bilateral relationship, authorities at Kabul and Islamabad should stop levelling allegations against each other after sporadic incidents, conducted by non-state actors. In the subsequent phase, this CBM has to be substantiated by sincere efforts from both sides by denying usage of their soil by non-state actors, the terrorist outfits. These two CBMs are going to form the bases for a meaningful and substantial Pak-Afghan co-relation.
Having achieved these, Kabul and Islamabad must undertake a stocktaking of their respective national interests and look for the areas having convergences in their bilateral relationship. The areas having convergences must be exploited for the attainment of a win-win stage in this mutual relationship. A positive engagement at the official level; state to state level, would pave the way for the institutional engagement. The institutional engagement would provide a mechanism for further decentralization of the relationship, creating a favourable atmosphere for people to people contact, already in practice in some areas. In the entire development of this mutual relationship, leadership and institutions must not be manipulated by external forces and interest groups, which ruined the cooperative mechanism between Pakistan and Afghanistan in last seventy years.
The new beginning in the bilateral Pak-Afghan relationship is a very welcoming step. This indeed, is a test of the leadership of both countries. The people of Pakistan and Afghanistan want a peace, stability and economic prosperity in both countries. The on-going militancy in both countries only serve the purposes of external forces; indeed, a cause for the foreign intervention, intrusion and exploitation. The external forces have their strategic objectives, better served through instability in this part of the world. But, the question arises, should the future generations of Pakistan and Afghanistan continuing suffering to serve the economic and strategic objectives of major regional and global powers? This article is a fruit for thought for the leadership of Pakistan and Afghanistan. With high unemployment rate the youth of both countries (65%) should not be available for strategic usage by vested powers?
— The writer is Professor of Politics and International Relations based in Islamabad.
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