Optimism in Pak-Afghan relations

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Dr Muhammad Khan

Optimism was quite obvious towards betterment of Pak-Afghan relationship, during the meeting between Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi and President Ashraf Ghani at Kabul on April 5, 2018. As per the statement issued from the office of Pakistani Prime Minister, “President Ghani and Prime Minister Abbasi discussed the entire gamut of Pak-Afghan relations including peace and reconciliation in Afghanistan, counter-terrorism, return of Afghan refugees, bilateral trade and regional connectivity.”
After a deep distrust, this is a good initiative, taken by both countries for improving the bilateral relationship. The body language of both leaders was telling; an optimism, enthusiasm and futuristic engagement. The past history of Pak-Afghan relationship has been mostly driven by unfortunate mistrust and blame game. So much so, immediately after visit of Prime Minister, Afghan authorities blamed Pakistan for its air space violation, which Pakistan dismissed and advised the Kabul to avoid the blame game.
FO spokesperson Dr Mohammad Faisal clarified that Pakistani security forces are undertaking counter-terrorism operations in Bajaur Agency, directed against terrorist groups that continue to attack Pakistan from their sanctuaries based on Afghan soil. As per FO “Pakistan urges Afghanistan to focus on taking effective counter-terrorism action including plugging of large gaps existing along the Afghan side of Pakistan-Afghanistan border to prevent the targeting of Pakistani civilians and security forces by terrorists from Afghan soil.”
Indeed, the blame game and distrust are key areas which need the focus at three levels; the political governments, the security apparatus and between the people of the two countries. In the so far history, both countries tried to address their peripheral issues without debating the core issues which kept the element of distrust alive throughout the seven decades of bilateralism. Though there have been regional and global forces involved in creating many misperceptions between Kabul and Islamabad, but still the primary responsibilitys lies with the successive ruling classes of both countries, who failed to analyse the nature of their bilateral issues with prudence for their timely and amicable solution.
Kabul could have welcomed and reconciled with the creation of Pakistan on August 14, 1947. An indifferent reaction from the Palace at Kabul in 1947 was the first misunderstanding, which set the stage for future course of action between Afghanistan and Pakistan. Thereafter, there has been no respite in this blame game and distrust. Had, forethought prevailed at Kabul at the beginning; both countries could have been well knitted in their bilateral relationship which could have strengthened both countries at all levels; political, economic, social and strategic. Indeed, Pakistani and Afghan societies have many commonalities, thus, could have made a unique amalgamation for their collective progress and prosperity.
Leaving behind a hostile past, if today, leadership of both countries decides to move forward with an optimism for promoting, peace, harmony, socio-economic cooperation and above all bridging the trust deficit, there is a very bright future waiting for the people of these two countries. Since optimism is visible at Kabul and Islamabad, therefore, let’s take some confidence building measures (CBMs) for reducing the current tension and blame game.
Since peace and stability is the foremost aspect needed by the two countries, therefore, calling Taliban for peace talks with Afghan Government and eliminating TTP element from Afghan soil will be first CBMs. In this regard, “both leaders called on the Taliban to respond positively to the peace offer and join the peace process without further delay. They agreed that there was no military solution to the on-going Afghan conflict and that the political solution was the best way forward.”
The biggest CBM needed between Kabul and Islamabad is to honestly disallow the use of their respective soil against militants, since this has been the major irritant and the blame game; both sides had against each other over the years. Fortunately, “The two leaders reiterated that terrorism was a common enemy and threat. They agreed not to allow their soils to be used for anti-state activities against each other” let’s implement this seriously and sincerely. This CBM has to be taken sooner than later with clarity at military and political level. This process has to be institutionalised through a futuristic approach and with open-mindedness.
For the promotion of economic cooperation, though both sides “agreed to hold an early meeting of the Joint Economic Commission” for constructing and improving connectivity through roads and railways, there is a need to do a lot in this field. On more than one occasion, both sides discussed this vital aspect of connectivity, but there has been no worthwhile progress. This CBM should follow the earlier one with concrete steps taken for regional connectivity and as an energy corridor between Pakistan and Central Asian States through Afghanistan.
The positive step is that, both sides have “agreed to move forward on Chaman-Kandahar-Herat railway line, Peshawar-Kabul Motorway and other connectivity projects which can help realise the tremendous potential of South and Central Asian regions by providing shortest access through the sea ports of Gwadar and Karachi. They emphasised early completion of TAPI and CASA-1000 projects.”
An optimistic future is waiting for the people of Pakistan and Afghanistan, provided the leadership at Kabul and Islamabad have clarity in their minds and positivity in their approach. Seven decades of hostility and distrust have not paid to any side; let’s have a new beginning with optimism, masterminded jointly by Kabul and Islamabad, rather imported strategies.
— The writer, Professor of Politics and International Relations, is based in Islamabad.

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