Some encouraging developments

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Malik Ashraf

THE confirmed killing of Mullah Fazlullah in a US drone attack in Kunar province is indeed a very significant development which not only corroborates Pakistani claims of the presence of TTP leadership and its operative in Afghanistan from where they have been planning and executing acts of terrorism within Pakistan but also marks the beginning of a new phase of cooperation between Afghanistan and Pakistan as well as the US in regards to dealing with the threat of terrorism collectively. Fazlullah was known as the most barbaric Taliban leaders who succeeded Hakimullah Mehsud in 2013 after he was also killed in a drone attack.
It is pertinent to point out that Pakistan has been making earnest efforts to bring peace in Afghanistan and taking the fight against terrorists to its logical end collectively but the relations between the two countries have remained mired in mutual suspicion and the required cooperation from Afghanistan never materialized. However a reversal of the permeating hostility became visible with the visit of the former Prime Minister Shahiad Khaqz Abbassi to Afghanistan in April this year at the invitation of the Afghan President. Both the leaders discussed the whole range of bilateral relations including peace and reconciliation in Afghanistan, counter-terrorism, return of Afghan refugees, regional connectivity and bilateral trade. It was agreed between the two sides that peace, prosperity and stability of the two countries were interlinked and they also reaffirmed their commitment to regional connectivity as they had done in Herat on February 23, 2018 while jointly inaugurating the entry of TAPI Gas Pipeline from Turkmenistan into Afghanistan.
The two countries also concluded Afghanistan Pakistan Action Plan for Peace and Solidarity (APAPPS) on 14 May in the fourth meeting held at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, envisaging formation of six working groups. It was a welcome development because dialogue and continued engagement are the essential ingredients in regards to resolving conflicts and removing kinks in relations between the states. It was a follow up of former Prime Minister’s visit to Afghanistan. This was followed by a visit to Pakistan by a multi-agency Afghan delegation led by National Security Advisor of Afghanistan Mohammad Hanif Atmar visited Pakistan in the last week of May and held talks with the COAS General Qamar Javed Bajwa. The talks focused on implementation of APAPPS. The Afghan side was appreciative of Pakistan’s initiative to prepare the framework document for improving cooperation and coordination between the two countries on a host of confidence building and substantive measures. The two sides agreed to fast track the formulation of working groups, especially on bilateral security cooperation and to undertake measures that would assist both sides in tackling of violence by the terrorists entities.
At the invitation of the Afghan President Ashraf Ghani the COAS General Bajwa also visited Afghanistan just before Eid where he held one-on-one meeting with the Afghan President and parleys with Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah and the commander Resolute Support Mission General John Nicholson. The talks focused on the process of reconciliation in Afghanistan, measures needed to check rise of Daesh and protecting the borders between Pakistan and Afghanistan. The redeeming factor of the visit was that the US General acknowledged the fact that Pakistan desired success of US-NATO forces and peace and stability in Afghanistan. Under the new understanding and the process initiated to mend fences between the two countries it is also incumbent upon Afghanistan to make sure that its territory is not used by the terrorist for attacks against Pakistani forces deployed along the border and those engaged in fencing the border which is mutually beneficial to the two countries. Mere rhetoric and optics are not going to make much of a difference. Terrorism is a common enemy of Pakistan and Afghanistan and both of them have high stakes in curbing the menace. What is required is the sincerity of purpose. The reality is that terrorist groups present a threat to both the countries. Peace in the two countries can only be guaranteed if Pakistan and Afghanistan work together to root out terrorism. Both countries should also be on guard for retaliatory attacks from the TTP. Even though it has become a relative non-entity, the terror organization still holds some influence, and according to reports it allies itself with other groups active in Pakistan including the Daesh and the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi. This is the time to act decisively against the TTP. We could eliminate a significant threat to Pakistan if we make the right moves diplomatically and militarily. For the success of the whole process it is however imperative for US to support it sincerely and with unruffled commitment if it really wants peace in that war torn country, elimination of the menace of terrorism and an honourable exit from Afghanistan, which many analysts have doubts about.
— The writer is freelance columnist based in Islamabad.

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