Blowing Hot and Cold
Pakistan-Afghanistan relations were clearly out of the abyss and much progress was visible ever since Ashraf Ghani took over as president of Afghanistan and paid a very cordial visit to Pakistan. However, various incidents occurred between then and now, capped by the attack at Badaber near Peshawar and everything went back to square one. It was alleged that the terrorist attack at the PAF base at Badaber had been manipulated from inside Afghanistan. It is a fact that the relationship between Pakistan and Afghanistan has blown hot and cold over the years and it was never clear whether Pakistan could call its western neighbour a true friend or be wary of its every move. When Ashraf Ghani visited Pakistan, in a break with the past, he visited the GHQ in Rawalpindi and seemed to communicate that he understood Pakistan military’s role in the country’s relations with Afghanistan. Ghani’s tone of voice changed for the better and, for once, the leadership in Pakistan thought the enmity left behind by Karzai was a thing of the past. However, the suspicions lurking in the relations between the two countries became excruciatingly obvious when the Afghan Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah said in a recent address at the UN General Assembly that the ISIS was among the extremist groups sowing terror in Afghanistan and that the presence of terrorist sanctuaries and support networks in Pakistan continued to cause trouble inside the country. Interestingly, when the northern Afghan city of Kunduz was captured by the Taliban, Pakistan totally rejected the takeover and declared that the occupation of any part of Afghanistan by any group was ‘unacceptable’ because Afghanistan was being run by a democratically elected and legitimate government and occupation of its territory by any group was simply not on.
However, it is painfully clear that the real enthusiasm required to revive relations between Pakistan and Afghanistan has been missing. The top Afghan leadership has felt betrayed and aggrieved for one reason or the other. It is also being said that besides interfering and promoting terrorism in Pakistan, there was enough evidence, to show that India was driving a wedge in relations between Pakistan and Afghanistan. The South Asian Hindu nation would have its own reasons for meddling in Pakistan’s affairs and in fomenting trouble in the country from its bases in Afghanistan. The Badaber attack was described as the latest occurrence in this regard. It was alleged that India’s Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) was stoking terrorism in Pakistan and was most likely to have been behind the Badaber attack. Indian presence in Afghanistan has been a sore reality which has been further boosted by the more than obvious Indian support for Afghanistan though the country is not India’s direct neighbour and Pakistani territory separates the two nations. The ceasefire violations on the LoC working boundary between India and Pakistan have also increased and it is clear that India wants to raise the temperature in the region. India does not seem quite up to having a peace dialogue with Pakistan as it sticks to the view that Pakistan is a seat of terrorism in the region and this must be addressed before it can enter any dialogue. India must have closely watched the successes achieved by Operation Zarb e Azb of the Pakistan Armed Forces – the biggest operation ever against terrorism anywhere in the world – but it is still adamant that Pakistan is a promoter of terrorism.
Pakistan has also taken several steps over the past years to keep its foreign policy balanced. The reconciliation process between the Afghan Taliban and the government in Kabul, of which the Murree talks were a link, was also a part of this but the moot was scuttled when Mullah Omar’s death was revealed. A clue to the suspicions prevailing between Pakistan and Afghanistan is visible in President Ashraf Ghani’s statement that relations between Afghanistan and Pakistan were not brotherly but only a relationship between two states. The Afghan president’s statement came at a time when ties between the two countries were tense, with leaders from both sides accusing the other of harboring terrorists. The popular belief prevailed that Pakistan was not sincere in seeking a cooperative, mutually beneficial relationship with Afghanistan.
So how does one put Pakistan’s Afghan policy back on rails? It needs to be understood that Afghanistan is a proud, sovereign nation and cannot be considered a client state. This obviously causes certain misgivings when Pakistani security managers do not respond appropriately to Afghan concerns. A more effective measure for Pakistan to undertake would be a strategic dialogue with progress strictly monitored rather than being left in the air. If Afghanistan is given help and sympathy, Pakistan will gain a friend and also enhance its own security by developing a more dependable neighbour on its western border.
Syed Jawaid Iqbal