Blow­ing Hot and Cold

Southasia - - COMMENT -

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

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