Resetting of Pak-Afghan Bilateral Relations
During his visit to Pakistan, President Ashraf Ghani held detailed discussions with Prime Minister of Pakistan and other political leaders. His visit to Pakistan came in the wake of high-profile visits by National Security Advisor Sartaj Aziz, Chief of Army Staff General Raheel Sharif and DG ISI Lt General Rizwan Akhtar to Kabul which indicates the mutual desire of both countries to turn a fresh page in bilateral relations. The high point of Afghan President’s engagements in Pakistan was his visit to General Headquarters of Pakistan Army. He was accompanied by Afghan Defence Minister General Bismillah Muhammadi, Afghan Chief of General Staff General Sher Muhammad Karimi and other senior Afghan Security Officials. These high level interactions between Pakistan and Afghanistan mark a fresh beginning in bilateral relations as President Ashraf Ghani stated that three days of talks had ended 13 years of differences.
According to the media reports, peace and reconciliation with Taliban was a top agenda of President Ghani’s visit and Pakistani Government has assured him of its full support in this regard. In fact, Pakistan had already made a lot of contribution to facilitate this process. Last year, during his visit to Afghanistan, Pakistan’s Prime Minister categorically stated that Pakistan had no favorites in Afghanistan and it fully supports peace and reconciliation efforts of Kabul. This assurance was supported by the release of several senior Taliban prisoners on the demand of High Peace Council of Afghanistan to facilitate dialogue with Taliban. The Afghan Government and members of High Peace Council acknowledged and praised Pakistan’s positive contributions. But unfortunately, former Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s politics, policies and his antagonistic approach towards Pakistan made peace and reconciliation dialogue with Taliban a difficult task. The success of this critical issue will determine destiny of people of Afghanistan and Pakistan. Therefore, the leadership of both countries needs to make utmost efforts to achieve positive results.
Another positive outcome of these Pak-Afghan high profile interactions is the President Ghani’s assurances to Pakistan government that he would look into the matter of sanctuaries of Pakistani Taliban in Afghanistan and he would not allow anyone to support anti-Pakistan elements in Afghanistan. It will remove irritants created by ex-Afghan President and will help in decreasing the trust deficit in Pak-Afghan relations. Hamid Karzai never kept the secret of his Government’s support for anti-Pakistan forces. As disclosed by Wikileaks, Barahamdagh Bugti was living in Afghanistan with the connivance of Karzai Government before getting asylum to Switzerland. It was clearly mentioned by some of the diplomatic cables that Karzai was himself aware of and involved in sheltering Baloch militants and their leaders in Afghanistan. A departure from this negative policy will improve Pak-Afghan relations significantly. Pakistan is also hopeful that new Afghan Government will soon handover TTP leader Fazlullah to Pakistani authorities.
Realizing the potential of mutual trade, Pakistan and Afghanistan have also pledged to begin a new era of economic cooperation. Both the countries want the bilateral trade to increase from US$ 2.5 billion to US$ 5 billion in next 2-3 years. They have also looked at irritants in the Pak-Afghan Transit Trade Agreement, which was signed in Oct 2010. No doubt, high level economic activities will not only bring prosperity to this region but it will also create new jobs for youth which will ultimately help in eradicating militancy. It will also create conducive environment for mega regional projects such as Turkmanistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India Gas Pipeline (TAPI). But again, this vision can only be materialized after resolving the political and strategic problems in Pak-Afghan relations.
These ground realities emphasize on the need of mutual understanding and bilateralism in Pak-Afghan relations as security, stability and economic development of both the countries depend upon each other. The Government of Pakistan and Afghanistan need to promote the tendency of bilateral dialogue and forums to solve disputes as involvement of other countries or major powers can exploit our differences for their own vested interests. At least, no third country should be allowed to exploit the differences between the Governments of Afghanistan and Pakistan. The most critical issue in this regard is the resolution of legitimate security concerns of Pakistan vis-à-vis Indian presence in Afghanistan. The former US special representative for Af-Pak, James Dobbins have been accepting that Pakistan’s concerns over activities of Indian consulates are largely based on ground realities. Christine Faire, a professor in George town University had maintained in her congressional hearings that India is fomenting unrest in Baluchistan through its Consulates in Afghanistan. These neutral factual positions are enough to prove Pakistan’s case in this regard and they reflect the dangerous consequences of Pro-India policies of ex Afghan government at the cost of Pakistan’s National Interests. As an independent member of international community, Afghanistan has the sovereign right to maintain good relations with India but at the same time it should not allow any state to use its territory for fomenting unrest in Pakistan.
It is a positive omen that the leadership of both the countries has decided to take reconciliatory steps to meet the security challenges of post ISAF/NATO Afghanistan. A failure in this regard will have grave consequences for both the nations. Least of it’s consequence for Pakistan can be a fresh refugee crisis which is already bearing the burden of 3 million Afghan refugees for the last 3 decades. A joint fight is inevitable for eradicating the menace of religious extremism and sectarianism which is also imbedded in militancy. The regulation of Pak-Afghan border and countering drugs trafficking also need joint mechanisms to deal with these problems. Most of these problems and issues can be resolved with the involvement of traditional Jirgas of both the nations.
To sum up, we hope that the positive gestures shown by the Pak-Afghan leadership during the visit of President Ashraf Ghani will be followed by strong action on ground and a new era of Pak-Afghan friendship will begin.
The writer tweets @radiant_J_007