Significance of Bilateral Relations between Pakistan and Afghanistan
Pakistan once again categorically stated that Pakistan has no favorites in Afghanistan and it fully supports peace and reconciliations efforts of Kabul. This assurance was supported by the release of 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 have acknowledged and praised Pakistan’s positive contributions in this regard. These developments emphasize the need of mutual understanding and bilateralism in Pak-Afghan relations as security and stability of both the countries depend on each other.
Historically, Pakistan had higher stakes in the stability and security of Afghanistan than any other state in the region. Pakistan and Afghanistan have common Pashtun culture, borders and historical heritage. Tribal and ethnic bounds are very strong across the Pak-Afghan border, Afghan transit trade arrangements and trade links across Central Asia make us mutually dependent. These facts highlight that the Governments of Pakistan and Afghanistan should extend preferential treatment to each other in regional and international security environment for their national interests.
The Governments of Pakistan and Afghanistan should promote the tendency of bilateral dialogue and forums to solve disputes as involvement of other countries or major powers exploit our differences for their own vested interests. A bilateral relationship exclusive of major powers is neither possible due to the contemporary strategic environment nor affordable for Pakistan and Afghanistan. But the two countries could live with peaceful coexistence by avoiding antagonistic approaches and by respecting each other’s policies and interests by developing trust and understanding on bilateral forums. At least, no third country should be allowed to exploit the differences between Pak-Afghan Governments.
Emphasizing the bilateralism in Pak-Afghan relations, the experts participated in a conference organized by South Asia Free Media Association in December 2013 urged the leadership of both the countries to take reconciliatory steps to meet the security challenges of post ISAF/NATO Afghanistan. Infact, in 2014, US will pull out major bulk of its troops from Afghanistan leaving security void behind. This situation will pose big challenge to Afghan National Army and other Afghan Security Institutions to maintain peace by preventing deterioration of government’s hold. A failure in this regard will have grave consequences for Afghanistan and Pakistan. 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. Therefore, both the countries must join hands to thwart any such eventualities.
Dialogue and reconciliation in Afghanistan and Pakistan with Taliban fighters and their outfits must succeed in order to bring sustainable stability to both the countries. This is a complex issue and its success depends on Taliban groups operating both sides of the borders. Therefore, both the Governments should place joint efforts in this regard. Hampering this process or allowing any other country to hamper this process will be destructive for both the countries. The Government in Pakistan honored all the requests of cooperation by the Government and High Peace Council of Afghanistan. But unfortunately, Afghan Government’s record is poor in promoting peace dialogue in Pakistan. The recent efforts of NDS to use Latifullah Mehsud to inflict Pakistan with terrorism are indicative of negative approach of Kabul in this regard. NDS’ links and support for Mullah Fazlullah is also well known in diplomatic circles in Kabul. Such overtures of Afghanistan will benefit no one and will be harmful for its own security in the long run.
The most critical issue is the resolution of legitimate security concerns of Pakistan vis-à-vis India in Afghanistan. Recently, US special representative for Af-Pak, James Dobbins stated 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 proof Pakistan’s case in this regard. India imposed economic embargo many times on this country to exploit it’s vulnerability to stripped it of its natural resources. On the other hand, Pakistan never extended such treatment to Afghanistan and Afghanistan Transit Trade arrangements of 1965 continued unabated. These facts reflect the dangerous consequences of Pro-India policies of 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 including India to use its territory for fomenting unrest in Pakistan.
There are many areas and common challenges in which Pak-Afghan Governments should develop mutual understanding to find solutions. The menace of religious extremism and sectarianism is faced by both the nations. Both need to work together to tackle this problem which is also imbedded in militancy. The regulation of Pak-Afghan border and countering drugs trafficking also need join mechanisms to be successful. Many of these problems and issues can be resolved with the help of traditional Jirgas of both the nations which can also convince militants to shun violence.