Strengthening Pak-Afghan relations
Prime Minister’s Advisor for Foreign Affairs and National Security, Sartaj Aziz’s recent visit to Afghanistan is a milestone event for the newly formed PML (N) government. Where some quarters of the political spectrum and the public are considering this visit to be Pakistan’s attempt for a charm offensive over the Afghan government, Aziz’s official tour was in fact the need of the hour. The visit will assist Pakistan improve its edgy relations with Afghanistan and bring the two countries on a level playing field as far as regional stability and bilateral relations are concerned.
Moreover, Sartaj Aziz’s visit could be a precautionary move by the Pakistani government to holds talks with Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s government ahead of the U.S.-led NATO troops’ withdrawal from Afghanistan in 2014, which analysts expect, will leave the war-torn country in a myriad of problems.
After arriving in Afghanistan, Aziz told the media that, “The main purpose of my visit, as some of you may know, is to convey a formal invitation from Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to President Karzai to visit Pakistan.” If Karzai visits Pakistan then it will be a major stride forward for Islamabad-Kabul relations as the two countries will discuss and perhaps resolve some of the burning foreign policy issues. However, sources claim that President Karzai has accepted Nawaz Sharif’s invitation but Karzai has also stressed for the Pakistan government to first prepare and clarify the agenda of the trip.
Before making his visit to Afghanistan, Sartaj Aziz came under fire from Afghanistan’s foreign ministry for giving the Afghan government the ‘power-sharing’ idea with the Taliban to facilitate a peaceful coexistence and to end the Afghan conflict. However, Aziz denied of making any such comments. Furthermore, Aziz’s visit would have also eased pressures between Kabul and Islamabad after Hamid Karzai’s Chief of Staff, Abdul Karim Khurram, expressed qualms over the setting up of Taliban’s Doha office. Khurram was of the view that either USA or Pakistan is aiming to break Afghanistan.
During his visit, Aziz reiterated that Pakistan has some influence and contacts in the Taliban; however, they do not control this group. Had the Pakistani government not sent Aziz at this crucial time to tie up the loose ends, it would have been difficult to regain Afghanistan’s trust.
Sartaj Aziz also assured that Pakistan would extend its full support in holding intra-Afghan talks with the Taliban, which will bring stability in Afghanistan. However, peace in Afghanistan also depends on U.S.-Afghan ties. Although the U.S. troops will leave Afghanistan next year and the country will fall in the hands of Afghanistan’s national security apparatus, changes in the game plan might become evident if Washington decides to leave some forces behind to oversee the transition.
Sartaj Aziz held talks with Afghan President Hamid Karzai and Foreign Minister Dr Zalmai Rassoul and discussed strategies to promote bilateral relations. This will pave way for a peaceful Afghanistan as it is in the interest of Pakistan. If Pakistan views Afghanistan as an important South Asian country, then India also has its eyes on Afghanistan and would have been monitoring Aziz’s maiden visit to the Afghanistan. Over the past few years, India has been investing in Afghanistan’s rehabilitation efforts and in the country’s construction and communications sector where the investment is set to have crossed the US$2 billion mark. Islamabad fears that in the post-2014 era, India will have a presence in Afghanistan that will only create troubles for Pakistan if not addressed at the earliest. Therefore, Pakistan sent Sartaj Aziz to diffuse any tension between Kabul and Islamabad and to devise a future strategy for the two countries to co-exist amidst numerous regional dilemmas looming over the South Asian region.
When Nawaz Sharif took office of Prime Minister in June, analysts believed that he would need to act mutually with the army to implement foreign policies to stabilize Pak-Afghan relations and to facilitate US-Afghan ties. Pakistan has to play the main card in bringing the Taliban to the negotiating table because with Islamabad’s long history between Kabul, Pakistan is the only country that can influence peace in Afghanistan. Aziz’s visit, which came within two months of Nawaz Sharif’s victory at the 2013 elections, is a clear indicator that Sharif wants peace across the border before he can tackle Pakistan’s domestic crisis.
Aziz’s visit to Afghanistan also brought forward the need for the two countries to remove all barriers in bilateral trade. In this regard, Pakistan and Afghanistan agreed to hold a meeting of Afghanistan Pakistan Transit Trade (APTT) Coordinating Authority at the earliest. When and where the two countries will hold the APTT meeting and how significant it will be for the two neighbors is yet to be seen.
Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s government is making efforts to bring diplomatic harmony between Kabul and Islamabad and if he succeeds, then it will be no less than an achievement.However, he should bear in mind that Pakistan would bid farewell to President Asif Ali Zardari in August. Zardari’s successor would need to reduce the vacuum between Pakistan and Afghanistan because the latter will become a diplomatic and foreign policy challenge for Pakistan’s new President. In this regard, Nawaz Sharif has taken a bold step by sending Sartaj Aziz to Afghanistan, which expresses his intentions to maintain friendly relations with Afghanistan so that Islamabad can neutralize any challenge rising from Afghanistan in the future, specially the post-2014 era.(Muhammad Omar Iftikhar)