Bridging Pak-Afghan Trust Deficit | Mohammad Jamil

On Friday, Advisor to the prime minister on foreign affairs and national security Sartaj Aziz visited Kabul to attend a regional economic conference and also held meetings with the president, foreign minister and national security adviser. “The main thing that we both agreed upon was to restore trust, end the blame game against each other and create a positive atmosphere,” Sartaj Aziz said in comments broadcast on state television on Saturday about his meeting with President Ashraf Ghani. Addressing the participants ofthe sixth edition of Regional Economic Conference on Afghanistan (RECCA-VI) in Kabul, President Ashraf Ghani said: “Pakistan’s leaders express the desire for peace but face the challenge of controlling those forces who believe that an unstable and weakened Afghanistan is better than a strong andconfidentneighbour.” President Ashraf Ghani seems to be under the influence of former president Hamid Karzai and his protégés in Afghan administration.

The fact of matter is that Pakistan wants to see a strong, stable and sovereign Afghanistan, so that it can’t be influenced by other countries to create problems for Pakistan. Therefore, President Ashraf Ghani should be watchful of the remnants of former president Hamid Karzai who wish to see strained relations between the two countries. With persistent accusations against Pakistan of funding and arming the militants, they want to pressurize Ashraf Ghani into invoking agreements with India signed by former president Hamid Karzai. President Ghani must be remembering Pakistan’s role in Afghan’s resistance against former USSR, and having accommodated millions of refugees on Pakistani soil, who have yet to be repatriated. After his election as president, Ashraf Ghani’s top priority was to have closer ties with Pakistan. For one, he wanted to consolidate his position with the cooperation of Pakistan.

Secondly he hoped that Islamabad could push Afghan Taliban leaders to come to negotiating table, which could end Afghanistan’s long war. With the efforts of Pakistan and perhaps China, official peace talks with militants were held in July 2015. But after Afghan government announced that Mullah Mohammad Omar had died two years ago, the process was suspended and the Taliban launched a wave of attacks in Kabul, killing more than 50 people. Afghanistan and Pakistan accuse each other of doing too little to prevent Taliban fighters and other militants from operating each other’s territory. Afghan officials have long accused Pakistan of tolerating or even supporting the Afghan Taliban, a charge denied by Pakistan. Anyhow, Sartaj Aziz had held discussions with Afghan president to remove trust deficit and to find a way to end the acrimony in the relationship after last month’s attacks in Kabul.

The question is why Afghan National Army and Police have failed to stop the militants or intruders, when they try to cross the porous border between the two countries? Last month, at least 29 members of a pro-government militia had been killed in an attack in northern Afghanistan, when a Taliban suicide bomber targeted a gathering in the province of Kunduz. It has to be mentioned that distance between Peshawar and Kabul is 227 km and from Kabul to Kunduz province 334 km in the north. How it is possible that the militants, what they say Haqqani elements, cross the border and travel for over 560 km to attack and come back to their ‘safe havens’? In fact, Afghan intelligence has the remnants of the previous regime; and northern alliance elements also do not wish to see that talks between Afghan government and the Taliban succeed.

Secondly, to cover up its failures Afghan establishment accuses Pakistan for every terror attack in Afghanistan. Thirdly, the US and Afghanistan wish to see Pakistan to do more, but they have done nothing to nab Mullah Fazlullah the chief of Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan, who is ensconced in Kunar, and his thugs attack on Pakistan villages with impunity. It is now time that Afghanistan should do more. Reportedly, Sartaj Aziz had carried five key messages to Kabul i.e. Good wishes from the people and the leadership of Pakistan; Pakistan’s commitment to maintaining friendly, brotherly and good neighbourly relations with Afghanistan; and need to stop anti-Pakistan campaign, as it was counter-productive and did not serve the best interests of the peoples of the two countries. But once again there appears to be a lapse on the part of Pakistan’s Foreign Office, as the issue of Mullah Fazlullah had not been raised in the above meeting.

In fact, Pakistan should raise the point of Mullah Fazlullah whenever Afghanistan talks about Haqqani network. Pakistan had hosted the first round of Taliban peace talks in July, but a planned second round was indefinitely postponed after the Afghan government announced that the Taliban leader, Mullah Mohammad Omar, had died years earlier. The talks could not be revived later because of rift between Taliban over new leadership and tension between Pakistan and Afghanistan after deadly bombings in Kabul, which Afghan government said were carried out by militants who have their bases in Pakistani northwest. It means that some elements in Afghan government do not wish to see rapprochement between Afghangovernment and the Taliban, which is why they announced death of Mullah Omer at the crucial moment.

It appears that both pro-Indian lobby in Afghan administration and Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah are exerting pressure on President Ashraf Ghani to lambast Pakistan. But blaming Pakistan, which gave unstinted support to President Ghani, and also conducted operation in Waziristan killing militants belonging to Haqqani network and foreign militants, is uncalled for. So far as India is concerned, it is worried about its investment, as it has already given $2 billion to Afghanistan as aid fordevelopment, and is committed to pay for the Russian arms. The decision had come as a follow up to the promise made in the Strategic Partnership Agreement between the two countries in 2011, in which India agreed to assist in “training, equipping, and capacity building programs” to strengthen the Afghan National Security Forces. Having said that, it is now Afghanistan’s turn to do more.

—The writer is a senior journalist based in Lahore.


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