The September 15th visit of Pakistan Foreign Minister Shah Mahmud Qureshi to Afghanistan may cut some ice in frosty relations between the two important South Asian neighbours. However, in order to have lasting cordial ties, both Kabul and Islamabad need to make conscious, purposeful reassessment of their policies towards each other. The visit of FM Qureshi to Afghanistan was indeed important and has come at a time when due to officially created security problems, Pakistan has to shut down its consulate in Jalalabad, Afghanistan, and huge terrorist attacks, owned by Islamic State, continue to rock Afghanistan.
Pakistan shares a 2,640km-long largely unmanned border with Afghanistan — a landlocked country, which has greatly been dependent on Pakistan for trade with the outside world. In the last few years this dependence of Afghanistan reduced due to the linking of Afghanistan with the world through its other southern neighbour, Iran. However, with the unilateral withdrawal of the US from the Iranian nuclear deal and fear of re-imposition of trade sanctions by Washington on Tehran, Afghanistan has yet again started depending upon Pakistan for trade with the world.
There is significant increase in the mutual trade between Pakistan and Afghanistan, which earlier had come down unprecedentedly to mere $500 million from the earlier recorded trade of $5 billion. This development demonstrates that both Afghanistan and Pakistan have much in common to have good neighbourliness. But the blame game between the two states, particularly from the war-devastated Afghanistan on Islamabad of supporting the Afghan Taliban, have had kept the relations extremely sour. Pakistan on its part has been charging Kabul, with a lot of substance, with housing and nurturing Pakistani Taliban on its soil. It is to be noted that if the former Afghan Taliban head, Mullah Akhter Mansur, was killed in Pakistan’s province of Balochistan, the ex-head of the Pakistan Taliban, Mullah Fazlullah, was killed inside Afghanistan. Interestingly, both were eliminated in US CIA-operated drone missile strikes.
So both Pakistan and Afghanistan must understand that blaming the other is not the panacea for the security threats which non-state elements have been posing for the other state by using the territories of the other. On the part of Pakistan, it has successfully reclaimed all the territory once dominated by non-state militant and terrorist groups. Today, right from Bajaur to Waziristan and from there to Gwadar, the state writ is well-established. Contrarily in Afghanistan, the Afghan state has been constantly losing territory to the Afghan Taliban. In this situation Afghanistan must stop blaming Pakistan and look for the internal dynamics and factors for the insurgency and constant evaporation of its state writ.
The US, whose military prowess practically has kept the Afghan government in saddle, should also reassess its policy in Afghanistan and must try to understand why it has so far been unable to trounce the Taliban insurgency and defeat the Taliban. According to different estimates, the Afghan Taliban’s strength has not been more than 30,000 to 35,000, and even if they have been getting support from outside they could not have resisted the US-Nato-Afghan onslaught for so long. Thus, there is a need of soul-searching for Kabul and Washington.
Pakistan also requires demonstrating that it has completely ditched its old wish of locating ‘strategic depth’ in Afghanistan. At least from Pakistan’s practical actions it seems that it is no longer interested in Afghanistan for strategic purposes, and this is evident from the launch of the arduous task of fencing its long border with Afghanistan. At the same time Pakistan must also try to increase its bilateral trade with Afghanistan through regulated routes. Once both countries have economic interdependence of such a high level that they would ill-afford to turn back towards the other, the security-related problems would get diluted with the passage of time.
Published in The Express Tribune, September 19th, 2018.