Afghanistan, Pakistan need a positive reset in ties

Ajmal Shams (Special to Gulf News)

25 September 2013

The recent Afghan-Pakistan diplomatic activity has brought the relations between the two neighboring countries into spot-light once more. In spite of all the uncertainty and mistrust surrounding this relationship, Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s latest high profile visit to Islamabad provides a glimmer of hope. Although it seems a remote possibility, with genuine political will on both sides, a breakthrough might be in the offing. The visit came at a time when newly elected government of Nawaz Sharif had taken office in Islamabad with renewed pledges to restore peace in his country, which is inextricably linked to peace and stability in neighboring Afghanistan. Mr. Sharif, his country’s Premier for the third time, has a long-standing experience of dealing with Afghan Politics. It is yet to be seen how far all this optimism can translate into bringing stability to the troubled region. However, the initiation of release of Afghan Taliban from Pakistani prisoners does seem to be a good omen and a major development. It is noteworthy that prisoners release has been a long-standing demand of the Afghan government hoping that the step will support the peace process with the Taliban insurgents.

Unlike in the past, Pakistani institutions now appear to be more embracing of a paradigm shift. The judiciary is more independent than ever. Media and civil society are increasingly vibrant. The elected government completed its term, a rare occurrence in Pakistan. These developments might entail a new chapter opening in Pakistani politics whereby a civilian government would be able to exercise its powers with minimal intervention from the military leadership. The implications of the aforementioned for Afghan-Pak relations will be interesting to debate, noting that these relations have been characterized by suspicion, mistrust and antagonism in the past.

The Pakistani military establishment has continued to pursue its traditional policy of seeking strategic depth in Afghanistan. This policy gained further momentum after the collapse of the Taliban Regime in the aftermath of the tragic events of 9/11. This approach is, however, being increasingly questioned by Pakistani intelligentsia, the mainstream political parties, and its outspoken media and vibrant civil society. Opposition by various circles to a persistent intervention in Afghanistan has been observed from time to time.

The patronage of militant groups outside Afghanistan has put Pakistan’s own security at risk, causing huge loss of life and shattering of the latter’s economy over the past decade. An increasing instability, militancy and lack of security across Pakistan have prompted the political leadership of the country to rethink its policy vis-à-vis Afghanistan. If true, the recent developments might as well indicate the beginning of a gradual shift occurring in Pakistan. This might eventually lead to the abandonment of intervention as instrument of foreign policy. Should this presumed evolution of Pakistani foreign policy is realized, the two neighbors will start to relook at each other as being strategic partners rather than antagonist neighbors. Given the dynamics of Pakistani foreign politics with its military playing a central role, one can only be cautiously optimistic about the future.

On the Afghan side, there is need for more unified and integrated approach with regards to its relations with Pakistan. Managing Pakistani affairs has always been a challenge for Kabul partly because of the very complexity of it. A general lack of intellectual capital and think-tanks in Pakistani affairs, limited robust diplomacy and a continued sense of mistrust regarding Pakistan’s intentions are also some of the constraints for a major breakthrough in bilateral relations.

Over the past decade, India has invested tremendously in Afghanistan’s rebuilding efforts. Besides India’s generous support to Post-Taliban Afghanistan, the two countries are considered to be time-honored friends. Afghanistan’s cordial relations with India are often thought of as being one of the major hurdles in confidence-building between the former and the neighboring Pakistan. But, Afghanistan’s stance is very clear in this regard. It asserts that as in independent country it has every right to establish relations with countries in the region and beyond based on its national interests. However, the Pakistani establishment perceives this as being too close to its arch-rival India at the cost of ignoring its next door neighbor on the part of Afghanistan. To address the former’s concerns, Afghan government has repeatedly conveyed its message loud and clear that it will not allow any country to use its soil for waging proxy wars. Recognizing Pakistan’s vital role in facilitating peace talks with the insurgents, the Afghan political leadership now seems to be increasingly focused on putting its Pakistani Policy on track while being mindful of appropriate geo-political context. Having said this, one must admit that the ball is in Pakistan’s court now.

On the economic front, Pakistan has tremendously benefited during President Karzai’s rule. Its annual trade with Afghanistan has exceeded $2 billion and is expected to reach $5 billion by 2015. Afghanistan offers economically feasible, fast and efficient trade route for Pakistan to Central Asian countries. The energy crisis in Pakistan places the need for improving its relation with Afghanistan at the center of its supposedly renewed approach to Afghanistan where the latter can offer energy markets due to its huge hydropower potential as well as transit route for power transmission from central Asian countries.

The people in both countries are eager to see a new chapter opening in relations between the two neighbors to reap the benefits of peace, stability and economic opportunities. It is up to the leadership in both Kabul and Islamabad how rapidly they seize this historical opportunity.    

The writer is President of the Afghanistan Social Democratic Party well know as Afghan Millat National Progressive Party and is based in Kabul, Afghanistan. Courtesy: Gulf News

د ګوندمرامنامه  دګوند تاریخچه زمونږ دریځ لیکنې دا فغان ملت نومیالي دګوند مشر انځورونه خبرونه او غونډې مونږ سره اړیکې د ګوند اخبار

دافغان ملت ملي مترقي ګوند

 Afghanistan Social Democratic Party

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