The acrimonious element in Pak-Afghan relations is nothing new. The trust deficit between the two has a long history. While the porous nature of border is a constant source of trouble, the Indian factor makes the equation even more volatile. Nonetheless Pakistan recently had been able to garner worldwide approval for facilitating and playing an instrumental role in Afghan peace process. Yet once again the relations seem to have suffered a severe setback.
Afghan President Ashraf Ghani during his interview with BBC issues a statement that relations between Pakistan and Afghanistan are not brotherly but like two states. This rhetoric appears at a time when the relations between the two neighbors are highly tensed. Both sides are actively condemning and accusing each other for supporting and sponsoring recent terrorist attacks in Pakistan and Afghanistan. In such an environment where regional security is already in a state of doldrums, such proclamations are not void of severe regional implications.
First and foremost an unmistakable shift in the mindset is quite evident. President Ghani is generally seen by Pakistan as less vindictive than his predecessor Hamid Karzai. He comes across as a person who is willing to recognize that terrorism is not just endemic to Pakistan. He is ready to take measures against the non state actors operating from his country. However the recent statement leaves no place for any doubt that Pakistan needs a reality check on its perception of Afghan leadership. This new stance means that the distrust has crept back in between the two or may be was never completely gone. Chief Executive Abdullah Abudllah implicating Pakistan at UNGA with regards to takeover of Kunduz by Taliban further strengthens this argument. Such statements irrespective of their credibility are sure to get in the way of any efforts towards improvement of bilateral relations between Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Also Pakistan’s ambitions to serve as a regional peacemaker and a facilitator between Taliban and Afghan government may have to suffer a hard blow. It appears that all the hard work by Pakistan to initiate Afghan peace process has been forgotten and multiplied by zero. Sentiments are equally hurt on both sides. Pakistan cannot take Badhaber attack lightly; the tragedy of Peshawar school attack can never be forgotten. The need is to further accelerate the joint approach towards curbing terrorist outfits instead of disowning each other at this crucial time. Getting bitter and exhibiting suspicions about each other’s sincerity will only allow the hostile elements to take advantage of the situation. Both sides need to consider this aspect and act wisely. In the present scenario it will not serve any side to indulge in the blame game. Also
Pakistan needs to be more cautious and needs to take such rhetoric very seriously. This is not to suggest that Pakistan should exhibit an equally toxic gesture. If taken in literal sense then a brotherly relation might have some margin for compassion and compromise, otherwise in state to state relations usually a realistic approach centered on pursuing one’s own interests at the expense of the other is a preferred and justified line of action. Afghanistan surely wouldn’t provoke Pakistan to adopt a “non-brotherly” stance and act discompassionately with regards to millions of Afghan refugees settled on Pakistani soil. Hence Afghanistan should probably revisit its present approach while Pakistan definitely should demand a rational explanation of this statement from Afghanistan or take an initiative to clear the air out and win the trust back, as no side can afford to lose the other. Pakistan should also try to identify and make public all the possible factors which might have caused this 180 degrees change in Ashraf Ghani’s behavior.
Having said all that, it is true that Pakistan needs to do some self analysis too. Does the distinction between good and bad Taliban really work for Pakistan’s national interests? It is clear that officially Pakistan has maintained that it will never allow, sponsor, and abet terrorism anywhere in any form. Then why did the peace efforts which started off on a positive trajectory ended up in skepticism? What really went wrong? It is convenient and sometimes logical too to put blame on India but this can’t work every time. Both sides need to learn to take responsibility of their actions. While Pakistan needs to be more stringent when it comes to its position on Taliban and Haqqani group, Afghanistan should also stop putting all the blame on Pakistan and refrain from issuing irrational and irresponsible statements on international forums. Why should such sentiments be broadcasted and highlighted when the exploiters are waiting to get a chance to further spoil the situation? This might be seen by them as an open invitation to intercede and spew out anti-Pakistan sentiments in Kabul. Wouldn’t such assertions jeopardize the regional security situation? I wonder if Afghanistan can afford to pursue this whimsical and impulsive diplomacy.
As George Simmel very aptly put it in 1955 that International society is “sewn together” by cross cutting conflicts. Hence clashes are inevitable but how to recover from them and handle the situation amicably is the real test of nerves. The only solution to resolve distrust is through mutual concerted efforts.
S. Sadia Kazmi
* The author, Sadia Kazmi is a Senior Research Associate at the Strategic Vision Institute, Islamabad. She is pursuing a PhD in the Department of Strategic Studies at the National Defence University, Islamabad. She can be reached at [email protected]