Thursday, March 9, 2017

Islamabad-Kabul relations

Border tensions between Pakistan and Afghanistan are heading towards a dangerous level with recent incidents. In wake of the attack on Sehwan Sharif, Pakistan closed the border with Afghanistan for security reasons and conducted cross border raids against Jamaatul Ahrar (JuA) for neutralising its training camps. However, the closure of the border also led to a brewing deadlock with Afghan officials over the last couple of weeks due to non-cooperation from either side over various issues (with the bulk of the onus lying on Kabul). Moreover, a militant attack originating from Afghan territory martyred five soldiers, indicating Kabul’s weakness in controlling the use of its own territory, unlike Pakistan.
Defence Minister Khawaja Asif’s recent remarks on Kabul, though controversial, present some hard facts that one cannot shy away from. On the floor of the parliament, he pointed out towards Kabul and said, ‘If you have no control over the territories, stop calling them part of Afghanistan.’ Moreover, he emphasised that Pakistan has its sovereign right to close the border for its own security and cannot allow the border to be used as a thoroughfare, pointing towards India’s alleged support to terror groups and its nexus with Afghan intelligence. He also lashed out at the Afghans for resisting proper border management mechanisms recommended by Pakistan.
The situation is indeed spiralling out of control with no end in sight. Although Pakistan has agreed to open the border for just two days this week, it may need to reopen the border permanently in the long-run for another humanitarian crisis cannot be afforded at any cost along the Durand Line. The state has already hosted millions Afghan refugees since the Soviet-Afghan War in the 1980s, leading to many of them acquiring Pakistani citizenship (albeit illegally in some respects).
Afghanistan, largely known as the graveyard of empires, has hardly witnessed peace in its long history and with former Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s refusal to recognise the Durand Line, diplomatic relations are indeed murkier than ever between Islamabad and Kabul. In addition, a senior Pakistan Army official, in an interview with London-based paper The Daily Telegraph, commented that the USA had failed to achieve stability in the region, and asked that it ‘do more’ or else the possibility of Moscow’s intervention was there. These remarks clearly signal the complexity of changing regional power dynamics.
On the other hand, our establishment is worried about India’s role in Afghan territory, its defence and economic investments and provision of alleged support to proxy groups through Afghan intelligence. Our Foreign Office needs to think creatively and present out of box solution to the civil and military leadership. Track II efforts need to be strengthened to bring Kabul and Islamabad together without any set conditions.
The Pakistani government should also convince Kabul to share HUMINT and SIGINT for effective collaboration against the common threat of terrorism. The mistrust between the two sides has been used by India as an opportunity to extend its influence in Afghanistan.
Despite Pakistan’s questionable role in the past pertaining to the Afghan Taliban, it has indeed come a long way in fostering regional connectivity which would benefit Afghanistan’s future. Talks with the Taliban are must for the Afghan Peace Process to end smoothly, and this must be the objective of all involved powers.

No comments: