Afghanistan Pakistan

Afghanistan’s UN approach weakens bilateral dialogue with Pakistan – Tahir Khan

Afghanistan has formally approached the United Nations against Pakistan for what officials in Kabul call “illegal closure of the border, rocketing and Pakistan military activities” along the border or the Durand Line. Pakistan’s fencing of the border has also annoyed Afghanistan.
Afghan Foreign Ministry spokesman Ahmad Shakeeb Mustaghni believes Pakistan’s actions in recent years were in “violation of the accepted international laws.” Mustaghni told reporters this week that the UN Security Council could take decision on the basis of its “evidence” shared with the world body.
As a sovereign country Afghanistan has the right to take any decision to protect its interests, but the action to seek foreign intervention could be seen as a deviation from the understanding reached between advisers of the two countries in London on March 15.
Days after the UK-brokered talks were held, Pakistani and Afghan officials confirmed both sides had agreed on a bilateral mechanism to coordinate at military-to-military, intelligence-to-intelligence and diplomatic level to address to each other’s concerns. It was the time for follow-up actions in line with the London’s understanding but Mustaghni’s remarks reflect a different mood in Kabul.
Bilateral track is the best option for the two neighbours to find out solution to disputes because inviting foreign intervention could further complicate the already tense relationship.  In spite of tensions, bilateral channels are open and should be utilized.  Both countries should equally take the blame for the current mistrust that also badly affects the people-to-people contacts.
Afghan leaders’ blame game has no doubt spoiled the atmosphere. At the same time Pakistan’s unilateral actions along the border could be seen as a serious blow to bilateral ties. It would be wise for Pakistani leaders to determine if its policies have widened mistrust?
Time is ripe for policy makers in Pakistan to look into the state of affairs with regard to Afghanistan and what would be the outcome if such approach persists.  Nawaz Sharif, who had promised to have good relationship with neighbours in his first speech after taking oath as prime minister for third time in June 2013, should take a review if his government has achieved this objective?  An independent review would suggest a total failure of the gov’t foreign policy with regard to Afghanistan.
At the same time, Afghan leaders will have to review their policies towards Pakistan if they expect anything good from Pakistan. Kabul will have to remove deep suspicions in the mind of the people in Pakistan whether it maintains a balanced approach in relationship with other countries.
No one in Pakistan would expect Afghanistan would follow India to boycott the SAARC Summit that Pakistan was to host in November.  People in Pakistan were upset to listen to remarks by President Ashraf Ghani in the Indian city of Amritsar in December last year, in which he also publicly rejected Pakistan’s offer of 500-million dollars assistance. Pakistanis were shocked when Kabul refused to attend the ECO summit in Islamabad at highest level on March 1 despite representation of nine members at the head of state and head of government level.
Although Afghanistan has always been at odd with Pakistan, it cites the major irritant in relationship is lack of progress in reconciliation with the Taliban insurgents.  Afghan leaders believe Pakistan could press the Taliban to come to the negotiation table; however, Islamabad insists it has no control over the Taliban but encourages them to join the peace process.
Reports suggested last month that Pakistan has again pushed the Taliban to come to the negotiations table in interaction with several leaders. Pakistan also wants the Taliban to reduce violence at a time when Russia has stepped diplomatic efforts to involve regional countries for peace and stability in Afghanistan and the region.
Pakistan and China had a key role in this initiative when diplomats from the three countries laid foundation for this process in December. The process of informal consultation was expanded to six-nation meet in Moscow in February. Now the focus is on the upcoming meeting in Moscow on April 14-15 as Russia has invited more countries to join.  One of the important aspects of the Russian initiative is that Pakistan is now engaged with Afghanistan is this initiative.
Taliban, who had always suspicions about such initiatives, have come up with positive response to the Moscow-led efforts.
All stakeholders should not miss this chance. Although the U.S. has turned down invitation to the meeting on the plea that it was not consulted before the invitation was sent, it has not opposed the move.
The U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s recent statement on the possible peace process has raised some hopes. As the US and NATO allies have not won the war over the past 16 years and the situation is worsen, it would be a wise approach to shift focus to peace negotiations.
The author Tahir Khan is a journalist for The Express Tribune and a distinguished member of CRSS Pak-Afghan Track 1.5/II initiative, ‘Beyond Boundaries’.

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