ISI Chief’s visit puts ball in Kabul’s Court – Tahir Khan

The Afghan media reported on Tuesday that the ISI chief Lt Gen Naveed Mukhtar has arrived in Kabul for talks with Afghan leaders on security issues. The American Radio Azadi quoted unnamed government officials saying that “security issues, especially anti-terrorism cooperation” will be on General Mukhtar’s agenda.

Details of the visits may not come out but there are no two opinions about importance of interaction between security officials at a time when relations are at lowest ebb.  Progress on the lists of wanted militants could be one of the topics as both sides are concerned over the cross-border activities of the armed groups.

In a tit-for-tat, Pakistani and Afghan officials exchanged lists of the Taliban leaders in February after a series of attacks killed nearly 100 people in Pakistan.

The positive aspect of the visit is that the two uneasy neighbours are now talking face-to-face.  Kabul had put a pause on bilateral visits for months and also had a low-key participation in the all-important ECO summit in Islamabad. Of 10 members, nine heads of states and governments had attended the March 1st summit, while Afghanistan had assigned its ambassador to Pakistan Omar Zakhilwal to represent the country.

Earlier, Afghan government shocked many in Pakistan when it decided to stay away from the SAARC summit in Islamabad in November just a day after India announced its boycott. Afghanistan would know that the summit could not be held even if one of its members did not attend it, but with its boycott, Kabul had conveyed a strong message to Islamabad.

As a sovereign nation it had the right to take any decision it deemed worthy, however, people in Pakistan rarely expected such a stance from Afghanistan. It also widened the trust gap between the two countries and affected the people-to-people relationship.

No doubt Afghanistan, over the years, has had many complaints about Pakistan’s approach; but dialogue is the only solution to address to each other’s concerns. Both sides will have to stop the traditional blame game in public and use bilateral mechanisms towards . Issues of bilateral interest and importance should be not settled in media.

In another positive move, On April 27, senior Pakistani military officials also travelled to Kabul on the directive of the army chief to show sympathies with Afghan officials over the human losses in the Taliban massive attack on a major army base in Mazar-e-Sharif. Both sides used the opportunity to touch upon security issues including border management. Lack of border coordination is one of the key irritants in relationship.

The visit of the ISI chief is the third high profile visit of Pakistani officials to Kabul in a week, however, results whether or not the visits are successful in breaking the ice would be clear in the coming days. It is now Afghanistan’s turn to reciprocate. The visit of Afghan Chief Executive Dr Abdullah Abdullah has long been due.

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif extended the invitation last year that was repeated again and again. There should be no more excuses on part of the Afghan leaders to delay further visits. An invitation to former President Hamid Karzai was also extended from the Prime Minister early last year, but this visit is also far from materialising. Mr Karzai, who initially planned to visit in June last year, has delayed his visit time and again, along with giving stern statements on Pakistan.

Also, the recent visit by the the high-powered 15-member delegation of Pakistani parliamentarians to Kabul on April 29 was also significant, as senior lawmakers had detailed discussions with President Ashraf Ghani, Dr Abdullah, parliamentary heads and Hamid Karzai.

The Pakistani contingent seemed satisfied at the outcome of the visit; however, Afghans, especially social media users, still have their suspicions. Problems between Pakistan and Afghanistan are complex and could not be solved in a few visits. But the resumption of bilateral visits could be seen a positive sign, which needs support by everyone who favours good brotherly relations.  As Pakistani leaders have paid three visits to Kabul in a week, Pakistanis would expect it is now Kabul’s turn to do the same.

It is high time for both the terrorism-hit countries to review their policies as to what they have achieved due to years of hostilities? Will they remain in a such a situation or agree on sincere cooperation to end the sufferings of their own people.

The author is editor NNI news agency, and also a member of CRSS’s Track II Diplomacy initiative, Beyond Boundaries, with Afghanistan.

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