Afghanistan Pakistan

The Enigma of Pak-Afghan Relations

The launching of combing operations by the Pakistan Army in areas close to the Pak-Afghan border in a bid to hunt down terrorists behind the American University attack in Kabul indicates a positive trajectory in the complex ties between the two countries. To share details of the attack, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani called Army Chief General Raheel Sharif. Condemning the attack, General Raheel promised President Ghani of full cooperation in sharing information and helping hunt down the terrorists responsible for the ruthless attack, in case they are located on Pakistani soil. The Pakistan Army carried out combing operations in the Pak-Afghan border zones where Afghan SIMs remain active and information was shared with Afghan authorities. The Afghan side had claimed that three Afghan cell numbers were used for communication during the attack, allegedly from Pakistani regions.

The fact of the matter is that cooperation by Pakistan in response to the attack in Kabul didn’t come in isolation. Afghanistan’s response, too, over hunting the plotters of the APS and Bacha Khan University attacks was constructive. The masterminds of these atrocities were reportedly killed in Afghanistan while some were handed over to Pakistan. Despite the gloom surrounding Pak-Afghan ties, what is promising is that both sides have started realising the efficacy of inevitable cooperation for containing terrorism on both sides of the Durand  Line, as peace in one country is not possible without stability in the other.

But differences over joint counterterrorism efforts in the larger context still persist. Time and again, it has been noted that the two countries have limitations when it comes to reaching agreement on issues like blocking Afghan mobile SIMs in Pakistan and vice versa. This doesn’t serve the interests of either country while only helping terrorists. The two countries have, so far, failed to agree on joint steps for border management though Pakistan unilaterally started taking measures for border security with some initial objections from Kabul. Construction of a gate on the Torkham border by Pakistan even sparked clashes in June. However, meetings between Pakistani and Afghan officials in Islamabad and Tashkent resolved the issue, and Kabul has adopted a policy of silence over the construction of checking facilities on the Pakistani side. This could have only happened if Kabul was convinced that Pakistani arrangements along the Durand Line would benefit Afghanistan too as it would help control terrorist movements. Even the US and Commander Resolute Support Mission in Afghanistan realise the importance of border management for countering terrorism.

Although the regional arrangement under the umbrella of the Quadrilateral Coordination Mechanism allows for intelligence-sharing, a bilateral Pak-Afghan arrangement is essential as the two countries have directly suffered from terrorism. Last year, the NDS refused to sign a bilateral MoU on intelligence-sharing with the ISI at the last moment when it had seemed that  the agreement had been finalised. The refusal was coupled with Indian officials’ comments against the proposed MoU. This move caused further deterioration in already fragile Pak-Afghan ties.

Insight into Pak-Afghan relations reveals that their bilateral ties are a complex combination of cooperation, mistrust and divergence. They are cooperative in a sense that they are ready to collaborate after terror attacks as well as when it comes to cooperation in military training and the development sector. Pakistan is playing an important role in developing infrastructure in Afghanistan. The recent approval of the four-lane, 276km-long expressway between Peshawar and Kabul is an example. Afghanistan needs better communication for transit trade while Pakistan needs access to Central Asia and Kabul is willing to facilitate the latter.

But at the same time, mistrust as well as divergence on several issues also exist. Afghan officials talk about Pakistan’s promises to take actions against all terrorists and allege that this promise hasn’t been upheld. While Pakistani officials rebuff such allegations, they blame Kabul for delays on crucial agreements like intelligence-sharing, SIM blockades and so on. Pakistan also blames the NDS for intervention in Balochistan. The list of accusations and counter-accusations is a lengthy one. Nevertheless, this mistrust can be reduced provided cooperation on counterterrorism continues and there is an increased focus on reducing the mutual blame-game between the two countries.

The author Imdad Hussain is an Islamabad-based writer specialising in diplomatic and security issues. This article originally appeared in Express Tribune, August 31, 2016. Original Link.

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