Language diplomacy

In the part of the world that we live in, religion and ethnicity mainly determine the contours of belonging if not statehood, and thereby considerably influence and shape bilateralism between the regional countries. No wonder then a high-profile three-member Pashtu-speaking delegation of Pakistani political leaders was in Kabul over the weekend for heart-to-heart talks with a cross-section of Afghan leadership including President Ashraf Ghani and Chief Executive Dr Abdullah. The visit was at the invitation of President Ghani who met them in Islamabad during his recent official visit. If the motive behind their visit was to overcome trust deficit why then only Pashtu-speaking leaders and not others of major parties like PPP, PML (N) and PTI were invited, this is of interest indeed, but as of now under focus is the visit of three Pashtun leaders – Mehmood Khan Achakzai, Aftab Sherpao and Afrasiab Khattak. They stay in forefront of the battle against Talibanisation – unlike the religious political parties whose leadership has not much of common cause to gel with the Kabul government, especially since their open revolt against the 21st Constitutional Amendment. On the face of it, the present Kabul rulers and many others in Afghanistan have no stomach for the leadership of Pakistan’s religious political parties – a news report says that incorrectly believing Maulana Fazlur Rehman would be part of the Pakistani team people took to the streets to protest against his inclusion. Perhaps, for the first time language affinity between the people of Pakistan and Afghanistan is being requisitioned to cut trust deficit. In fact historically the opposite had worked. But as it sometimes happens, the looming spectre of terrorism that stems from within or beyond makes the intended targets forget their bitter past and turn the page on their historically acrimonious relations. This happened between France and Germany after the two had fought two brutal world wars. Having met Afghan top government leaders and others, including former president Hamid Karzai, the three Pakistani leaders are quite optimistic about the outcome of their extensive interlocutions. It is only obvious that President Ghani is a bit cautious but definitely not pessimistic – his office says ‘To overcome the challenges we face is time-consuming with many obstacles ahead. However, the new government is committed to removing the problems’. Once he is through with cabinet-making which is expected within next week the tempo of emerging bilateralism between the two neighbours is likely to quicken.

But for the mischief of regional hegemon that remains alive and active – more so now that the man who nurses dreams of reviving ancient Hindu empire is calling the shots in India – there is every reason for Pakistan and Afghanistan should overcome their trust deficit and decide to coexist peacefully. And for this to happen Pakistan has done its part. Sensing that the new elected Afghan leadership is open to reason and logic Islamabad has to some extent succeeded in convincing that its so-called ‘strategic defence’ doctrine – which in reality was nothing more than the brainchild of some armchair strategists – is dead and gone. That Pakistan recognised the Taliban government – no less interestingly not only by Islamabad but by two important Gulf countries and even the United States though only for an hour – is a matter of past and should be no more an issue of contention. A massive military operation by the armed forces is going apace in North Waziristan and elsewhere in areas adjacent to Afghanistan. For the first time, there has come about active military-to-military contacts between the two governments, which hopefully have removed some important misperceptions that tend to bedevil bilateral ties. How Kabul government goes about in its approach to the Afghan Taliban Pakistan is absolutely out of it, except for its demand that the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) militants who have taken shelter in Afghanistan should be immobilized and handed over to Islamabad. Of serious concern to Pakistan is the presence of TTP chief Mulla Fazlullah whose foot-soldiers are behind most of the terror incidents in Pakistan. Perhaps, the ‘very positive message’ Afrasiab Khattak thinks Afghanistan Chief Executive Dr Abdullah will personally deliver to the host government during his expected visit next week, is about repartition of Mulla Fazlullah. Undoubtedly, never before has such an ambience of hope and understanding obtained between Pakistan and Afghanistan as now; no question this must be exploited up to the hilt because the alternative is nothing but unbearable pain and misery for the two and beyond in the region.