Ever since the establishment of Ghani-headed national unity government the bilateral relationship between Pakistan and Afghanistan has been on an ascending trajectory. The two sides have made considerable progress in quality and quantity of relationship – both in political and economic areas of mutual interest. For the first time the Afghan government has decided to send its cadets for training in Pakistan, literally turning the page on the lingering perceptional mistrust between the military establishments of the two countries. No wonder then it was a huge surprise to the world that at the 132nd passing-out parade of the Pakistan Military Academy, Kakul, Afghan army chief General Sher Muhammad Kirimi was the chief guest. But if the bonhomie between the two neighbours has begun growing and flourishing the threats confronting it have also acquired new verve and vigour, threatening to undermine the progress made in the Pak-Afghan bilateral relationship. Pakistan must show up in Kabul and reiterate ‘to consolidate and further improve bilateral relations between the two countries’ – that was the decision made at a high-level meeting in Islamabad on the eve of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s visit to Kabul on Tuesday.
Three critical developments preceded the prime minister’s visit: the annual spring offensive launched by the Taliban, intra-Afghan dialogue in Qatar and President Ashraf Ghani’s visit of New Delhi. Not that Pakistan would like to temper, in any way, with Afghan government’s foreign policy initiatives; in fact, it would like to be helpful anytime anywhere if required – essentially by assuring the Kabul rulers of its best co-operation wherever and whenever wanted. Thanks to some vibes stemming from east of us the people of Afghanistan are being made to believe that but for behind-the-scene support from Pakistan the Afghan Taliban could not have launched as fierce an offensive as it did by launching attacks in some places in the north of the country. Of course, Pakistan had condemned the spring offensive, but it went a step further this time. “We stand in strong solidarity with Afghanistan. I assure you the enemies of Afghanistan cannot be friends of Pakistan,” declared Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif at a press conference after his meeting with Afghan leadership. Condemning the spring offensive as an act of terrorism he pledged action against any Taliban sanctuaries found in Pakistan. Nawaz Sharif and his host President Ghani have agreed on three guiding principles for bilateral relationship: adherence to policy of non-interference in each other’s internal matters; preventing respective territories from being used against the other; and that enemies of Afghanistan’s will be treated as enemies of Pakistan.
Did the Qatar dialogue result in anything concrete? Not much except for the media reports that the sitting failed to hammer out any policy line – perhaps, rightly, given the fact that the Afghan Taliban’s battle is for political power in their country unlike others’ of that genre who are fighting for global control. Also, they feel dispossessed of foreign patronage, particularly of Pakistan, and fear meeting the fate of yesterday’s anti-Soviet Mujahideen. The new bully on the block in Afghanistan – and it seems now in Pakistan also – is the Islamic State which recognises neither the international borders nor national politics. The emerging reality on ground in their country expects of the Afghan Taliban to join the ongoing national reconciliation process. To this, the prime minister has reaffirmed Pakistan’s “full support for an Afghan-led peace and reconciliation process”. Not only this the prime minister also offered capacity-building of Afghan police by training. Islamabad is also willing to improve rail and road communication networks, expand trade, increase investment and fast-track energy projects.