Nudging Afghanistan: Is Kabul speaking language of New Delhi?

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 Pakistan and Afghanistan have agreed to end a dangerous blame game over a spate of attacks and work to restore trust, Pakistan’s foreign policy chief said on Saturday. Advisor to the prime minister on foreign affairs and national security Sartaj Aziz had visited Kabul on Friday for a regional economic conference and also held meetings with the president, foreign minister and national security adviser. With the visit of Sartaj Aziz it was hoped that the two would be able to chalk out a way the countries could avoid mudslinging after much bad blood over the recent spike in Taliban-led attacks in Kabul. Speaking at the conference, Ghani, once again, reiterated that he would like to have good ties with Pakistan but again pointed to unnamed groups within Pakistan destabilising peace in Afghanistan. With no official communication published after the talks it is expected that the two had an open exchange. Aziz was well received in Afghanistan and met key officials including Foreign Minister Salahuddin Rabbani, National Security Adviser Hanif Atma; he also attended a reception hosted by Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah. The warm reception granted to Aziz and the Pakistani delegation suggests that Afghanistan is ready to take the peace process further, but is sticking to its demand for action from Pakistan against the Afghan Taliban. The desire for not muddying the waters by refraining from hostile statements against each other reflects the aspiration to restore mutual trust between Islamabad and Kabul. However, this is easier said than done. For example, although it was apparently spoken of, it now appears the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) signed between the two countries for intelligence sharing is all but dead in the water. Trust is not a commodity that can be switched on and off at will. Kabul had plenty of reasons for resentment against Pakistan, based on our almost continuous interventions in that unfortunate country over the last four decades, interventions that have reduced the country to rack and ruin. Building trust in the wake of this history would at the best of times have required extraordinary efforts and steps to convince Kabul that Pakistan had turned the page on its past ambition to install a weak regime in Kabul beholden to Pakistan and unable, as the icing on the cake, to press past revanchist claims on Pakistani territory. As things have panned out, however, the ‘turn’ only appears to be a ‘half-turn’ (a disturbing pattern in our history). Pakistan may be bending its back to eliminate homegrown terrorists and nudging the Afghan Taliban to talk peace with Kabul, but the elephant in the room remains the Haqqani network, considered the author of the deadly recent bombings in Kabul that took such a high toll of life. Washington and Kabul have both expressed concerns about the ‘mollycoddling’ of the Haqqani network by Pakistan. Perhaps this ‘strategic asset’ has not yet outlived its utility for the security establishment of Pakistan, despite its reported support for and providing safe havens to the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan in the provinces of eastern Afghanistan controlled by the Haqqanis. At the very least, Pakistan needs to restrain the Haqqani network from working at cross purposes to the peace talks. Unless space for the talks to succeed is carved out by reduced, if not entirely stopped, attacks on civilians in the Afghan capital, the peace and reconciliation process may prove stillborn.

 

pk.shafaqna.com