Afghan president Ashraf Ghani’s visit to Islamabad on Nov 14 was important in many ways. The Afghan president came with a 140 member delegation comprising experts from all walks of life, which unequivocally shows how serious the Afghan leadership is in seeking peace in the region and especially with its neighboring countries. Both sides resolved to fight against the common enemy “terrorism” and pledged to extend cooperation to each other in this regard. Pakistan, as we all know, did not support any candidate in the Afghan presidential elections however there was an expectation here that relations between the two countries would further improve if Ashraf Ghani led the new Afghan government.
It is something rare that a head of the state when comes to Pakistan visits the General Headquarters (GHQ) also. President Ashraf Ghani did this, which means he is quite serious in addressing the issues of terrorism and cross border activities. Pakistan Army has cleared about 90 per cent of the area of North Waziristan and the rest is expected to be cleared sooner rather than later. In the past, both countries have been accusing each other of cross border terrorism and perhaps that was the issue discussed in length during the meeting of the Afghan president and Pakistan army chief. As it goes, where there is will, there is way. Let us hope peace efforts made by the two sides will not prove barren this time. The major hurdle that has been impeding the peace moves happened to be the ‘trust deficit’ between the two countries. If this handicap is managed, then surely it will become easy to crack even the hard nuts.
China is also keen to enhance its relations with Afghanistan mainly because it can’t afford to leave an open filed for the Americans and the allied countries in Afghanistan and secondly it did want to make inroads into the Taliban echelons for China believes uprisings in the Xingjian province are directly linked with Afghanistan and Pakistan. Chinese officials are reported to have been meeting with the highest Taliban leadership during the Taliban rule in Afghanistan afterwards. Mullah Omar and Chinese officials held a number of meetings. Taliban perhaps feel comfortable while negotiating with the Chinese as compared with Pakistan or the US because Chinese forces have never been involved in Afghanistan. Therefore, China has a role to play when it comes to regional peace and particularly bringing Taliban on the negotiating table.
Relation between Islamabad and Kabul saw some difficult times during the Karzai regime. Karzai had a good relationship with former President Zardari and made several visits to Pakistan however these relations became tense after killing of Burhanuddin Rabbani back in 2011. Karzai then started looking towards India instead of Pakistan for future regional partner. Three weeks after Rabbani killing Karzai visited New Delhi to sign a partnership agreement, according to which India was to train Afghan forces. Pakistan ostensibly was perturbed over this development and consequently Pakistan-Afghanistan bilateral visits slowed down.
Ashraf Ghani now surely wants to mend fences and has offered a sort of Olive branch to Pakistan – a gesture that needs a positive response from the Pakistan side. The issues that the Afghan president raised during his visit must be addressed. Likewise the Afghan side too needs to pay heed to genuine concerns of Pakistan relating to security and terrorism. Of course, it takes two to make a tango. It appears as if both sides earnestly want to bridge their differences for the sake of regional peace and prosperity. If that is the case, then they both need to be supported not only by the regional forces, but by the international actors such as the United States, Britain and European Union as well.
Last but not the least, political stability in both countries shall be the key factor in strengthening of relations between Pakistan and Afghanistan. With Ashraf Ghani and Abdullah Abdullah on the driving seat, it appears they are all set to forge new partnerships and building new linkages. However, in Pakistan unfortunately we have been witnessing political upheavals for quite some time and it is still not clear, which way the wind would blow in the days to come. Let us hope Pakistan soon gains political stability, which is a sine qua non for all future endeavors that are to be made to ensure peace at home and abroad.