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News Analysis l

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani has accepted the invitation of the Pakistani COAS, General Qamar Javed Bajwa to come to Pakistan in a bid to improve diplomatic relations. Ghani who had declined to visit Pakistan in May this year said that he will come with his entire family.

This comes days after General Bajwa concluded a one-day visit to Kabul. Accompanied by Foreign Secretary Tehmina Janjua, DG ISI Lt Gen Naveed Mukhtar, and DGMO Maj Gen Shamsad Mirza, General Bajwa held productive talks with the Afghan president and thereafter with the high-powered Afghan delegation, which included intelligence and defense officials.

It is interesting to note that actions on the ground are happening in conjunction with diplomatic overtures; signs are positive yet it is too early to expect any major headways

“Issues related to long-term peace, cooperation against the shared threats, coordination between respective counter-terrorism campaigns to restrict space for non-state actors, intelligence sharing, trade and commerce, and people-to-people contacts were discussed,” the ISPR stated about Gen Bajwa’s Afghan visit.

Read more: Military Diplomacy with Afghanistan: Will Gen Bajwa’s visit to Kabul change…

However, the statements which came out from Afghanistan were encouraging and positive after a lapse of months spent in hostility and jingoism. The Afghan President called the visit ‘a new chapter’ in the ties between the two countries. He expressed the desire to take advantage of new opportunities and arrest a fraying relation.

Ghani also suggested the formation of task teams in different sectors to enhance cooperation. Besides, he also called for the establishment of a monitoring framework to ensure that things are going as per mutual understanding. Pakistan promised that task teams from their side will draft implementation plans.

Yousafzai said that it is too early to expect any significant breakthrough, for these frameworks and mechanisms have been devised in the past too

The recent goodwill gestures have somewhat given a sense of optimism of improvements in Pak-Afghan relations, which have deteriorated in the last six months. Both countries constantly resort to recriminations over fostering militancy and terrorism. Pakistan’s overtures were turned down by Kabul and the verbal ante was upped. However, hopes of arresting the estrangement have risen because of Ghani’s reconciliatory efforts.

Read more: The US continues to scapegoat Pakistan for its failures in Afghanistan

GVS talked to veteran journalist and renowned Afghan affairs expert, Rahimullah Yousafzai on the likely course that Af-Pak ties will tread on. Yousafzai said that it is too early to expect any significant breakthrough, for these frameworks and mechanisms have been devised in the past too.

The Afghan President called the visit ‘a new chapter’ in the ties between the two countries. He expressed the desire to take advantage of new opportunities and arrest a fraying relation

Commenting on why Ghani has toned down his rhetoric toward Pakistan, Yousafzai said: “Ghani sees a chance to push Pakistan into a cooperative arrangement because Pakistan is under pressure to do so, especially after Trump administration has redoubled threats to Pakistan.” Pakistan has categorically asserted that it wants actions against Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and Jamaat ul Ahrar (JUA) elements on Afghan soil. Rahimullah Yousafzai said that the Pakistani military is directly engaged in talks with the Afghan military.

Read more: Hekmatyar urges Pakistan to “stay away” from Afghanistan

Commander of the Peshawar-based XI Corps, Lt Gen Nazir Ahmed and Commander Southern Command, Lt Gen Amir Riaz have taken to direct correspondence with the Afghan military high-command. “In an unprecedented development, Afghan special forces killed seven JUA militants in Nangarhar province, pandering to the demands of Pakistan,” said Yousafzai.

Senior Associate at the Wilson Center, Michael Kugelman sees the recent diplomatic engagements differently. While talking to GVS, Kugelman said:”I don’t think we should overstate the improvement in Afghanistan-Pakistan relations. The recent flurry of high-level diplomacy can perhaps be seen as a response to U.S. urgings-I imagine Washington is calling on Pakistan to do its part to promote better border management between Afghanistan and Pakistan.”

Kugelman said that deep mistrust can impede further improvements in ties between the two neighbors.”But given the dynamics of Afghanistan-Pakistan relations and the deep levels of mistrust, not to mention recent history, I can’t imagine the high-level we are seeing now will translate to sustained improvements in ties,” said Kugelman.

It is interesting to note that actions on the ground are happening in conjunction with diplomatic overtures; signs are positive yet it is too early to expect any major headways. It remains to be seen if both countries can agree on the futility of a military-heavy strategy or the usability of peace talks with the Taliban. As things stand, Afghanistan and Pakistan are at loggerheads on this issue.

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