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Thursday, February 15, 2024

PM Abbasi receives a Guard of Honor upon arrival in Afghanistan

News Analysis |

Prime Minister of Pakistan Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, in a scheduled official tour, reached Afghanistan today. Upon his arrival, he was given a guard of honour by a contingent of Afghan National Army (ANA). The visit marks a link in the sequence of trust-building measures between the countries which started off with General Bajwa’s visit to Afghanistan in February. It was followed by a visit from Secretary of Foreign affairs Ms Tehmina Janjua on Monday to pave the way for PM Abbasi’s tour.

The objective is to discuss the domains of mutual interest including politics, economics, counter-terrorism and the return of Afghan refugees. Prime Minister will be meeting Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and Chief executive Dr Abdullah Abdullah in the process to build a consensus over issues which have been a bone of contention between neighbours from the past couple of years. 

Reasons for Distrust

Afghanistan, along with the United States of America, has repeatedly accused Pakistan of harbouring Afghan Taliban within its territory, specifically Haqqani Network. Meanwhile, Pakistan has categorically rejected the accusation, coupling with its own claims that Afghan soil is being used to carry out insurgency within Pakistan. It believes that the leadership of Tehreek e Taliban Pakistan, including its chief Mullah Fazlullah, is residing in Afghanistan without any serious repulsion from NATO or Afghan forces. Though various mechanisms have been devised in the past to overcome the existing distrust, nothing has resulted in de-escalation of tension between neighbouring countries. 

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Afghanistan eyeing on Pakistan to bring the Taliban toward Negotiations

It could also be inferred from the negotiations proposal offered by President Ghani to Afghan Taliban, which was categorically rejected by them, that Afghan officials will put the matter on the agenda of the visit. Pakistan had facilitated a round of dialogue between Afghan Taliban and the government back in 2015, which was eventually sabotaged by a USAF Predator drone strike on their leader Mullah Akhtar Mansoor which lead to his death.

Though the visit marks a high level meet up of leaders from both sides, the pragmatic success expected from it, in the end, remains trivial. The reason is the principle stance which both sides have been carrying.

His successor Mullah Haibatullah, current chief of Afghan Taliban, straightforwardly stated that he will not be repeating the mistake of his predecessor, and will not engage in any sort of dialogue. However, recently an open letter was published by Afghan Taliban to the American public, calling for an end to the ongoing 16-year-old war. It was taken a positive sign by Afghan administration which subsequently resulted in the Ghani’s peace proposal.

Afghan Taliban have repeatedly said that they do not accept the legitimacy of puppet Afghan government and the negotiations can only be carried out with the USA directly. On the other hand, United States has made it clear that the course of dialogue will be driven by Afghan national government.

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Can Pakistan really help again?

Foreign secretary Tehmina Janjua, while talking to journalists in Washington D.C last month, said that it is true that we had some sort of influence over Afghan Taliban in the past but it is no longer the case anymore. It could be deduced from the statement that Pakistan has, on record, excused itself to be a mediator. Secondly, the success of a dialogue depends upon the trust-building measures.

If the chief of Taliban is assassinated right in the middle of negotiation process then it would be naïve to expect them to take the bait again. According to a general understanding, the interruption of dialogue process in 2015 by US drone strike did serious damage to the influence which Pakistan once carried over the Afghan Taliban.

Bleak chances of a Breakthrough

Though the visit marks a high level meet up of leaders from both sides, the pragmatic success expected from it, in the end, remains trivial. The reason is the principle stance which both sides have been carrying. It is a clear clash of narratives, with so many extraneous variables involved that an acceptable rendezvous will take a complete overhauling of strategies.

Pakistan has been fencing its border in a bid to secure the infiltration of terrorists through porous Durand Line, along with the effective and increased presence of forces. It has put the pressure on the Afghan government to do its part to ensure the security of both countries. Eventually, the security in the region is a two-way process and no single side can deal with it unilaterally.