Air Commodore(R) Khalid Iqbal 

Pak-Afghan relations have an interesting dynamics; just when there is a feeler of improvement, they nosedive into another crisis. Nonetheless, it is encouraging that soon after each crisis, both Islamabad and Kabul resume taking measured steps to bring the ties back on track. Latest rupture came last month when Afghanistan’s presidential spokesperson Aimal Faizi said that Pakistan had abandoned the peace process and imposed “impossible” preconditions on any further discussions. A day prior to Brussels talks, Faizi further said: “Our message to Pakistan is enough is enough…This time we will tell Pakistan that our people’s patience is running out and we can’t wait for Pakistan to deliver on Afghan peace promises.” On the same day Pakistan’s foreign ministry said: “Pakistan remains committed to continue its positive and constructive role towards a durable peace in Afghanistan”.

Afghanistan has grown increasingly frustrated with Pakistan over its efforts to pursue a peace process involving the Taliban, suggesting that Islamabad intends to keep Afghanistan unstable until after foreign combat forces have left at the end of 2014. However, Pakistan is convinced that a peaceful, stable, prosperous and united Afghanistan is in the interest of Afghanistan, Pakistan and the region.

The US hosted talks in Brussels between Afghan President Karzai and Pakistani officials with the aim to re-rail the stalled Afghan peace process. The participants included Afghanistan’s defence minister, Bismillah Khan Mohammadi, Pakistan’s army chief, General Ashfaq Kayani, and Pakistan’s foreign secretary, Jalil Jilani. The marathon session spread over three hours was chaired by the US Secretary of State John Kerry. Diplomats had hoped that Kerry, who enjoys a good rapport with Karzai, could bring the parties back to the negotiating table. Things did not move beyond photo session and a stroll in the lawn.

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After the talks, US Secretary of State John Kerry said: “We had a very extensive and, … productive and constructive dialogue… but we have all agreed that results are what will tell the story, not statements at press conferences…We have a lot of homework to do…it was better to under-promise but deliver.” The three parties would “continue a very specific dialogue on both the political track as well as the security track,” said Kerry. “We have a commitment to do that in the interests of Afghanistan, Pakistan and peace in the region,” he added. There were no statements by President Karzai and General Kayani.

These trilateral talks come a day after Nato Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen’s comment that Pakistan must crack down on militants who use the country as a sanctuary to launch attacks in Afghanistan. Rasmussen said, “If we are to ensure long-term peace and stability in Afghanistan we also need a positive engagement of Afghanistan’s neighbours, including Pakistan.”

Since the last quarter of 2012, Western diplomats have acknowledged a tangible effort by Pakistan to promote the peace process in Afghanistan. This impression was reinforced by Ambassador Richard Olson during his Senate confirmation hearing in August 2012, when he stated that “the Pakistani military and the Pakistani government have moved away” from the strategic depth doctrine.

Pakistan has released at least 26 Afghan Taliban prisoners during recent months in the hope that it could help persuade Taliban to enter into peace talks. But there is little evidence of any forward movement. Although there have been several meetings in the Western capitals over the past few months in which representatives of the Taliban have met Afghan peace negotiators, there have been no signs of a breakthrough.

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In a run-up to Brussels meet, the US acting Special Representative on Afghanistan and Pakistan, David Pearce, had visited Pakistan for discussions with General Kayani; both discussed the issue threadbare. The brief announcement of the ISPR said, “The two sides discussed matters of mutual interest with particular focus on Afghanistan reconciliation process.” Both sides felt that their approach, with its main focus on bringing the Taliban on board in the negotiation process, was similar. The US administration sees Pakistan as a key player in brokering peace with Taliban insurgents.

Even though the erratic Afghan president is known to engage in public tirades against friends and foes, his close associates, too, pick up the cues and go ballistic. Recent outburst by Deputy Foreign Minister Jawed Ludin took observers by surprise. Accusing Pakistan of “shifting” its position on the peace talks and of “changing the goal posts”, he threatened to go it alone on the peace process without Pakistan’s assistance. President Karzai by his periodic critical views of US and Pakistan policies in the context of Afghan peace has been spoiling the show. The Afghan President is, perhaps under compulsion to indulge in this kind of mud-slinging in an attempt to regain the Pashtun’s sympathies whom he had alienated during his two terms in office. No less important are Karzai’s growing fears about his own future when his term ends in 2014.

Pakistan has all along extended cooperation to Afghanistan for peace and stability, but the repeated rhetoric of Karzai and associates accusing Islamabad of facilitating the extremist elements have been muddying the atmosphere. The Afghan President does not realize that relationship between the two neighbours has to be tension free, and for this purpose, each side must address the concerns of the other. Karzai has refused to hand-over terrorists from Swat and Baluchistan who are being hosted by Afghanistan as special guests. These terrorists are encouraged and facilitated to launch cross border attacks into Chitral, Malakand and Baluchistan.

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Despite all the goodwill gestures by Pakistan, the Afghan leader is not reciprocating in kind. Just a handshake in Brussels by President Karzai and General Kayani would not be enough and the Afghan President would have to change his mindset of blaming Pakistan.

Afghanistan is currently in a critical transformational period. Question of Afghan reconciliation to make for peace in the country is acquiring an enhanced focus. Without internal harmony in Afghanistan, Pakistan will also not be able to get rid of ongoing menace of militancy. Moreover, in case Afghanistan slides down into a civil war after 2014, the US would lose its claim about an honourable exit. The effectiveness of future negotiations in the region hinges upon forging better relations between Pakistan and Afghanistan. Pakistan is convinced that a peaceful, stable, prosperous and united Afghanistan is in the interest of Afghanistan, Pakistan and the region.