ISLAMABAD: Army Chief Gen Raheel Sharif would visit Kabul on Sunday for a day-long trip for deliberations on resumption of the Afghan reconciliation process and instituting a border management mechanism.
“Chief of Army Staff will visit Kabul on December 27. During his visit, he will hold meetings with political and military leadership of Afghanistan,” military spokesman Lt Gen Asim Bajwa said on Saturday.
“We are going there with all sincerity,” he told journalists at a social gathering.
Gen Sharif last visited Kabul along with Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif in May this year. Their visit had then helped address Afghan misgivings, which had emerged after the start of Taliban’s spring offensive and the engagement led to the start of reconciliation process some seven weeks later, on July 7 in Murree. The process, despite the initial positive outlook, could not survive and collapsed days before the second round of talks planned for July 31 with the disclosure that Taliban chief Mullah Omar had died in April 2013.
The suspension of the dialogue, succession dispute within the Taliban and the accompanying increase in militant violence in Afghanistan further frayed the Pak-Afghan relationship.
Gen Sharif’s Sunday visit was initially planned for earlier this month – before the Dec 9 Heart of Asia ministerial meeting in Islamabad – but got delayed because of bilateral tensions. The United States had been encouraging Gen Sharif to visit Afghanistan for easing tense ties between the two countries and a possible resumption of the reconciliation dialogue between Afghan government and Taliban.
Afghan President Ashraf Ghani’s visit to Islamabad for participation in the Heart of Asia ministerial meeting, nevertheless, happened because of behind-the-scenes diplomacy involving the US and UK. One of the upshots of President Ghani’s visit was an agreement on resuming the reconciliation process.
Contacts for the revival of the dialogue have already started, officials say.
Gen Sharif would during his meetings in Kabul discuss the details of the reconciliation process including the scheduling of the meetings and the militant groups that are expected to join the talks.
A separate quadrilateral meeting between Pakistan, US, China and Afghanistan, under the new framework agreed by the four sides, would finally approve the strategy for restarting the engagement with Taliban, which is expected next month.
The other major issue on Gen Sharif’s agenda for Kabul is the border management mechanism.
Pakistani officials say the arrangement for regulating the border is necessary for controlling unauthorised movement across the long porous border separating the two countries. They accuse Afghan government of delaying the finalisation of the new border coordination mechanism due to domestic political impediments.
The two countries are without any mechanism for coordination on the border since a tripartite commission, involving Pakistan, Afghanistan and coalition forces, completed its mandate following the end of International Security Assistance Force’s Afghan mission in December 2014.
Border clashes between Pakistan and Afghan security forces have increased in the absence of the coordination mechanism. According to a defence official, 132 violations were committed by the Afghan security forces on the Pak-Afghan border this year in which 18 Pakistani soldiers lost their lives.
Border coordination has long been under discussion, but no concrete progress could be made.
Afghan leaders have always complained of cross-border movement of militants, but balked at the proposals for coordinating better border control. Afghans do not recognise Durand Line as an international border and the government lacks the political will to settle the controversy.
Published in Dawn, December 27th, 2015