ISLAMABAD: Traditional ‘mistrust’ between Pakistan and Afghanistan is hampering implementation of the ‘understanding’ reached between the two sides in London, which could have potentially reset their bilateral relations, although Islamabad took the lead by reopening the border crossings.
The understanding on bilateral cooperation was reached during a meeting between Adviser to the Prime Minister on Foreign Affairs Sartaj Aziz and Afghan National Security Adviser Hanif Atmar last month that had been facilitated by the British government to help the two overcome the impasse in their ties over terrorist sanctuaries along their border. No details were then made public about what came to be known as ‘agreement on bilateral cooperation mechanism’.
Both Mr Aziz and Special Assistant Tariq Fatemi in their meetings with an Afghan media delegation and Kabul’s envoy in Islamabad Dr Omar Zakhilwal, respectively, on Monday stressed the need for bilateral cooperation and engagement for addressing the common challenge of terrorism.
A Foreign Office statement on the meeting between Mr Fatemi and Dr Zakhilwal said: “Both sides agreed for early implementation of the bilateral cooperation mechanism recently agreed between the two.”
Aziz, in a conversation with Dawn, shed light on his discussions in London with Mr Atmar, saying an “understanding was reached” on building a mechanism that would provide for interaction at multiple levels — military, intelligence and political.
Aziz says last month’s meeting saw consensus to building mechanism for interaction at multiple levels
The plan is to have multi-tiered discussions starting from field commanders and moving upwards to higher military command on both sides, meetings of the intelligence and senior security officials, and finally an engagement at the political level.
But, a fortnight after this understanding, both Islamabad and Kabul are still struggling to put it into practice. The only thing to have happened, during this period, on ground is the reopening of border crossings.
The Afghans are apparently hedging their bets in anticipation of US President Donald Trump’s policy on Afghanistan, which has, to an extent, begun taking shape, whereas Pakistan is trying to pose to international critics as the ‘bigger brother’ wanting to end protracted sufferings of Afghans while simultaneously working for solidifying a new regional combine for peace in Afghanistan along with Russia and China.
Mr Aziz insists that “trust is required” between Pakistan and Afghanistan for the London understanding to move forward, which may take some time to materialise.
The first step in that direction would be a meeting of the field commanders, where incidents souring ties like cross-border shelling could be investigated.
“There are undesirable elements at the ground level, there are smugglers and terrorists on both sides of border and they have a nexus,” the adviser said, pointing to the complicated nature of the problem and quickly added that it was one reason why Pakistan had all along been placing emphasis on managing the border.
Mr Aziz’s emphasis during the discussion remained on talks at the ground level as being the most important element of the strategy.
Referring to his meeting with Afghan journalists, he said, “these are all complementary things. Once ground level interaction takes place and then political messaging has to improve because statements from senior leadership vitiate the environment.”
Stormy debate in Afghan parliament on a statement by a legislator, Abdul Latif Pedram, the leader of the National Congress Party (NCP), for accepting Durand Line as an international border exhibited Afghans’ continuing acrimony towards Pakistan.
“Even the president does not have the authority to recognise the Durand Line, this is supposed to be determined by the nation,” said Senator Farhad Sakhi.
Analysts fear that such hard-line views in Afghanistan on recognising the internationally accepted boundary would prevent the Afghan government from extending full cooperation for what Pakistan describes as the border coordination mechanism.
Perceptions are also holding back progress in ties.
The adviser said that Afghans’ perceptions about Pakistan were “exaggerated” and blamed it on historic baggage.
The “perceptions need to be corrected”, he said.
Published in Dawn, April 4th, 2017