IT was a shocking decision that either betrays deep divisions inside Afghanistan or suggests that Kabul has all but given up on the path of dialogue with Pakistan. The detention of two Pakistani embassy staffers in Kabul by the Afghan intelligence agency NDS may have been brief, but the action itself and the manner in which it was carried out are disturbing. Simply, no diplomacy is possible if embassy staff are under threat from the host nation’s own institutions. For all the ups and downs in Pak-Afghan ties over the decades, acts of naked aggression against one another’s diplomats have been rare. Perhaps the NDS acted of its own accord on Wednesday or perhaps it was encouraged to do so by the political government; in either scenario, the damage inflicted on the already strained Pak-Afghan relationship is unwise. In a grim contrast to the shameful shenanigans of the NDS, the militant Islamic State group demonstrated yet again its reach inside Afghanistan with a deadly attack in Jalalabad. Several media workers were among the dead after the IS attacked the state broadcaster, adding to the grim toll on the country’s journalists over the past decade and a half.
At this point, both Afghanistan and Pakistan need to urgently re-evaluate the bilateral relationship. There is a trend in recent times, especially on the Afghan side, that while senior government and military officials reiterate the need for dialogue and diplomacy, other elements within the state apparatus often do or say something egregious, quickly undermining any fragile detente that may be emerging. What is especially vexing is that in the rise of IS in the region, Afghanistan and Pakistan have a new and unprecedented interest in cooperating with each other. Moreover, for all of Kabul’s complaints against Pakistan, some of which are legitimate, there has been a consistent effort by the latter to explore the possibility of political reconciliation in Afghanistan. From Russia to China to the US, major dialogue initiatives in recent years have been supported by Pakistan. Indeed, if there is a stumbling block, it increasingly appears to be Kabul itself. Unable to militarily hold back the Afghan Taliban and unwilling to engage in serious dialogue with Pakistan, President Ashraf Ghani’s government seems to lapsing into a familiar problem: blaming Pakistan for all Afghanistan’s woes, many of which are self-inflicted.
Published in Dawn, May 19th, 2017