BACK-to-back meetings by the civil and military leaderships of the country have emphasised that Pakistan is deeply concerned by the deterioration of security in Afghanistan. What remains to be seen is if Pakistan and Afghanistan can salvage from the series of recent crises a semblance of mutual cooperation. A military huddle in Rawalpindi on Tuesday was followed by a relatively rare convening of the civil-military National Security Committee led by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif on Wednesday, the country’s security leadership coming together to express its support for peace and stability in Afghanistan, while at the same time rejecting Kabul’s accusations of Pakistani involvement in violence inside Afghanistan. The prime minister’s agenda for the ongoing Shanghai Cooperation Organisation meeting in Kazakhstan will also have likely featured — the SCO embracing as it does several of the key state actors in Afghanistan.
Official pronouncements are necessary, though they can be of limited value when repeated year after year without any change in ground realities. The situation in Afghanistan again appears to have reached that point, with neither Kabul nor Pakistan seemingly able to find the will for true collaboration and the major outside powers once again unsure about how to make cooperation possible between the two state powers critical to peace. The current situation is familiar. A spate of attacks on either side of the Pak-Afghan border causes both states to harden their line against the other; escalating regional tensions cause alarm among outside powers; urgent efforts are made to ratchet down tensions; vague promises are elicited from the two countries; and then matters are left to rest until the next spike in tensions. Meanwhile, the mutually beneficial measures that can be taken are allowed to languish; border cooperation remains weak and shutting down militant sanctuaries is yet to become a priority.
Part of the problem is that in periods of relative calm in the Pak-Afghan relationship, neither side appears to take the steps that could help prevent the next eruption of tensions. The deteriorating security and political situation in Afghanistan may have many reasons, but a great deal of the responsibility lies with Kabul. The disarray in the National Unity Government makes it impossible to improve governance or strengthen Afghan security — a situation that Pakistan can hardly be blamed for. Meanwhile, Pakistan recognises that a political solution is the only realistic way to end the conflict next door, but its influence over the Afghan Taliban is either receding or not being leveraged to prepare the latter to at least accept that a political solution is inevitable. Important as it is for periods of acute tensions between Pakistan and Afghanistan to be immediately addressed, the quiet, long-term diplomatic track does not get the attention it deserves. Peace eventually can only come from determined efforts now.
Published in Dawn, June 9th, 2017