WHILE the history of the Pak-Afghan relationship can at best be described as chequered, there is little point in dwelling on bitter experiences. In fact, it would be more helpful if both states worked on achieving a productive bilateral relationship and a peaceful future for the region, especially Afghanistan. In this context, the two-day visit of Afghan President Ashraf Ghani to Pakistan was a welcome step in repairing and cementing the bilateral relationship. Prime Minister Imran Khan called for a “qualitative transformation” in relations while Mr Ghani reaffirmed the need for “political alignment” between the two states. The Afghan leader — apart from his engagements with government officials and think tanks — also met the heads of Pakistan’s leading political parties during his visit.
Indeed, geopolitics has resulted in frayed relations between Islamabad and Kabul, particularly in the aftermath of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and thereafter. However, as Ashraf Ghani’s visit and the current warming of ties illustrate, Pakistan has a central role to play in facilitating and supporting a peaceful, functional Afghanistan. Whatever the constraints of geopolitics may be, geography as well as common cultural ties that go back centuries dictate that both states coexist peacefully. Instability in Afghanistan will make the whole region, particularly Pakistan, unstable, one of the main reasons why a negotiated end to the long-drawn war in Afghanistan must remain on top of the bilateral agenda. Pakistan has played and ought to continue to play a role urging all Afghan factions, including the Taliban, to make extra efforts to bring the conflict to a close. However, while other states can help facilitate a negotiated peace, it is the Afghans themselves that need to hammer out the finer details of a final settlement acceptable to all stakeholders in their country.
In order to move the peace process forward, the Afghan Taliban must shed their rigidity, particularly when it comes to recognising the Ghani-led dispensation in Kabul. Moreover, guarantees from all sides — particularly the Taliban — are needed that violence will stop. If a ceasefire is adhered to, the goal of a negotiated settlement may be within reach. Talks between the Taliban and the US are due to resume in Doha; the armed group cannot afford to let this opportunity go to waste and apart from talking to the Americans, should open direct channels with the government in Kabul. Pakistan should continue its efforts to facilitate peace, while working towards developing good relations with Kabul. There may be spoilers, as factions within Afghanistan as well as states in the region would not like to see a fruitful Pak-Afghan relationship. But these irritants cannot be allowed to get in the way of full normalisation of ties between Islamabad and Kabul; there is much benefit in both sides realising the immense potential of the relationship where trade, commerce and cultural ties are concerned.
Published in Dawn, June 29th, 2019