WHEN it comes to neighbours, states have little choice but to try and interact amicably, even though this can prove to be a considerable challenge at times due to a variety of reasons. The relationship between Pakistan and Afghanistan has been chequered for most of its history; the past few decades have been especially rocky, mainly due to internal upheavals in the latter country. However, it is in the interest of both states to maintain friendly ties and use statesmanship and sagacity to deal with irritants that threaten to derail relations. In the light of this principle, it is welcome that the foreign secretary and ISI chief visited Kabul on Monday, as a number of recent incidents have contributed to the cooling of the bilateral relationship. According to an Afghan official, the two sides discussed ways of “normalising relations”; among the issues reportedly discussed was a property dispute in Peshawar involving an Afghan bank, cross-border firing incidents and alleged harassment of diplomats in both states.
The high-powered delegation’s visit to Afghanistan indicates that Pakistan is serious about mending fences with Kabul. The fact is that to improve relations in the long term, bilateral visits between political and military figures are needed to clear misconceptions and resolve disputes. Left unresolved, problems can snowball out of control and be blown out of proportion, hurting the prospects of peace in the region. Ultimately, peace in Afghanistan — though essentially an intra-Afghan issue — involves four major players; the government in Kabul, the Afghan Taliban, Pakistan and the Americans. At times, the respective players have varying agendas, but Islamabad and Kabul need to be on the same page, even though it can appear as if the Afghan government’s grip on power is tenuous. For a healthy bilateral relationship, as well as peace within Afghanistan, Islamabad and Kabul need to strengthen ties to ensure that minor irritants do not scuttle ties. All outstanding issues that both sides feel are important can be resolved through dialogue. There are, of course, some actors in the region that are loath to see good relations between Pakistan and Afghanistan. That should not be a deterrent; in fact, it should make both sides see why it is important to work harder to improve bilateral ties. The exchange of high-level visits can help, while formal dispute-resolution mechanisms can be set up to address the problems that occur from time to time.
Published in Dawn, November 13th, 2019