By Iftikhar Hussain
Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and Afghan President Ashraf Ghani following their lengthy meeting in Islamabad on Saturday, told a joint press conference that both the nations have to forget the past and move forward for a better future. The leaders did not use the word turbulent while mentioning the past, though. The political commitment as usual was high on promises for building peace and bilateral relations as both leaders tried to overcome years of mistrust and hostility and promising to boost security and trade ties.
President Ghani made clear his cooperation agenda was plain and straight. “We have overcome obstacles of 13 years in three days and we will not permit the past to destroy the future.” Prime Minister Sharif called Ghani a “dear brother” and said, “Our security and future prosperity remain interlinked,” he said. “I … reaffirmed Pakistan’s support for the intra-Afghan reconciliation process that the new government is initiating.”
The United States sees the apparent warming up of Pak-Afghan relations under the new Afghan President a welcoming opportunity at this crucial time ahead of the international troops’ withdrawal at the year’s end. The US Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan Daniel Feldman told Deewa in an interview, “Afghan President Ashraf Ghani visit offers a remarkable opportunity to turn a new page in their relations”. He said that it seems President Ghani’s visit shows there seems to be a tremendous desire to ensure that the relationship be put on firm footings.
Experts and diplomats say increased trust and security cooperation is key to tackling the twin insurgencies. Many term the visit a leap forward in improving relations but strongly caution on Pakistan’s powerful military continuing security anxiety and proxies to retain its leverage in Afghanistan to counter rival India. Hussain Shaheed Suharwardy, Professor of International Relation at the University of Peshawar told Deewa, “Pakistan still has concerns of Indian influence in Afghanistan and it makes the relations reset a complicated process”.
Kabul is also increasingly turning to regional powers for support, but it will take more than warm words between Sharif and Ghani to repair damaged ties between their countries. An instance of Kabul’s desire to forge regional alliances can be seen in Ghani’s visit to china. Before arriving in Islamabad, the Afghan leader traveled to Beijing and, among other issues, also discussed the subject of Muslim insurgency in China’s far western region of Xinjianq.
Former diplomat Ayaz Wazir commends the commitment on part of both Ghani and Sharif but he warns similar efforts have fallen short of implementation in the past. He says, “What we need is the practical implementation of all what they desire”.
The two neighbors have accused each other in the past of harboring anti-government Taliban insurgents across their shared border, and bilateral relations were often tempestuous under the previous Afghan president, Hamid Karzai. The Afghan government is pursuing peace talks with the Taliban, who have gained ground as NATO pulls back its troops ahead of a full withdrawal.
Afghan and US officials have frequently accused Pakistani security services of links to Taliban and Haqqani Network insurgents, who carry out deadly attacks in Afghanistan. But Islamabad denies those charges and has recently launched a military crackdown in North Waziristan tribal region, considered to be a stronghold do the Haqqqni network.
In the past two years, Pakistan has begun levelling the same accusation at Afghanistan, accusing it of tolerating bases belonging to Mullah Fazlullah, the nominal leader of the Pakistani Taliban, a group sworn to overthrow the state.