Categorized | South Asian Politics

Pak-Afghan relations shaky after terrorists use Afghanistan as safe haven

Posted on 23 March 2017 by admin

 Dr. Hasan Askari

 Pakistan’s Adviser on Foreign Policy, Sartaj Aziz, and Afghanistan’s National Security Adviser, Haneef Atmar, met in London on March 15 and 16 on the invitation of the British government. They discussed ways and means to overcome current difficulties in the relations between Pakistan and Afghanistan. The major desire of the Afghan government is to seek the reopening of the Pakistan-Afghan border and restart bilateral and transit trade between the two countries.

 Afghanistan and Pakistan agreed to adopt measures to improve confidence between the two countries as the first move towards restoration of full interaction between the two countries, including the reopening of the border. It is in the interest of both countries to pursue normal diplomatic, economic and trade interaction between them. However, as the distrust between Pakistan and Afghanistan increased over the last one year normal interaction could not be pursued. Both sides have developed complaints against each other.

 The current crisis in the Pakistan-Afghanistan relations developed in February this year. There were several terrorist attacks in different parts of Pakistan in early February whose attackers were traced to the Pakistani Taliban groups based in Afghanistan. These Pakistani Taliban groups also attacked Pakistani border posts from time to time. Pakistan asked the Afghan government not to let these groups use its territory for terrorist activity in Pakistan.

 As Afghanistan did not do anything, Pakistan Army bombed their camps with long range guns without entering Afghanistan territory. Rather than removing the camps of Pakistani Taliban and their allies from Afghanistan, the Afghan government protested against bombing into Afghan territory. Pakistan gave a list of 76 wanted people to the Afghan government that were based in Afghanistan. The Afghan Foreign Office responded by giving a list of 85 wanted people to Pakistan who were said to be living in Pakistan.

 On February 17, Pakistan closed all three crossing points on the Pakistan-Afghanistan border which stopped bilateral trade as well as the transit of foreign goods that Afghanistan gets through the Karachi seaport. This border was opened for two days on March 7 and 8, to enable Pakistanis and Afghans stranded in each other’s country to return home.

 The complete closure of the Pakistan-Afghanistan border has created serious problems for Afghanistan because Afghanistan gets a large part of goods of daily use, including wheat, rice, and other kitchen and household products from Pakistan. As Afghanistan does not have any direct sea access. A large part of its international trade takes place through the Karachi seaport and these goods go to Afghanistan via trucks from Karachi. All this has stopped now, causing problems to the Kabul government.

The Afghan trading community favors good relations with Pakistan because their business interests are tied to Pakistan. Similarly, Pakistani business and transport community, especially from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, also wants to the border to be opened so that the trade restarts. The Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa business community has suffered heavy financial losses due to the closure of the Pakistan-Afghanistan border. Further, the closure of the border is also causing problems to ordinary Afghans who visit Peshawar for a number of reasons, including small business, getting of goods for personal use, medical treatment or for meeting with their relations. All of them favor the resumption of movement of goods, services and people across the border.

 The most serious obstacle to improving the relations between Pakistan and Afghanistan is mutual distrust that has developed since the assumption of power by the first post-Taliban government led by Hamid Karzai late December 2001. The governments of Hamid Karzai and the present government of Ashraf Ghani accuse Pakistan of sheltering Afghan Taliban leaders and activists who go the Afghanistan to challenge the Kabul government through violent activity. As the Kabul government is unable to cope with the Afghan Taliban pressure, it blames Pakistan for all violent activity in Afghanistan. It tries to create the impression that everything is fine in Afghanistan and that the trouble is caused by the people coming from Pakistan. This is far away from the reality that most of Taliban are based in Afghanistan. Now, Daish (Islamic State) is establishing itself in Afghanistan.

 The Kabul government is not willing to cooperate with Pakistan for border control so that unauthorized movement of people across the border is checked. It only wants that Pakistan military should fight out Afghan Taliban inside Pakistani territory.

 Pakistan’s major complaint against the Kabul government is its anti-Pakistan disposition and that it pursue anti-Pakistan propaganda inside Afghanistan and abroad. Pakistan also expresses strong concern about Afghanistan’s strong leanings towards India and giving ample opportunity to India’s intelligence agency to engage in anti-Pakistan activity from Afghan soil. Pakistan claims that India’s intelligence agency provides funds to Pakistani Taliban and Baloch dissident groups. Pakistan is also unhappy that the Afghan government is unable to acknowledge Pakistan’s contribution to hosting Afghan refugees.

 Pakistan is now devoting attention to unilaterally strengthening the monitoring and security of the Afghan border to check unauthorized movement of people. While strengthening border control, there is a need to reopen the border for human movement and trade. The closure of the border is causing a lot of inconvenience to ordinary people and independent business people on both sides. While pursuing a tough policy towards the Kabul government, Pakistan should not lose the goodwill of the common people in Afghanistan who want this border to reopen for travelling.

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