By Ajmal Shams
Aug 31, 2016
Ever since President Ashraf Ghani has
assumed office about two years ago, Afghan-Pak relations have witnessed many
ups and downs. President Ghani in an exclusive interview with Pakistan’s famous
Geo Television about a month ago tried to articulate his country’s case in the
strongest possible terms. On this occasion, President Ghani’s message to the
government of Pakistan was loud and clear: enough is enough and double
standards are not acceptable.
Pakistan has consistently maintained claims
of its sacrifices in the fight against terrorism in terms of human losses and
financial resources. Afghanistan does recognize the loss of lives on the
Pakistani side as well the sacrifices of its international partners in the
fight against terrorism. Yet, its argument is why Pakistan continues to
differentiate between the ‘good’ and the ‘bad’ Taliban. When Pakistan talks
about its fight against the Taliban, it fails to clarify which category of the
Taliban it is referring to; ‘the good’ ones or ‘the bad’ ones. It is no longer a hidden truth that Pakistan
does fight the insurgents that targets it, which it terms as the ‘bad Taliban’.
On the other hand, it provides sanctuaries to those conducting militant
operations in Afghanistan calling them as the ‘good Taliban’. As President
Ghani has repeatedly emphasized, unless all terrorist groups are dealt with in
a similar manner, the sincerity of Pakistan’s so-called fight against terrorism
will be looked at with mistrust.
Afghanistan believes Pakistan turns a blind
eye to the fact that it has benefited financially from more- than-a-decade’s
presence of international security forces in Afghanistan in the form of
Coalition Support Fund. Additionally, Pakistan was the top beneficiary of
billions of dollars of trade with Afghanistan as the former was a major market
for supplies to facilitate the operations of international community. Despite
all the commercial benefits, Pakistan has consistently viewed international
engagement in Afghanistan as detrimental to its interests because of its own
Pakistan accuses Afghanistan of supporting
the Baloch insurgency, which is essentially Pakistan’s internal issue. It is
very unlikely that Afghanistan would have had anything to do with it. And
neither will Afghanistan profit from any such revolt. Afghanistan’s stance in
this regard is corroborated by the fact that the country has its own patriotic
Baloch population that has a proven historic record of loyalty to their
country. It is probable that a potential Baloch uprising in Pakistan will have
a destabilizing effect on Afghanistan.
Pakistan claims there have been renewed
efforts from Afghanistan to renew the Durand Line and Pashtunistan issues. Yet,
there is hardly any evidence that Afghanistan might have endeavoured to
revitalize these long-standing disputes. Furthermore, Afghan government does
not consider its historic stance on these as obstacle in good neighbourly
relationship with its southern neighbour.
Pakistan is unhappy about Afghanistan’s
cordial relationship with the former’s arch-rival India. While Afghanistan’s
stance, in the words of President Ghani is “Our foreign policy is no-one’s
business, but ours, as long as it’s constructive” Unfortunately, Afghanistan’s
time-honoured friendship with India is being portrayed by Pakistan as the
latter has been given a free hand to use Afghan soil against its neighbours.
Such allegations by Pakistan are hardly substantiated by evidence. Furthermore,
India has been playing an important role in Afghanistan’s reconstruction and
stability. Indian contribution in this regard has been well acknowledged here
in Afghanistan. On the optimistic side, Afghanistan will have no problem should
India and Pakistan normalize their relations. In fact, Afghanistan will be one
of the major beneficiaries of such potential move due to enhancement of trade
and promotion of regional projects.
Unlike Afghanistan where the political
leadership has control of the country’s international relations, Pakistan’s
foreign policy is strongly influenced by its military establishment. Being
cognizant of this fact, President Ghani directly reached out to Pakistan Army
Chief soon after assuming office. Afghanistan believes President Ghani’s bold
initiatives were, unfortunately, not reciprocated. The country has been witness
to horrific attacks by the Taliban, Haqqani network and ISIS militants having
sanctuaries inside Pakistan. The latest of such attacks targeted the American
University of Afghanistan in Kabul about a week ago. Unlike the Taliban leader
Mulla Mansur who freely travelled in Pakistan and was killed in a US drone
attack, the anti-Pakistani Taliban militants were either killed or handed over
to Pakistan by the Afghan Army. Therefore, it will make little sense to equate
the presence of Mulla Mansur in Pakistan to that of TTP militants in
Afghanistan where they are absolutely unwelcome.
It may be true that anti-Pakistani
sentiments are growing in Afghanistan, both among ordinary Afghans as well as
the political and religious intelligentsia. Yet, our distinction between the
people and government of Pakistan is well-defined. Millions of Afghan refugees
have been hosted across the Durand Line for decades. By tradition, Afghans are
not an ungrateful nation. We believe a strong bond of friendship still exists
between our peoples. But State-to-state relationship requires confidence
building measures. General opinion in Afghanistan is that Pakistan has failed
so far to take any concrete steps in that direction.
Afghanistan strongly believes President’s
Ghani’s vision of regional economic integration is a win-win strategy for every
country in our region. President Ghani advocates shared interests and
opportunities. If Pakistan can reciprocate Afghanistan’s bold initiatives and
political courage, there is every reason for the people of both countries to
witness an era of peace, prosperity and bright future.
Ajmal Shams served as Policy Advisor to Ashraf Ghani, the Afghan
President, when he chaired the security transition commission. He mainly writes
on political and developmental issues.