Diplomatic niceties amongst mistrust

Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s recent visit to Pakistan was full of diplomatic niceties and terms of endearment from both sides. “Pakistan is ready to support whatever support they [the Afghans] want...it is in the interest of Pakistan to have a stable, peaceful, prosperous, independent and sovereign Afghanistan,” said Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani. While our premier may have the best intentions at heart, his government has no power whatsoever to actually decide what goes on in Afghanistan. It is an open secret that when it comes to foreign policy and especially when it comes to ties with our neighbours, the military calls the shots. It is because of this very reason that there is so much mistrust on both sides, particularly on the Afghan side. They do not trust us after what we have put them through for the past four decades. From the jihad against the Soviets to the imposition of Taliban rule in Afghanistan, we have done all that we could to destabilise that country. On the other hand, President Karzai assured that the Indian presence in Afghanistan “cannot be in any manner used against Pakistan” and that “Pakistan is a conjoined twin and brother [of Afghanistan]”. On a number of occasions, Pakistan has blamed the Indian presence on Afghan soil for terror attacks but so far these allegations have not been substantiated by any proof.

The relationship between Afghanistan and Pakistan is fraught with many tensions. The Afghans blame Pakistan for providing safe havens to the Taliban who wreak havoc on their soil on a regular basis. When President Karzai was asked about the terror attacks on Pakistani troops near the Pak-Afghan border, he said that such attacks were “all the more reason for us to work harder to remove radicals from both countries and to remove sanctuaries”. Pakistan is now having a taste of its own medicine. We should understand how the Afghans feel when attacks from our side of the border are carried out in their country. Thus, as Mr Karzai put it, both sides should work together and end these safe havens. Even if Pakistan does not favour the Northern Alliance, the reality is that the Afghan people have chosen them to lead their nation. When we talk so much about democracy, we too should respect their democratic choices. Also, by indulging in proxy wars, Pakistan is violating Afghanistan’s sovereignty, an issue which we drum up so often when it comes to our own country.

Despite all the soothing noises from both Mr Karzai and the Pakistani leadership, the mistrust between the two sides is out there for everyone to see. Despite the fact that Prime Minister Gilani evaded a question on the Haqqani network, our assurances to bring the Afghan Taliban on the negotiating table are not going to resolve the decades-old conflict. We need to address the Afghan grievances, especially when it comes to the Haqqani network. It is time to deliver instead of indulging in mere rhetoric. The solution to the Afghan conflict does not rely solely on the withdrawal of the foreign troops. Pakistan has to play its part by taking a resolute decision of not meddling in Afghan affairs. It is time to let the Afghans decide what they want to do with their country. Any intervention, direct or indirect, will only lead to further chaos. Exporting terrorism to Afghanistan has led to a blowback within Pakistan. If we want peace in our country, we must ensure peace in our neighbourhood.

(my editorial in Daily Times)

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