Editorial, 6 December 2016. Afghan President Ashraf Ghani has become a harsh critic of Pakistan, harsh to the point of outdoing Indian hawks and, seemingly, undermining his own country’s interests.
At the Heart of Asia conference in Amritsar, where the theme was cooperation against security threats, Mr Ghani’s rhetoric was aggressive, almost as if Kabul desired a rupture in Pakistan-Afghanistan ties. This is not the right attitude and it is hoped that better sense will prevail.
Certainly, there is some history here. When Mr Ghani assumed office more than two years ago, he made it a priority to reach out to Pakistan through some bold verbal statements and diplomatic gestures towards Islamabad and Rawalpindi; it indicated that resetting ties with Pakistan were a core part of his agenda.
The outreach was received warmly by both the political government and the military leadership here, but Mr Ghani soon became impatient with what was perceived in Afghanistan as Pakistan’s slow pace in addressing his country’s concerns.
Yet, Pakistan, too, has had genuine concerns vis-à-vis Afghanistan. As Mr Ghani and the National Unity Government he heads became increasingly hawkish on Pakistan, they deliberately steered closer to India, a growing closeness that the security establishment here saw as one of the reasons behind the renewed security troubles in Balochistan.
Moreover, with counter-insurgency operations in North Waziristan and other parts of Fata nearing their final stages, the problem of sanctuaries for anti-Pakistan militants in Afghanistan, particularly in the eastern region, has become a thorny issue.
The combination of Afghan and Pakistani grievances against one another has led to a relationship that is now in a shockingly poor state. Still, there are compelling reasons for both sides to move the bilateral relationship back towards cooperation, and Mr Ghani surely knows this, even if he prefers to give voice to a one-sided interpretation of events at the moment.
There are at least three areas in which cooperation is merited, and can be achieved, if both sides are willing to accept the principle of reciprocity. First, the problem of cross-border militancy is a regional one, as the joint statement at the Amritsar conference indicated.
In the case of Afghanistan and Pakistan, border management and interdicting cross-border militant movement can be a joint priority. Second, the goal of a political reconciliation with the Afghan Taliban is one shared by all sides.
Pakistan can continue to use its influence in a way that nudges the Taliban towards reconciliation, while Afghanistan can tamp down its hostile rhetoric towards Pakistan as it explores further ways to move dialogue ahead.
Third, trade and commerce between Pakistan and Afghanistan can and should be expanded, Pakistan remains a vital trading partner for Afghanistan and the old business links, formal and informal, are an important platform. Cooperation needs to be the guiding principle of Pak-Afghan relations.