The News – Pakistan, Afghanistan to fight terror together: General Bajwa

Rawalpindi, 21 February 2017. Chief of Army Staff General Qamar Bajwa on Monday said that Pakistan and Afghanistan have fought against terrorism and shall continue this effort together.

Chairing a meeting at the GHQ, the COAS reviewed the security situation and border management along the Afghan border.

He said that enhanced security arrangements along Pakistan-Afghan border are to fight common enemy i.e. terrorists of all hue and colour.

The army chief directed for more effective border coordination and cooperation with Afghan security forces to prevent cross border movement of terrorists including all types of illegal movement.

He also welcomed recent proposals from Afghan authorities to take forward the mutual coordination or result oriented efforts against terrorism.

Dawn – Army wants joint anti-terror fight with Afghanistan

Baqir Sajjad Syed

Islamabad, 21 February 2017. After days of talking tough on Afghanistan in the aftermath of recent militant attacks, the Pakistan Army on Monday spoke about fighting terrorism jointly with Afghanistan.

The change in mood at the military headquarters coincided with the receipt of a demarche from the Afghan foreign ministry demanding arrest and handover of 85 leaders of Taliban, Haqqani Network and other terrorist groups and action against 32 alleged terrorist training centres, besides a warning that continued violence would push Kabul to seek international sanctions against “terrorist groups and their supporters”.

The Afghan demands came after Pakistan handed over a similar list of 76 Pakistani terrorists based in Afghanistan.

The Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR), in a statement issued after what was described as a ‘high-level security meeting at GHQ’ chaired by Chief of the Army Staff General Qamar Javed Bajwa, said: “Pakistan and Afghanistan have fought against terrorism and shall continue this effort together”.

Kabul says it has delivered a list of 32 terror camps on Pakistani soil

The comments clearly contrasted with the earlier tone which bordered on unilateralism. The military had soon after the suicide attack at the shrine of Lal Shahbaz Qalandar in Sehwan closed down border crossings with Afghanistan and the troops pounded ‘terrorist targets’ along the border.

General Bajwa had himself told US commander in Afghanistan General Nicholson that the Afghan government’s inaction against terrorists was testing Pakistan’s policy of cross-border restraint.

Media reports also said that Pakistan had sent reinforcements to the border and deployed heavy armaments.

ISPR quoted General Bajwa as explaining at the meeting that “enhanced security arrangements along Pakistan – Afghan border were for fighting common enemy”. He also repeated the oft-mentioned refrain of targeting “terrorists of all hue and colour”.

General Bajwa issued directives for cooperation with Afghan forces in checking “illegal movements” and welcomed Afghan proposal for cooperation against terrorism.

Responding to Pakistan’s demand for action against 76 terrorists who have taken up sanctuaries in Afghanistan, the Afghan presidency had reminded Islamabad of an agreement reached during Quadrilateral Coordination Group talks about fighting terror and sought its implementation.

Meanwhile, the Afghan foreign ministry said it hoped to cooperatively work with Islamabad against terrorism under the Quadri­lateral framework that also included the United States and China.

It said it delivered a list of 85 Taliban and Haqqani Network leaders and 32 terror camps on Pakistani soil, which it claimed were involved in “crimes against people of Afghanistan”.

It said Pakistan had positively received the Afghan lists and expected that action would be taken against people and facilities of concern to it.

Alluding to Pakistan’s support for relaxation of UN sanctions against Taliban, the Afghan foreign ministry said it would push for further sanctions against “terror groups and their supporters” through the UN and other international fora.

In the meantime, Afghan defence ministry has described Pakistani shelling of the border areas as an “act of aggression” and called for resolution of the issue through “diplomatic means”.

Dawn – TTP provides core fighting group for IS: US general

Anwar Iqbal

Washington, 13 February 2017. The Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan provides the core fighting group for the militant Islamic State (IS) group as TTP militants in Orakzai tribal agency en masse joined the relatively new terrorist group, says a top US general.

General John Nicholson Jr, the commander of US and international forces in Afghanistan, also agreed with a lawmaker that Pakistan’s strong relationship with China and its growing ties with Russia were a cause of concern for the United States.

The general, who commands over 13,000 international troops, 8,400 of them American, appeared before the US Senate Armed Services Committee this week to brief American lawmakers on the current situation in Afghanistan.

He told the panel that the IS, which in Afghanistan was called the Islam State Khorasan Province, comprised fighters mainly from existing militant groups in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Primarily, their membership had come from the TTP, which was a Pakistan-based opponent of the Pakistan regime, he said.

The general said TTP militants in Orakzai tribal agency had, en masse, joined the IS-K and formed the initial group of fighters who then moved into Afghanistan’s Nangarhar province, spreading out to about 11 districts initially.

“So, the majority of the fighters in the IS right now came from the TTP, the Pakistani Taliban, and joined the banner of the IS,” he added.

General Nicholson agreed with Senator Angus King, a Maine Democrat, that the Pakistan-Afghan region was a fertile ground for terrorism.

“The conditions in this region also lend themselves to the growth of these organisations. These 20 groups sit on top of a population, between Afghanistan and Pakistan, of over 200 million people, 70 per cent of them are under the age of 30. You know, employment is low, there is radical form of Islam,” he said.

“It’s like a Petri dish… into which you drop the 20 strands of DNA of these terrorist groups. And then what we see happening is convergence and growth in connections develop these.”

General Nicholson noted that of the 98 US-designated terrorist groups across the globe, 20 operated in the Afghanistan-Pakistan region, along with three violent extremist organisations.

“This is the highest concentration of terrorist groups anywhere in the world, which underscores the importance of our counter-terrorism platform in the Central Asia-South Asia region which protects our homeland,” he said.

General Nicholson told the committee that the war in Afghanistan had come to a “stalemate” but could be won by providing better training and equipment to Afghan national forces.

To do so, he asked for “a few thousands” more troops and UH-60 Blackhawk helicopters for Afghan air force, which he said was a vital component to breaking the stalemate between Afghan and Taliban forces.

The US government is already considering a proposal to replace Afghanistan’s current fleet of Russian Mi-17s with modified UH-60 Blackhawks, designed to handle the region’s formidable mountainous terrain.

Throughout the hours-long hearing, General Nicholson, as well as some senators, insisted that the war in Afghanistan could not be won without Pakistan’s support, but the general emphasised the need to work with Pakistan to eliminate alleged militant safe havens in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas, instead of antagonising it by cutting off US economic and military assistance.

Senator John McCain, who chairs the committee, set the tone of the discussion in his opening statement that “succeeding in Afghanistan will also require a candid evaluation of America’s relationship with Pakistan”.

General Nicholson said he was also concerned about the influence in Afghanistan of certain external actors, particularly Pakistan, Russia and Iran, who “continue to legitimise and support the Taliban”.

These external actors were also undermining the Afghan government’s efforts to create a stable Afghanistan, he added. Yet, he warned against a knee-jerk reaction in this situation, particularly against Pakistan. “Our complex relationship with Pakistan is best assessed through a holistic review,” he said.

The general noted that the Pakistani leadership had articulated its support for the US objective of a stable and peaceful Afghanistan, “but thus far we have not seen this translate into any change in terms of behaviour”.

This lack of support was also visible in the freedom of action given to Taliban or the Haqqani Network to operate from sanctuaries in Pakistan, he said.

Dawn – Russia getting into Afghan act

Zahid Hussain

Op/Ed, 4 January 2017. The gathering in Moscow last week, the third in the series of consultations between Russia, China and Pakistan, underlines growing concern about the spillover effect of the Afghan crisis in the region. The initiative is the latest example of Russian assertion of its diplomatic power amidst growing frustration over the American failure to deliver peace in Afghanistan.

An underlying cause of anxiety is the growing threat of the militant Islamic State group spreading its tentacles in the war-torn country. But it is still unclear whether the new alliance will be able to help reach a negotiated political solution to the Afghan conflict.

Although the Kabul government has now been invited for the next round of talks, its exclusion from the earlier meetings cast a shadow over the process.

Not surprisingly, the United States was not invited to the Moscow initiated process. It is, however, premature to assume that the new nexus could replace the quadrilateral forum that included the US along with Pakistan, China and Afghanistan.

The quadrilateral talks have been suspended for almost one year after the collapse of efforts to bring the Afghan Taliban insurgents to the negotiating table. The killing of Mullah Akhtar Mansour, the Taliban chief, in a CIA drone strike last May has further diminished hopes for the talks to resume.

It is quite apparent that no peace effort could succeed without the tacit support, if not active participation, of the USA, which still has about 10,000 troops involved in counter-insurgency operations in Afghanistan. Things have become more complicated with the political transition in Washington.

Like other foreign policy issues, there is complete confusion over the Afghan policy in the soon-to-be installed Trump administration. Moscow’s initiative to build a regional alliance against IS points to a changing geo-political landscape.

That has perhaps compelled the three countries to find a regional solution to the Afghan crisis that directly affects their own security. It remains to be seen whether the Kabul government accepts the invitation to join the forum and whether it is willing to show some flexibility in its approach on the peace talks.

The Moscow trilateral meeting has called for lifting of the travel ban on the insurgent leaders, one of the major demands that the Taliban had presented as a precondition for talks with the Kabul government. The Taliban are obviously pleased by the Moscow meeting endorsing its demand. But lifting of the ban requires US consent.

China has for some time now been actively involved in the Afghan peace efforts, being a major investor in mining and infrastructure development projects in that country.

Its good relations with both the Kabul government and the Taliban have helped Beijing facilitate a few rounds of informal talks between the two warring sides. Beijing has also been gravely concerned about the increasing instability in Afghanistan and recent reports of growing IS activity in the country.

Although Russia may not be a fresh entrant on the Afghan scene, its initiative to build a regional alliance to counter the IS threat points to a new alignment of forces in a changing geo-political landscape.

Interestingly, the meeting on Afghanistan followed another set of trilateral talks in Moscow that included Turkey and Iran on the settlement of Syrian crisis.

The US was excluded from that meeting too, indicating that Moscow is taking a lead in settling the Syrian and Afghan crises, thereby considerably altering the balance of power in the international arena.

This Russian assertiveness seems to be driven by the Obama administration’s inaction and in anticipation of expected changes in US foreign policy under the incoming Trump administration.

Though the US president-elect has openly castigated the Obama administration’s approach on Syria and Afghanistan, there is no clarity on future US policy, especially on Afghanistan.

That has also provided Moscow an opportunity to alter the current negotiating format and try to break the persisting deadlock in the diplomatic efforts to find a political solution to the Afghan conflict.

Indeed there is also serious concern among the three countries over the deteriorating situation in the proximity of their borders. Last year was the bloodiest in Afghanistan with the Taliban intensifying their attacks considerably.

What has been more perturbing, however, is the expanding footprint of IS, apparent in several terrorist attacks in Afghanistan that took a huge toll on the civilian population.

Moreover, the increasing activities of the group in northern Afghanistan, close to the borders of the Central Asian countries, are particularly alarming for Russia.

There is also growing fear in Moscow of IS making inroads in the Muslim population, especially as the Chechens form one of the largest foreign contingents in the IS war in Iraq and Syria. That has also been a reason for Russia to establish contacts with the Afghan Taliban who have been fighting IS.

Both China and Pakistan share Moscow’s concerns and hence have decided to join the new regional alignment. Islamabad particularly sees some hope of the new regional format being in a better position to persuade the Afghan Taliban to come to the negotiating table.

However, it will certainly not be easy to make a breakthrough given the complexities involving the problem. Most importantly, it requires some serious efforts to remove the reservations of the Kabul government over the new format that involves Pakistan.

Moreover, there is no unanimity within the fractious Afghan administration, even on the issue of negotiations with the Taliban.

There is also a question mark over the Taliban agreeing to formally sit across the table with the Kabul government without any preconditions, particularly at a time when they have achieved significant success in the battlefield.

According to some reports, the Afghan officials have informally met the representatives of the Taliban’s Qatar office. But formal peace talks are a completely different ballgame.

To bring the Afghan peace process out of the deep freeze, it is most important to end the frosty relations between Islamabad and Kabul.

There has been some breaking of the ice with the recent telephonic contact between Afghan leaders and Pakistan’s new army chief. But is this enough to clear the huge wall of distrust between the two countries?

The writer is an author and journalist – Afghanistan’s Sikh & Hindu minorities demand probe into Sikh killing

Kunduz, Afghanistan, 1 January 2017. Sikh and Hindu communities in Afghanistan have demanded authorities investigate attacks against members of their communities, after a local Sikh community leader was shot dead in the northern city of Kunduz.

Narmang Singh, a shopkeeker also known as Dilsoz, was killed by gunmen on his way to work on December 29, the second deadly attack against members of the Sikh community in Afghanistan since September.

Senator Anarkali Honaryar, who represents the Hindu and Sikh minorities in the upper house of Afghanistan’s parliament, says the attack has deeply affected the communities.

“The incident has left a serious negative psychological impact on the Hindus and Sikhs. We urge authorities to investigate this incident as well as past attacks against the Hindus and Sikhs,” Honaryar told RFE/RL on December 30.

Police in Kunduz say three suspects were arrested in connection with Singh’s killing.

On September 30, a Sikh man was abducted from his home and shot dead by suspected militants in the eastern city of Jalalabad. The killing sparked protests by the Sikh community.

A vast majority of Afghanistan’s Hindus and Sikhs, who were estimated to number around 220,000 in the 1980s, have left the conflict-torn country in the past three decades.

TOLO News – Unknown gunmen kill head of Sikh community in Kunduz

The shooting sparked an outcry on social media on Thursday with hundreds of people condemning the incident and sending condolences to his family.

Faridullah Hussainkhail

Kunduz, 30 December 2016. Lala Del Souz, the head of the Sikh community in Kunduz city, was killed by unknown gunmen Thursday morning, officials confirmed.

Del Souz, a naturopath, was gunned down at about 9am in the Haji Gulistan Kochi Haman area of the city.

He had reportedly been on his way to his shop when the shooting occurred.

According to relatives of the deceased, he had been shot five years ago but survived the attack.

Kunduz security chief Masoum Stanikzai confirmed the incident and said police have arrested three suspects. Investigations will however continue, he said.

The head of Kunduz regional hospital, Naeem Mangal, also confirmed the death of Del Souz and said he died from his injuries while being taken to hospital.

Del Souz’s uncle, Prem, said the deceased had been well liked and had no enemies.

The shooting meanwhile, sparked an outcry on social media on Thursday with hundreds of people condemning the incident and sending condolences to his family.

Prem, however called on government to thoroughly investigate the incident and make sure those responsible are brought to justice. He said if this does not happen, the few remaining Sikhs will sell up and leave the province.

Following the collapse of Kunduz, on two occasions in just over a year, many Sikhs left the province. Currently only three families are still there.

Sikhs have lived in Kunduz for over thirty years and at one time there were as many as 40 families in the area.

After the collapse of Kunduz city last year, Del Souz apparently moved his family to India. He stayed on in Kunduz and lived with his uncle, Prem, in their Dharamsal (a Sikh’s temple).

Close to 99 percent of Hindu and Sikh in Afghanistan have left the country over the past three decades.

An investigation by TOLOnews in June found that the Sikh and Hindu population numbered 220,000 in the 1980’s.

That number dropped sharply to 15,000 when the mujahideen was in power during the 1990’s and remained at that level during the Taliban regime. It is now estimated that only 1,350 Hindus and Sikhs remain in the country.

The survey also found that where Hindus and Sikhs were once very active in the business sector within the country, they are now faced with increasing poverty.

Hindus and Sikhs suffered huge setbacks after the Taliban regime collapsed in 2001. This forced a large number of them to leave rural areas and move to Kabul in order to make a living.

The Times of India – India’s envoy to the UN Syed Akbaruddin warns Pakistan: What you sow will bear fruit, so plant only peace

New Delhi, 20 December 2016. India has renewed its demand for international action against Pakistan-based terrorist groups Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Mohammed and “their shadowy supporters,” and Syed Akbaruddin, India’s envoy to the United Nations, today cited a quote from poet Rumi to warn Pakistan.

“Every leaf that grows will tell you: What you sow will bear fruit. So, if you have any sense my friend, don’t plant anything but peace,” Akbaruddin said, quoting the great Persian poet.

The UN envoy’s remark was an apparent reference to terrorist groups operating with support from Pakistan in neighbouring Afghanistan. He said that to bring sustainable peace to Afghanistan, groups perpetrating violence must be denied safe havens in the country’s “neighbourhood.”

In an implied criticism of China, he blamed the “split” in the UN bodies that imposed sanctions on terrorist organisations, for the organisation’s inability to deal with terrorism.

China has blocked India’s efforts to have international sanctions imposed on Pakistan-based Jaish-e-Muhammad chief Masood Azhar by a committee that takes action against al-Qaida and its affiliates. Azhar was behind the attack on the Pathankot air force base this year.

As a member of the Security Council, China has also provided cover for Pakistan releasing on bail Zaki-ur-Rehman Lakhvi, the LeT commander who masterminded the 2008 attack on Mumbai which killed more than 160 people. He was already on the UN list of those facing sanctions as terrorists.

“We need to address, as an imperative, the support that terrorist organizations like the Taliban, Haqqani Network, Daesh, aI-Qaeda and its designated affiliates such as Lashkar-e-Taiba and the Jaish-e-Muhammad, which operate entirely outside the fabric of international law, draw from their shadowy supporters outside Afghanistan,” he said.

“While the Taliban sanctions regime remains split for more than five years, the designated terrorist group makes concerted effort to capture and hold territory,” he said. “Therefore, for numerous Afghan women, men and children there is no respite from the plague of terrorism.”

The international community has to make “it clear that we will neither roll over in the face of terror, nor will we allow the roll back of the achievements of the resolute people and government of Afghanistan in the last decade and a half,” he said.

Akbaruddin’s comments come just days after Afghan President Ashraf Ghani said, in a message addressed directly to Pakistan foreign affairs chief Sartaj Aziz, that while Pakistan’s pledge to contribute $500 million for the reconstruction of his war-torn country was “generous,” that money could be used to contain extremism.

Ghani went on to say that “without peace, any amount of assistance will not meet the needs of our people.”

The Tribune – SAARC members keen on boosting trade with India

Neha Saini

Tribune News Service

Amritsar, 8 December 2016. SAARC countries are keen to strengthen trade with India by overcoming their internal challenges, said delegates at PITEX, organised by PHDCCI, today. SAARC members were of the opinion that the South East Asia was a consumer market with India a major player in it.

The five-day trade expo attempts to bring biggest buyers and sellers from across the countries on a single platform for direct trade collaboration.

“Being at the confluence of trade routes connecting SAARC members, India is a natural trading partner for the South Asian countries. Despite this, our trade is remarkably low with them,” said R S Sachdeva, co-chairman, Punjab committee, PHDCCI.

According to the South Asia Monitor, India’s trade with the SAARC members was three per cent of the country’s total trade with the rest of the world. “Therefore, with a view to boost the intra-regional trade, we organised the Reverse Buyer Seller Meet (RBSM) supported by the Union Ministry of Commerce,” Sachdeva added.

Speaking on increasing cooperation, Asela Livera, deputy president of National Chamber of Sri Lanka, said, “There is a big potential for high quality and high-end products from Sri Lanka while we look for the ayurveda and its learning from our Indian counterparts.”

According to Hassib Rahimi, CEO, Kabul Chamber of Commerce and Industry, “Afghanistan expects expertise and technology from India. Also, the recent change in the government policy has made Afghanistan more centred towards the economy.”

Kabul is looking to ink agreements with Indian companies in the field of agro-industries and food processing.

Similarly, Kesang Wangi, deputy secretary general, Bhutan Chamber of Commerce and Industry, said Bhutan’s import of edible products to heavy machinery from India in lieu of hydel power could open more trade avenues.

With its ‘open door policy’ for promoting direct foreign investment, Bangladesh is looking forward to enhance collaboration, partnership and cooperation for trade and investment.

“We want to establish 100 special economic zones where investors can target both domestic and export markets,” said Mohd Abu Naser, director, Federation of Bangladesh Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

Dawn – Acrimony at the heart of Asia

Zahid Hussain

Op/Ed, 7 December 2016. Sadly, a forum established to encourage security, political and economic cooperation between Afghanistan and the surrounding nations turned into yet another event of Pakistan-bashing.

What happened at the Heart of Asia ministerial meeting at Amritsar recently raises questions about Pakistan being represented at such a high official level, even at multilateral conferences.

It is conduct unbecoming, when the highest-level Pakistani foreign affairs official is not even seated at the centre table at the dinner hosted by the Indian prime minister and is reportedly stopped from a planned visit to the Golden Temple for ‘security reasons’ in violation of basic diplomatic norms.

The spectacle of Indian officials stopping our high commissioner from speaking to Pakistani reporters was unprecedented.

Predictably, the Indian prime minister tried to use the Heart of Asia forum, as he did the BRICS summit held in Goa some months ago, to castigate Pakistan. It is part of his policy to discredit Islamabad, to make others see it as a ‘centre of gravity of terrorism’, and to isolate it internationally.

The Indian prime minister may not have succeeded in his attempt at BRICS, but at the Amritsar conference he found a strong ally in the Afghan president.

One can understand the frustration of the embattled Ashraf Ghani confronting the rising Taliban insurgency, yet one expected to see a more prudent approach from the suave leader.

He ought not to have raised bilateral differences and disputes at a multilateral forum meant to help his country achieve political and economic stability.

It is part of the Indian prime minister’s policy to discredit Islamabad and isolate it internationally.[bold/centre]

While many of his grievances may be valid, his public rejection of Pakistan’s economic aid and cooperation was inappropriate and can only widen the gap between the two countries causing further instability in the region.

President Ghani’s comments provided the Modi government with more clout to put pressure on Pakistan. There was only a feeble voice and that too from the Russian delegate against targeting a single country.

That also raises serious questions about our own foreign policy problems.

Surely what happened in Amritsar did not come as a surprise. The Pakistani high commission in Delhi has reportedly informed the foreign ministry about the hostile environment.

According to a highly placed source, Pakistan’s high commissioner in India, Abdul Basit, had even suggested that the foreign secretary rather than the foreign affairs adviser be sent to the conference.

There may be some weight in the government’s argument that downgrading participation would have sent the wrong message to other member countries, particularly Afghanistan that is the pivot of the Heart of Asia conference, also known as the Istanbul process.

But, in hindsight, it might have been more appropriate to send someone other than the adviser to avoid such humiliation.

It is, however, commendable that Sartaj Aziz maintained balance in his speech in the face of provocation. He met the Afghan president on the sidelines of the conference despite Ghani’s outburst.

The joint communiqué issued at the conclusion of the proceedings reiterated the main objective behind the regional forum ie developing cooperation among the regional countries surrounding Afghanistan to fight terrorism, extremism and poverty, and expanding connectivity and trade among member countries.

But the escalation of tensions between India and Pakistan and growing antagonism between Afghanistan and Pakistan remain major stumbling blocks in making the forum more effective.

Launched in 2011, it has 14 members and 17 observers including the United States and other Western countries. A major reason behind its creation was to help end the Afghan crisis by involving regional countries.

The forum has not made much headway given the rising insurgency in Afghanistan and the failure to find a political solution to the civil war there.

That has also been a major cause of tension between Islamabad and Kabul. A record number of Afghan soldiers and civilians have been killed this year in the fighting since the US invaded Afghanistan in 2001.

The situation also explains President Ghani’s frustration, the Kabul government believes the fighting in Afghanistan could have been stopped had Pakistan reined in the Afghan Taliban leadership operating from the border areas.

Although Kabul’s contention is a bit exaggerated, it is known that Pakistan’s border regions are still being used by some Afghan Taliban insurgents as a safe haven.

Indeed, President Ghani did try to build bridges after being elected, but turned to Delhi after Pakistan failed to deliver on its promises to bring the Taliban to the negotiating table. Islamabad failed to convince Kabul about its limited influence over the insurgent leadership.

The issue of the Pakistani Taliban taking sanctuary across the border in Afghanistan has further widened the divide between the two countries.

Surely the growing nexus between Kabul and New Delhi seems to have brought the nightmarish scenario of our security establishment engaging on two fronts closer to reality.

Our own flawed policy of looking at Kabul from the Indian policy prism and as a zero-sum game has further complicated matters for us. It may be true that the main base of insurgency lies in Afghanistan but the rising hostility between Kabul and Islamabad has provided greater space to the Afghan Taliban.

There is no likelihood of a de-escalation of tensions between India and Pakistan soon, but we need to work more seriously on improving our relations with Afghanistan.

It is true that building bridges is not the sole responsibility of Pakistan, but we need to review our policy of looking at Afghanistan from a purely security-based prism. The Taliban insurgency is as dangerous for Pakistan as it is for Afghanistan.

However, there is also a need for Kabul to change its attitude and cease to blame Pakistan for everything going bad in Afghanistan.

President Ghani’s angry outbursts do not provide any solutions to the problem. He needs to maintain the image of the statesman he had presented soon after his election as president.

Turning the Heart of Asia into a forum of contention will not help boost the regional cooperation needed to bring peace and economic stability to Afghanistan.

The writer is an author and journalist
Twitter: @hidhussain

Dawn – Pakistan-Afghanistan ties

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.