Waiting to exhale – no breakthrough expected in Pak-Afghan ties

Special Waiting to exhale – no breakthrough expected in Pak-Afghan ties
In this file photo, Pakistan's Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi listens during a news conference at the Foreign Ministry in Islamabad, Pakistan Aug. 20, 2018. (REUTERS)
Updated 15 September 2018

Waiting to exhale – no breakthrough expected in Pak-Afghan ties

Waiting to exhale – no breakthrough expected in Pak-Afghan ties
  • Peace talks top agenda as FM Qureshi heads to Kabul even as experts urge caution
  • Look to resolve volatile conditions in three provinces, among other things

KARACHI: As Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi heads to Afghanistan today on a one-day visit, experts said the step forward should not be mistaken as a major breakthrough in the fragmented relations between the two countries.
Qureshi is the first high-level Pakistani official to visit Afghanistan since Prime Minister Imran Khan took office on July 26.
Among other things on the agenda is the deteriorating law and order situation in Afghanistan, especially in the violence-hit provinces of Ghazni, Nangarhar and Logar provinces, a senior diplomat in Kabul told Arab News. “The Afghanistan-Pakistan Action Plan for Peace and Solidarity (APAPPS), agreed between President Dr. Ashraf Ghani and Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi in April earlier this year, will be the major topic of discussion,” the diplomat, requesting anonymity as he was not allowed to speak to media, said.
“Qureshi is coming to Kabul on his first foreign tour at the request of his Afghan counterpart, Salahuddin Rabbani, as the Afghan government desperately needs peace in the three troubled provinces ahead of the country’s parliamentary elections on the 28th of next month,” he said.
Restoring peace in Nangarhar, Ghazni and Logar — the three areas where the Taliban and Daesh have wrecked major havoc —  is a matter of serious concern “for both the US and the Afghan government”. “Ghani, who is going to contest the presidential elections next year, wants to take credit by having peace in these areas,” he said.
He explained that the APAPPS provides a comprehensive and structured mechanism to enhance engagement between the two countries and all talks held on Saturday will look to build on its inaugural session held on July 22, in Kabul.
In the meeting, officials from both sides had assessed all areas of mutual interest, including counter-terrorism, bilateral ties, repatriation of Afghan refugees’ and prospects for peace and reconciliation. However, a massive Taliban attack followed in Ghazni soon after, making the meeting look like an exercise in futility. “The APAPPS hasn’t worked so far and the Afghan government now wants it to produce the required results,” the diplomat said.
Rahimullah Yousufzai, a Peshawar-based veteran journalist and an expert on Afghan affairs, said: “It is an initial exploratory visit in which the negotiating teams will get to know each other so we should not expect any major breakthrough.”
This meeting will provide the basis for the focused discussions, Yousufzai explained. “The Afghan government will speak about the APAPPS, especially the point binding both countries not to allow its soil to be used against the neighbor. So action against Afghan Taliban will be urged. The Pakistani delegation will press for action against Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), which is using Afghan soil against Pakistan.”
Shahid M Amin, Pakistan’s former ambassador to Saudi Arabia, the Soviet Union, France, Nigeria and Libya, said PM Khan and Qureshi have categorically stated that peace in Afghanistan is in the interest of Pakistan. “Peace in Pakistan depends on a peaceful Afghanistan and our government has always wanted it,” Amin told Arab News, adding that Kabul had been wrongly “crediting” Pakistan for Afghan Taliban’s success in Afghanistan. “The Taliban have achieved its success on its own but the situation is wrongly assessed by making Pakistan a scapegoat,” he complained.
The good thing, Amin said, is that the US’ commitment toward attaining peace in Afghanistan has increased, while the Taliban’s attitude has also softened after having direct talks with Washington. “If Pakistan can assert any influence it will surely make for a peaceful Afghanistan, which in turn is indispensable for a peaceful Pakistan.”
Amin said the visit will certainly have an impact on addressing these grievances. “It is high time that both countries remove each other’s reservations and go ahead for broader peace. Imran Khan has said that the issue of Afghanistan can be resolved through a political solution,” he added.
Yousufzai, however, is skeptical and says the timing should also be kept in mind before predicting the outcome of Saturday’s visit.
Former Pakistan Foreign Secretary Shamshad Ahmed Khan said a major change can be expected only if the US leaves Afghanistan. Ruing on the fact that 18 years have passed since the Afghan war, he said that the US has yet to take a leaf from history and should realize that peace in Afghanistan cannot be restored until all foreign forces leave the country.
“Peace is not electricity that you [can access by] turning on a switch. For resolving issues, one needs time and an understanding of root causes, which are not caused by Pakistan but because of the US presence,” he said. Turning the focus on the influence of India due to American presence, Khan adds: “All these hurdles should be removed for peace in the region.”