Ashraf Ghani to Pakistan: Brothers No More ?

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The former President of Afghanistan Mr Hamid Karzai once called Pakistanis his brothers and added that Pakistan and Afghanistan were conjoined twins. Later under the stress of his relations with the US, pressures from India and India dominated elements within his country he changed his opinion. Once he left office he became a very vocal critic of Pakistan probably to remain relevant and in the good books of those against the Pakistan-Afghanistan relationship.

Pakistan supported the Afghan election process and the entire series of events that brought Mr Ashraf Ghani to the Presidency and led him to form the unity government in Afghanistan. Pakistan welcomed the new leadership in Afghanistan and reciprocated the overtures Mr Ghani made to forge a relationship with Pakistan. Many high level visits took place including one by President Ghani to Pakistan Army’s General Headquarters to meet with the Chief of Army Staff. Many of President Ghani’s former World bank colleagues supported the new Afghan-Pakistan relationship including the land mark agreement between the Afghan Intelligence Agency — the NDS and Pakistan’s ISI. There were elements within Afghanistan who never reconciled with the new direction Afghan-Pakistan relations were taking and the lead role being given to Pakistan by the US and the Afghan government to bring the Afghan Taliban to the table for talks.

Then there was the thunderbolt of Mullah Omar’s death and the whole process of his succession. It was inevitable that this period of uncertainty and instability would lead to a resurgence of Taliban initiated violence in Afghanistan. Afghan political stability and security capacity came under strain and was found wanting. There were a series of violent incidents including a spectacular jail break and the latest is the Taliban takeover of parts of Kunduz city. From all accounts Pakistan and its ISI acted in the best interests of Afghanistan and Pakistan to stabilize the succession process and to once again move the Taliban towards talks. This cannot happen in a hurry. The new Taliban leadership has to make its bones to ward off criticism and shake off labels of Pakistan sponsorship and to bring in the factions that are splintering or veering towards the inroads that ISIL is making in Afghanistan. Unfortunately the elements opposing Pakistan within the Afghan establishment have taken this opportunity to significantly undermine the Pakistan–Afghanistan relationship at a critical phase of its evolution. A short sighted view of the situation has led to statements that if not tempered can create a serious situation in Afghanistan.

Pakistan has nothing to gain by supporting Afghan Taliban. It has everything to gain from a successful reconciliation process that ends the violence in Afghanistan. The TTP (Tehrik Taliban Pakistan) is largely based in Afghanistan and Pakistan needs Afghan help to sideline them and deal with those responsible for the Peshawar school massacre and the more recent attack on an air Force base. The relationship between Afghanistan and Pakistan needs to be calibrated so that it progresses in tandem with the gains made against the Taliban — all Taliban. There cannot be a one sided giving up of all options if there are questions on capacity, intentions and political sustainability against the present threats. Contrary to the belief in Afghan circles that Pakistan is acting to thwart Indian influence in Afghanistan, Pakistan actually accepts the Afghan-India relationship and its historical context so it would be tragic if Afghanistan acted to degrade the relationship with Pakistan under internal or external pressures or both pressures acting in concert.

So President Ghani sir — please do not give up on Pakistan. Pakistan and Afghanistan are brothers and must remain brothers. Their future is interlinked and intertwined. This is the lesson of the protracted three decades of violence that has wracked Afghanistan and Pakistan. This lesson should not be forgotten.

(Spearhead Analyses are collaborative efforts and not attributable to a single individual).

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