The Kabul-Islamabad relation reached to its lowest ebb since the establishment of National Unity Government (NUG), and the trust deficit is dominant between the two countries. However, now Torkham gate is nearly completed by Pakistan, while the afghan government on terms it as a violation of bilateral agreements. Besides, the Afghan refugees are made target of the escalating tensions between the two countries. According to the Afghan Ministry of Refugees and Repatriation, more than 20 thousand Afghan refugees had been repatriated in the last one week. The Afghan refugees in Kurram agency have also been told to return within week.
On the other hand, Pakistani official have also made successive statements about the Afghan peace process in the last two weeks. Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s Advisor on Foreign Affairs Sartaj Aziz Pakistan has recently said that the peace talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban would start in a near future. In the meantime, the US Commander in Afghanistan General Nicholson, in his meeting with Pakistani Chief of Army Stuff General Rahil Sharif has also spoken to reinitiate the Afghan peace process. Besides that, a delegation from the Taliban’s political office in Qatar has also traveled to China and the Pakistani Chief of Army Stuff will also visit to china on official visit.
At the climax of bilateral mistrust and before revival of peace talks, building trust seems priority. The question is why has Kabul’s suspicion has augmented against Islamabad? How much effective was the Torkham incident in deteriorating the bilateral ties? What are the main problems in Pak-Afghan ties? And to which direction is the Kabul-Islamabad relations heading?
Clashes at Torkham border and the deepening trust deficit
Recent border clashes between the Afghan and Pakistani security forces in Turkham which lasted for several days was the first of its kind in the history of Pak-Afghan relations at Torkham border. The clashes not only deteriorated relations between the two governments but also sparked hatred in two nations against each other. This situation had influenced trade, transit, healthcare and soft power.
After the incident, the trade level between the two countries began to reduce, wheat import to Afghanistan was affected; the number of Afghan patients in Pakistan decreased; the Afghan businessmen focused on transit through Iran rather than Pakistan; and the hatred between the two nations increased which led to reduction of the number of Pakistani workers in Afghanistan and gradual repatriation of Afghan refugees from Pakistan.
The border clashes have raised mistrust and removing the trust deficit seems difficult at present times. . This mistrust between the two countries is clearly apparent from the Afghan President’s interview with Salim Safi and also from the interview of the Pakistani Ambassador in Afghanistan Sayeed Abrar Hussain.
Change in Kabul’s policy towards Islamabad
After the formation of the NUG, the Afghan President Ashraf Ghani came ahead with the risky policy of rapprochement towards Pakistan and gave unprecedented privileges to Pakistan. Some members of the Afghan Security forces was sent to Pakistan for training; the bilateral cooperation agreement was inked between ISI and the Afghan National Directorate of Security; the Afghan government distanced itself from India and the Afghan President did not travel to India even after seven months from the formation of the NUG; the demand for heavy weapons from India was postponed; the leader of Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan Latifullah Mehsud was handed over to Pakistan (although it was the Americans who had captured Mehsud, but it was a decision merely made by the Afghan government to hand over him to Pakistan) and later the Afghan government participated in the Quadrilateral Peace Talks an initiative by the Pakistani government.
On the other hand, Pakistani Political and Military officials successively visited Afghanistan and each made promises about peace in Afghanistan but Pakistan in a greater part failed to fulfill these promises.
After the bloody explosions in Kabul the Afghan President’s rapprochement policy towards Pakistan was highly criticized by the Afghan media, members of the Afghan Parliament and former government officials and thus the Afghan government’s stance against Pakistan gradually changed.
The roots causes of Pak-Afghan tensions
The followings are the reasons behind the deteriorating Kabul-Islamabad relations under the NUG:
First: showing off more than capability; After the formation of the NUG the political and military officials of Pakistan either intensively did not fulfilled its promises or had promise more than what they can deliver. Leaving aside the question of whether Pakistan deliberately did not fulfill its promises or was unable to do so; Pakistan’s promises had increased hopes in Afghanistan and when these promises went unfulfilled the hopes were replaced by disappointment and mistrust.
Second: Security in Afghanistan; the increased insecurity was the main factor behind the tensions in bilateral relations between the two countries. Bilateral relation with Pakistan is directly related to security situation in Afghanistan; the more upheaval in insecurity the more tensions between the countries.
Third: the Afghan Taliban and Pakistan; the presence of the Taliban in Pakistan is another factor behind Kabul’s suspicion.
Fourth: the Durand line and border management; the Durand line has affected the bilateral relations more than any other issue so far. The border management program of the Pakistani military which the Afghan government believes that this program may be a part of the efforts toward recognition of Durand line and hence this border management program has recently raised tensions in bilateral relations. Moreover, due to border management program the security forces of the two countries were engaged in armed conflict with each other at Torkham gate.
Fifth: Indian Influence in Afghanistan; India’s influence in Afghanistan has also deeply affected Afghan-Pak relations and this factor is the main element of Pakistan’s policy towards Afghanistan.
Sixth: instability in Pakistan’s policies; although Pakistani senior officials and Pakistani Ambassador in Afghanistan Sayeed Abrar Hussian criticizes the Afghan official by saying that the Afghan government’s stance regarding the Taliban is unclear; because from the one hand, the Afghan government demands peace talks with the Taliban and on the other hand, it urges Pakistan to conduct military operations against the Taliban. However a closer look into the Kabul-Islamabad bilateral relations in the past several years narrates that the unstable policy of the Pakistan towards Afghanistan. Pakistani government and military wants to maintain balance between the Afghan government and the Taliban and has lost its way to help whom? Taliban or the Afghan government?. On the one hand, if they wants to pressurize the Taliban to satisfy the Afghan government,on the other hand, they are afraid of the Afghan Taliban’s harsh response and are concerned that enmity with the Taliban would in the short run result in diminishing their influence over the group and in the long run would reduce their influence in the future Afghan government, if Taliban are a part of it.
The direction of Pak-Afghan relations
Currently the distrust atmosphere is dominant not only between the two governments but also between the two nations across the Durand line. Given the statement of the Afghan senior officials it seems that neither the Afghan government would participate in the Quadrilateral Peace Talk nor would it make effort to improve relations with Pakistan.
The deteriorated bilateral relations can only improve either by the efforts of Pakistan or a third party – such as China. China’s role seems to be effective in the issue because now not only China is interested in stability and security in Afghanistan but also it sees the improved Pak-Afghan relations are in its interest.