Tuesday, 20 August 2019

Islamabad girds up for ‘tough talk’ with Kabul

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan is preparing for ‘tough talk’ with Afghanistan in coming weeks when army chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa will travel to Kabul at the invitation of President Ashraf Ghani. Although Gen Qamar has in principle accepted Ghani’s invitation, he is waiting for the ‘appropriate time’ to visit Afghanistan in a bid to mend fractured ties with the neighbouring country. A senior security official said the army chief would likely visit Kabul after President Donald Trump’s administration announces its policy on the Afghan situation. But whenever the army chief would travel to Kabul, he plans to deliver a ‘clear message’ to the Afghan leadership: “Stop blaming Pakistan for your own failings”. Gen Qamar is also expected to inform the Afghan leadership in categorical terms that Pakistan is not patronising any group or providing them sanctuaries, according to the official familiar with the development. In fact, he would present ‘compelling evidence’ of how some elements within the Afghan government are supporting terrorist groups that are launching attacks in Pakistan. The official said the army chief, however, would renew Pakistan’s commitment to supporting efforts seeking a political end to chronic instability in Afghanistan. Since taking over the army’s command, Gen Qamar has been attempting to reach out to Afghanistan. He spoke twice in less than two weeks to President Ghani – first on new year’s eve and then after a series of terrorist attacks in Afghanistan. He not only condemned the terrorist incidents but also offered Pakistan’s assistance in dealing with the common challenge. At the same time, the army chief requested the Afghan president to stop the blame game because, according to him, such an approach would not serve the purpose of either country. However, his efforts did not succeed as the Afghan president stuck to its earlier allegations and insisted his country now wanted ‘serious talks’ with Pakistan on the future of ties between the two countries.

A Foreign Office official told that Pakistan also wanted ‘serious discussions’ with Afghanistan. However, the official, who requested not be named because he was not authorised to speak to media, made it clear that Pakistan’s intention for serious and meaningful discussions was meant to sort out differences between the two countries. At his news briefing last Thursday, Foreign Office spokesperson Nafees Zakaria said Pakistan, as the most sincere friend and well-wisher of the Afghan people, had contributed to the Afghan-owned and Afghan-led peace process, whenever requested. “Pakistan has the highest stakes in peace and stability in Afghanistan. No country gets affected more than Pakistan due to instability in Afghanistan. Pakistan’s commitment to peace and stability in Afghanistan is, therefore, beyond any doubt,” Zakaria said while rejecting the Afghan allegations. But before making the next move, Pakistan hopes the new US administration would take a more ‘realistic view’ of Afghanistan and form a policy accordingly. It is not clear yet how different Trump’s policy would be than that of his predecessor, but Pakistani policymakers feel the change in Washington would certainly offer Islamabad an opportunity to address some of the misconceptions. Under former US president Barack Obama, the US and Afghanistan routinely blamed Pakistan for the current mess in the war-torn country. The Kabul administration believes Pakistan is still providing ‘safe havens’ to terrorists, who have been orchestrating attacks against Afghanistan. Pakistan has strongly rebutted these charges and pointed towards the growing instability within Afghanistan as the main reason for the regrouping of all kinds of militant outfits.

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