Cordial relations between Afghanistan and Pakistan is a win-win situation for the people of both the countries as they will usher an era of peace and prosperity in the region. Unfortunately, some foreign countries and their sympathizers are plotting to place impediments in the path of the emerging affable relations between the two neighbours with an aim towards destabilizing regional security and keeping the people of Afghanistan in a deplorable condition. In this milieu, it is imperative that leadership of Afghanistan and Pakistan should act with vision to neutralize anti Pak-Afghan propaganda aimed at disrupting fostering of harmonious relations.
It is heartening that the Afghanistan-Pakistan leadership has taken cognizance of the fact that both countries can contribute towards each other’s well being, security and peace. The acrimony and bitterness created in era of Hamid Karzai will take a major effort to wash and clear, especially because Pakistan also cannot be absolved of some debatable policies towards Afghanistan in the past.
The drawdown of international troops from Afghanistan has opened an incredible window of opportunity to both the countries to join hands and work for peaceful co-existence. Being a neighbor, Pakistan can help in development of civil,military and economic institutions. On the other hand, the positive developments between the two neighboring states, has raised alarm bells in Delhi and Indian political assets in Afghanistan are trying their best to distract the current initiative. Some pro Indian elements including sitting parliamentarian are desperate to disrupt the evolving friendly relationship between Pakistan and Afghanistan.
Under the given constraints, all peace efforts initiated particularly military cooperation to combat terrorism, should be appreciated and evaluated in terms of attaining the long cherished goal of permanent peace in the region. The ethnic, linguistic, religious and geographical commonalities should be utilized to generate more congeniality and bonhomie.
The epoch making deal concluded between Pakistan’s premier intelligence agency Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) and the Afghan intelligence outfit National Directorate of Security (NDS) for cooperation, aimed at bolstering fight against terrorism must be lauded. The first-of-its-kind deal between two intelligence agencies came in the aftermath of a landmark visit by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to Kabul during which the Pakistan government denounced Taliban and said that future violence by the militant group would be treated as terrorism.
According to ISPR, under the agreement, the two intelligence agencies would cooperate in counter-terrorism operations. An essential element of the accord is a provision for joint probe of the terrorism suspects. The ISI would also equip the NDS and train its personnel. The deal reflects growing cooperation between the two countries after years of mistrust. Some analysts opine that the bilateral trust deficit was mostly due to a rivalry between the two intelligence agencies. Thus the signing of the agreement represents a new-found trust between Islamabad and Kabul, particularly between their security and intelligence establishments. It must be appreciated that the initiative was taken by the Afghan President, when breaking all norms of protocol; he paid a visit to the GHQ during his first visit to Pakistan after assuming the presidency. The two countries later went on to cooperate in ways not known before following the tragic December 16, 2014 Peshawar school massacre which left over 140 schoolchildren and school staff members dead. Troops from both countries also conducted coordinated operations along the border. But, the most significant development was the arrival of the first batch of Afghan cadets for training in Pakistan’s Military Academy (PMA) early this year.
The presence of Afghan defence forces chief General Sher Muhammad Karimi at the passing-out parade at the PMA as the chief guest only served to reinforce the message that the defence cooperation was growing in an unmatched manner as no foreign dignitary has ever been invited as the Chief Guest at PMA’s Graduation Parade prior to this.
It was no coincidence that while General Karimi was reviewing the parade at Kakul, a massive bomb attack rocked Afghanistan. The aim of the detractors of growing Af-Pak camaraderie was to sow seeds of doubt in budding relationship. A spike in violence in Afghanistan following start of Taliban’s Spring Offensive also fuelled doubts about Pakistan’s cooperation. Little wonder then that former Afghan President Hamid Karzai, known for his leanings towards India, demanded that Afghanistan immediately cancel agreement between Pakistan and Afghanistan’s security agencies.
Undeterred by Mr. Karzai’s ranting, both Afghanistan and Pakistan have agreed to boost anti-terror cooperation for sharing intelligence and training Afghan officials. A spokesperson for the Afghan NDS Abdul Haseeb Siddiqui confirmed thedevelopment. Mr. Siddiqui said the MoU had identified the “enemy”, fundamental threats and a mechanism to share intelligence techniques. He stated that “The NDS will look into Pakistan’s sincere cooperation on the basis of MoU”, adding that ISI and NDS had previously signed MoUs in 2006 and 2009 as well, but those could not prove effective due to complications in the agreements.
What is odd is that Hamid Karzai, who stepped down in September last year after serving the longest term as president, has no official position in the national unity government, yet he continues to provide unsolicited advice to Afghan leadership on a regular basis. It may be recalled that the former Afghan president, who has spent nearly 25 years in Pakistan as a refugee, had also opposed President Ghani’s decision to send army cadets for training to Pakistan. Karzai had refused to send army officers to Pakistan and had signed a Strategic Partnership Agreement with India in 2011 that also include an Indian commitment to increase its training of Afghan security forces. Indian and Afghan media say nearly 350 Afghan army officers are currently getting training in India under the agreement.
President Ashraf Ghani has his task cut out to secure a delicate balance vis-à-vis Indo-Pak rivalry. If both Pakistan and Afghanistan are committed to meaningful implementation, the epoch making agreement between the ISI and the Afghan NDS could fundamentally alter the dynamics of a mutually damaging relationship stretching back decades.
—The writer is retired PAF Group Captain and a TV talk show host.