Pak-Afghan relations have always remained tumultuous, mostly tilting precariously towards volatility, as the blame game persists. Afghanistan accuses Pakistan of supporting terrorist sanctuaries, whereas Pakistan categorically denies the Afghan allegations and holds the internal insecurity of Afghanistan responsible for the instability in the region. Relations between Pakistan and the US have deteriorated over allegations that Taliban insurgents fighting local and international forces in Afghanistan use sanctuaries on Pakistani soil to plan attacks. The US and Afghan officials have long accused Pakistan of being selective in its campaign against militant groups operating in the country. In January, US President Donald Trump charged that Islamabad had failed to take action against terror safe havens in Pakistan and suspended military aid to the country. Pakistani officials deny the charges and maintain that the country has equally targeted all militant groups and suffered enormous losses.
The Afghanistan Pakistan Action Plan for Peace and Stability (APAPPS) was thus developed and brought into action when the former Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi visited Kabul this year in April. The seven principles agreed between Pakistan and Afghanistan for the new framework for engagement included commitments that Pakistan would support the Afghan-led and Afghan-owned peace and reconciliation; the two countries would undertake effective actions against fugitives and the irreconcilable elements posing security threats to either of the two countries; both countries would deny use of their respective territory by any country, network, group or individuals for anti-state activities against either country; they would put in place a joint supervision, coordination and confirmation mechanism through liaison officers for realization of the agreed actions; territorial and aerial violations of each other’s territory would be avoided; there would be no public blame game and instead APAPPS cooperation mechanisms would be utilized to respond to mutual issues of contention and concerns; and working groups and necessary cooperation mechanism would be set up as per APAPPS. Both sides have operationalized six working groups, including the ones on security and intelligence cooperation.
APAPPS is Pakistan’s initiative for cooperation in the areas of counter-terrorism and reduction of violence, peace and reconciliation, refugees’ repatriation and joint economic development. The plan enjoys the backing of both China and the US. On 10th August 2018, the Taliban gained control of over more than half of Ghazni province, the police and government officials claimed that the militants had been pushed back, however, civilian reports stated otherwise. Afghan officials claimed that in the 400 militants that were killed, 70 were Pakistani nationals, accusing Pakistan’s intelligence agency inter services intelligence (ISI) for orchestrating these attacks. These claims were clearly denied by Pakistan, who further alleged that the internal security situation of Afghanistan alone can be blamed for the Ghazni attack, furthermore the Chief of Army Staff General Qamar Javed Bajwa blatantly denied the Afghan allegation that dead and/or injured terrorists were returning to their safe havens in Pakistan. He further asserted that the solution rests in making substantive progress on Afghan reconciliation efforts as well as the speedy implementation of the Afghanistan Pakistan Action Plan for Peace and Stability (APAPPS)”.
After this crash, Pak-Afghan Relations took a positive stride in September this year upon the appointment of Mr. Shah Mehmood Qureshi as Foreign Minister, his Afghan counterpart Salahuddin Rabbani congratulated him on acquiring the position. Pakistan’s sudden closing down of its consulate in the Jalalabad province was also a sudden shock for the already turbulent relations. However, in his telephonic conversation, Mr. Qureshi implied that previous security conditions need to be resumed in order to re-open the consulate. It is extremely necessary for Pakistan to try and maintain cordial relations with its neighbor for its own strategic benefits. It is essential for Pakistan to initiate a peace process in Afghanistan.
In addition to receiving 5.22 bcm of gas annually, Afghanistan would get around $400 million each year from transportation income.
Many attempts have been made in the past to establish better terms with Afghanistan by Pakistan, but most could not bear fruit. In current scenario, the most reliable possibility of a cordial relation with Afghanistan is the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) gas pipeline. The pipeline would have the capability to supply 33 billion cubic meters (bcm) of gas from the world’s fourth-biggest natural gas reserves in Daulatabad of Turkmenistan; with 16 percent going to Afghanistan, Pakistan and India would receive 42 percent each. In addition to receiving 5.22 bcm of gas annually, Afghanistan would get around $400 million each year from transportation income. The pipeline will run from gas fields in Turkmenistan through Afghanistan and Pakistan to India. It will start from the Galkynysh gas field. In Afghanistan, it will be constructed alongside the Kandahar–Herat Highway in western Afghanistan, and then via Quetta and Multan in Pakistan. The final destination of the pipeline will be the Indian town of Fazilka, near Pakistan-India border. The pipeline project is undoubtedly important for the member countries and the Asian region. Pakistan and India face a shortage of power. The investment will provide a way for fulfilling energy requirements of both nations and has the capability to address the shortage of power in both nations. The transit revenue generated will be a startup towards the economic development of the war-stricken Afghanistan.
Pakistan fears that a possible Afghan government patronized by India, can potentially help to encircle Pakistan, and an unstable Afghanistan that becomes—as has already happened—a safe haven for anti-Pakistan militant groups and a dangerous playground for outside powers. In order to prevent this, better Pak-Afghan relations can only be enabled via developing economic ties, considering the location of Afghanistan which is at the crossroads of the Middle East, Central Asia, and South Asia, both nations can benefit greatly from not only each other but also the international community in terms of trade.
The recent telephonic conversation between the Foreign Ministers has also helped to mend these ties further, as the Afghan Foreign Minister was requested to provide better security in Jalalabad for the consulate. The acceptance of the invitation to visit Afghanistan extended by the Foreign Minister was duly accepted by Pakistan’s Foreign Minister, also a joint Pak-Afghan Ulema Conference to be held in Islamabad is on the cards. The prompt acceptance by Pakistan’s Foreign Minister for a visit to Kabul is a magnanimously positive stride towards cordial relations.
Furthermore, the recent warming of relations between the two countries, following a change in government in Pakistan in August 2018 when Mr. Imran Khan became the Prime Minister, translates into lasting and substantial changes in Afghanistan’s policy. On 30 August 2018, the Prime Minister spent eight hours, with Pak Army and ISI Chief in GHQ, Rawalpindi discussing how to handle the difficult neighbourhood of Pakistan. With the TAPI gas pipeline project being given the green signal, fencing underway along the Pak-Afghan border and a recent restoration of peaceful dialogue with a vow to not only implement upon but also strictly adhere to the APAPPS; the tide is changing towards positive bilateral relations, as foremost in the APAPPS lies the stance that the blame game shall no longer be practiced between both the nations, thus, Afghanistan’s accusations regarding safe havens of terrorists in Pakistan, will be seriously considered and probed into by Pakistan and vice versa. Both nations now need to focus on maintaining bilateral talks and developing economic ties, whilst cooperating with each other to restore peace and end the blame game.
has done her M.Phil in Government and Public Policy from the National Defence University, Islamabad, & graduated with a majors in Economics from Balochistan University of Information Technology, Engineering & Management Sciences (BUITEMS) Quetta. Her areas of interest include policy formulation, analysis, including various other facets of public policy making.