A downturn in Pak-Afghan ties

STRONGLY worded letter leaked to the media from Afghan President Ashraf Ghani to Pakistani civil and military authorities suggests that all is far from well in Pak-Afghan ties just when there had been public indications that the long-fraught relationship was veering towards pragmatic improvement. From the contents of the letter reported in the media so far, it appears that Mr Ghani has wilted under twin pressures: from the Afghan Taliban`s so called spring offensive, the intensity of which has been unprecedented this year, and from domestic political opposition, which has stridently criticised Mr Ghani`s attempted outreach towards Pakistan. But the fresh tension is not one-sided. In a meeting at the ISI headquarters late last week, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and army chief Gen Raheel Sharif are reported to have discussed the role that the National Directorate of Security, the Afghan intelligence agency, may be playing inside Pakistan, and there have been suggestions since that some of the violence inside the country in recent times may be linked to an India Afghan combine against Pakistan.

It certainly appears to be a rapid decline from what was a high point just weeks earlier with Prime Minister Sharif condemning the Afghan Taliban`s spring offensive while in Kabul and the ISI and NDS reportedly having inked a historic agreement to improve cooperation and intelligence-sharing. But perhaps it is a part of the multi-tiered signalling that both sides have long used, cooperating in some areas and falling out in others. Consider that the principal longer-term goal reconciliation between the Afghan government and the Afghan Taliban has not been disrupted, with a meeting between the two sides believed to have been held recently in China, a meeting facilitated and attended by Pakistani military officials, again according to news reports. The key, then, as ever, appears to be the careful management of tensions and to keep the various strands of the relationship as separate from each other as possible.

The Afghan government`s anger at Pakistan over the Taliban spring offensive is hyperbolic the Afghan National Security Forces have had years to prepare for this first summer of fighting where they are front and centre, and not foreign troops, while it is more than improbable that a great majority of the recent attacks originate in Pakistan itself.

Similarly, Pakistani authorities are far too quick to blame some sanctuaries and intrusion from the Afghan side of the border for inadequacies in the counterterrorism and counter-insurgency strategy here. The truth is, for all Pakistan`s and Afghanistan`s squabbling, the fate of the countries and their people remains intertwined. Both states know that, even as they struggle to overcome decades-old suspicions and, in some case, hostilities. But try they must and the immediate goal should be to put an end to public bickering and, instead, return to quieter, less public channels of communication.

Published in Dawn