Commitment to cooperation with Afghanistan reiterated
By Baqir Sajjad Syed | 6/26/2015

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan reaffirmed on Thursday its commitment to cooperative relations with Afghanistan despite the criticism in Kabul in the aftermath of a recent attack on the parliament building.

`There should be a continuous effort from our side to help Afghanistan, Adviser on Foreign Affairs and National Security Sartaj Aziz told the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee.

This position was also reflected at the weekly Foreign Office briefing, where Spokesman Khalilullah Qazi said Pakistan was Afghanistan`s well-wisher and remained committed to the relationship.

A statement issued by Afghan intelligence agency NDS alleging ISI link in the attack on parliament on Monday and critical remarks made in the Afghan parliament pointed towards the re-emergence of bitterness in the relationship that had vastly improved after President Ashraf Ghani`s visit to Islamabad last November.

Pakistan has not only rejected the allegations levelled by NDS and Afghan politicians, but has also reiterated its resolve to maintain the positivity in the relationship.

`We reject these allegations. Such allegations have been levelled against ISI and its officials in the past as well.

Pakistan is a well-wisher of Afghanistan... One of the principles of our relations with Afghanistan is that we will not allow our soil to be used against each other,` Mr Khalilullah said.

He hoped that the ties would remain unaffected by the terror attack.

`Terrorist attacks have been taking place in Pakistan as well as in other countries but the relationship must go on because cooperation between Afghanistan and Pakistan is in the interest of the people of both countries,` he said.

The symbolism in a major terrorist strike like the parliament attack aside there had already been simmering anger in Afghanistan against Pakistan for not adequately helping with the reconciliation process because of which violence continued unabated.

Pakistan had in collaboration with China last month helped arrange a secret meeting between Taliban representatives and Secretary High Peace Council Masoom Stanekzai in the Chinese city of Urumqi. Another such meeting is said to be in the pipeline, but the reconciliation process is yet to formally take off.

Taliban`s central leadership has, meanwhile, dismissed these contacts facilitated by Pakistan as unauthorised and said that only its Political Office in Qatar could undertake such an initiative.

Adviser Sartaj Aziz, speaking at the Senate body downplayed the Taliban statement disassociating itself from the process helped by Pakistan. He said that Taliban comprised a number of groups, some of whom wanted to talk, while others didn`t.

Mr Aziz said that those unwilling to talk were raising hue and cry, while the groups inclined to having a dialogue were silent. He sounded optimistic about the success of the process.

`The challenge is big, but Pm hopeful.

The next few weeks are critical and a lot would be determined by the situation on the ground,` the adviser remarked.

Member of Senate Foreign Affairs Committee Senator Farhatullah Babar expressed concern over the downturn in relations with Kabul after the progress achieved over the past few months and questioned if President Ashraf Ghani`s gestures had been reciprocated.

`President Ashraf Ghani appeared to be frustrated and losing hope with Pakistan,` Mr Babar said, adding that his concerns must be addressed.

The fresh strains in ties are already affecting some of the gains that the two sides have made so far, including the signing of the intelligence cooperation MoU between ISI and Afghan intelligence agency National Directorate of Security (NDS).

Signed last month after Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif`s visit to Kabul, the agreement was heralded as a landmark accord that could transform counter-terrorism cooperation. The MoU was later severely criticised in Afghanistan for allegedly being against Afghanistan`s national interest. It was instead taken as an appeasement of Pakistan`s military establishment.

But the attack on parliament has made it even more difficult for the agreement to materialise with Afghan lawmakers vowing to block it.

In a rare admission that all was not well with the ISI-NDS MoU, Foreign Secretary Aizaz Chaudhry told the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee that the Afghan government was yet to ratify it.

Published in Dawn