ISLAMABAD - In what appears to be a new approach to bilateral relations between Islamabad and Kabul, secular nationalist leaders have emerged as advocates of Pakistan’s diplomatic outreach to Afghanistan as part of increasing engagement and interaction between the two countries.
Diplomats believe that Pakistan that has been at loggerheads with Kabul since the demise of Taliban rule, tries to normalize relations with the neighbouring country through what they termed as ‘language diplomacy’ which they said had proved to be considerably effective.
On Saturday, three leading Pashtun nationalist leaders who have been visiting Kabul on the invitation of President Ashraf Ghani Ahmedzai met the new Pashtun President in Afghanistan, discussing variety of subjects, including the war against terrorism and mutual cooperation between the two countries.
Senator Afrasiab Khattak, leader of Awami National Party (ANP), Chief of Jamhoori Wattan Party (JWP) Aftab Sherpao and Chief of Pakhtunkhwa Milli Awami Party (PkMAP) Mehmood Khan Achakzai met Afghan President Dr Ashraf Ghani for the second time since he took over as the new president of Afghanistan last year.
During his visit to Pakistan in November, President Ghani, an ethnic Pashtun, had a detailed discussion with Pashtun parliamentarians in Islamabad, including Senator Khattak, MNA Mehmood Khan Achkazai, Aftab Sherpao and Senator Farhatullah Babar.
Although the National Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs is headed by PML-N leader and MNA Sardar Awais Ahmed Khan Leghari, this is for the second time in six months that only Pashtun lawmakers made it to Kabul to meet Ashraf Ghani. “Language works between the two countries. During a recent dialogue between parliamentarians of Pakistan and Afghanistan, I observed that lawmakers that shared Pashto as language were quite easy with one another,” Bilal Ahmer Soofi, President Pakistan Institute of Legislative Development and Transparency (PILDAT) who has been arranging interaction with lawmakers of the countries said. President Ghani, being a Pashtun, he said would be more comfortable with Pakistani lawmakers who can speak in Pashto. “I expect a thaw in relations between Islamabad and Kabul,” he added.
A well-placed source in Foreign Office said that the move was aimed at increasing interaction with Afghanistan particularly at a time when foreign combat forces had left Kabul after 13 years. “I think we need to look beyond the concept that Pakistan and Afghanistan are two Muslim states. Pashtun nationalist leaders can play a vital role in shaping up our relations with Afghanistan, a country that is headed by Pashtun politician,” he asserted.
Sources said Abdullah Abdullah, who shares government with President Ghani as Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Afghanistan with Tajik ethnicity had a tilt towards India. “We need to woe Pashtun Ghani on our side,” he added.
But on Saturday when the Pakistani delegation met Afghan leadership, Senator Afrasiab Khattak posted a tweet saying Mr Abdullah would be shortly visiting Pakistan with a very positive message. “I hope his visit will go long way in strengthening bonds,” Khattak who had lived in exile in Kabul for several years, said in a tweet Saturday.
MNA Daniyal Aziz, who is member of National Assembly Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, told this reporter that the Pakistani delegation did not pay official visit to Kabul rather they had been invited by Afghan leadership. “Definitely they share same language. Moreover, Pashtun nationalist leaders in Pakistan enjoy cordial relations with their Afghan counterparts due to common language, culture and proximity. Nationalist politicians in Pakistan represent federation and its good sign they are engaged in normalising relations between Afghanistan and Pakistan,” Azizi said.