A few weeks ago, Pakistan and Afghanistan’s armed forces stood across each other on the Durand line exchanging gunfire and artillery, while heavier weaponry still was moving into position. It was termed the lowest point in the neighboring countries’ relationship with each other – and with soldiers dying on both sides, few would have disagreed.
Yet Ashraf Ghani’s bitter address at North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) summit in Warsaw on Saturday, and Pakistan Foreign office’s equally acidic response to that address, stakes a much stronger claim for that title.
At a major global summit, the Afghan president minced no words; he singled out Pakistan as an exception to regional progress and said that despite clear commitments to the quadrilateral peace process, Pakistan’s dangerous distinction between ‘good and bad terrorists’ was being maintained in practice.
Such an explicit condemnation, at a NATO summit, using Pakistan’s own infamous phrase indicates that perhaps Afghanistan sees no way back from the point the bilateral relationship has reached. There is no room for diplomacy, no concessions, or any benefit of the doubt. The Pakistan-Afghanistan relationship – so promising in the beginning of Ashraf Ghani’s presidency – has well and truly unraveled.
Pakistan – or at least the people at the headless foreign office – sees the situation differently. In response, the office asked the Afghan government to stay away from the blame game and try to work together. These are calm and prudent words in a charged environment – but they are just words. This unspecified “call to cooperation” has been repeated so often and so insincerely that it has slipped into the realm of standard diplomatic jargon rather than a meaningful invite.
The government has no real policy for engagement with Afghanistan, and it had pegged all its hopes on a difficult and fraught peace process backed by the Taliban. There were no contingency plans made for the failure of that, and even now, when that option is a distant possibility the foreign office has no plan for the way forward.
The Afghan government maybe pandering to interest groups at home that draw traction from criticism of Pakistan, but it also must be admitted that the foreign office has failed to take any meaningful initiatives to fix this divide.
The upshot of all this is that apart from Chinese largesse, Pakistan is surrounded by neighbours with whom it has a hostile or almost-hostile relationship.