OTTAWA  - Canada’s contribution to Afghan-Pakistan peace is being questioned after a recent investigation found distrust and long-standing disputes were at the root of a cross-border airstrike that killed 24 Pakistani soldiers in November.

The joint US-NATO study recommends a number of actions to be taken to prevent another such incident - actions Canada has been trying to undertake for four years, with mixed results. The US military and NATO each launched investigations, the latter led by Canadian Brig-Gen Mike Jorgensen. Their joint findings, released on Dec 22, blamed the US military officials for failing to notify Pakistan of the operation beforehand, and criticised Pakistani officials for refusing to provide locations of border posts and checkpoints.

The investigators made seven recommendations. Several related to US and coalition forces ensuring they have proper information before operating near the border, and ironing out procedures for identifying Pakistani units. However, a number related to the need to build ‘mutual trust’ along the border.

“Consultations at the highest levels should be initiated with a view to begin a process of resolving the border-area disputes that have created the extremely difficult conditions within which the local border confidence-building measures have failed to make real progress.”

Since November 2007, Canada has taken a lead role in facilitating dialogue and understanding between Afghan and Pakistani officials working on either side of the heavily travelled but insecure border.

Initially labelled the Dubai Process, the effort has since been renamed the Afghanistan-Pakistan Cooperation Process. The government has boasted a number of successes over the years, including a large number of workshops to discuss the border, most recently a first meeting between top border officials in which a framework for cooperation through 2013 was signed. In addition, new border facilities have been built on the Afghanistan side and Canada has helped train a large number of Afghan customs and border agents. But there have also been indications that the Canadian efforts have not addressed many of the underlying issues affecting cross-border relations. Numerous US diplomatic cables released through WikiLeaks showed Afghan and Pakistani officials bickering as often as not.

“The meetings were sidetracked frequently as both sides argued over the name for the territorial division between Afghanistan and Pakistan,” reads one cable from Jan 3, 2010. “Since the Afghans do not recognise this as a ‘border’, they insist on using the term ‘legal crossing point’, while the Pakistanis insist on using the term, ‘border crossing point’.”

Another from Sept 29, 2009, notes that “the dynamics between the Afghan and Pakistani sides were so poor” that if it weren’t for Canadian Brig-Gen Jonathan Vance, “the session would have degenerated into acrimony.”

The US-NATO report highlights the importance of real cooperation along the border. But Roland Paris, associate professor of public and international affairs at the University of Ottawa, said it also shows Canada has not been successful in facilitating a true cross-border peace. “Canadian officials deserve credit for promoting dialogue between Afghan and Pakistani border officials,” he said, “but I’ve never seen evidence of this process producing anything more than minor improvements in bilateral cooperation, relative to the immense problems of this porous, contested border.”

University of Ottawa defence expert Philippe Lagasse said that as much as Canada is trying to make a difference, it lacks the influence required to make real headway on such a difficult issue - a fact it will need to recognise as the government says it will remain involved in cross-border issues through 2014.

“Even the US has difficulty managing its bilateral relations with Pakistan and Afghanistan, and coordinating the two is especially difficult,” he said. “Canada, a much smaller player with little sway, faces these challenges and more. To my mind, we need to recognise these constraints and tailor our hopes and expectations accordingly.”