In the context of quest for peace and security in our region, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s interface with Modi and one-on-one meeting with the Afghan President Ashraf Ghani following trilateral talks involving British Prime Minister David Cameron on the sidelines of the UN Climate Change Conference in Paris, were indeed positive developments.

Although there is no cause for being over optimistic and reading too much between the lines in regards to Prime Minister’s meeting with Narendra Modi but the very fact that the Indian Prime Minister himself approached his counterpart for a brief chat, can safely be regarded as an ice-breaking event in the backdrop of recent tensions between the two countries which possibly could lead to resumption of further contacts and possibly the much desired dialogue between the two countries. One could only hope that the Indian side genuinely felt the need for dialogue with Pakistan and creating congenial atmosphere for the resolution of dispute between the two countries, as in the words of Nawaz Sharif dialogue was the only option in this regard.

Nevertheless, his interaction with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, as a consequence of which both the leaders agreed to work together to bring Taliban to the negotiating table, was a very significant development in regards to promoting reconciliation in Afghanistan, fighting the scourge of terrorism and the lurking dangers in the shape of IS presence in Afghanistan. In the trilateral meeting and one-on-one with President Ghani, Prime Minister Nawaz re-affirmed his desire and commitment to establish friendly relations with Afghanistan saying that peace and stability in Afghanistan remained key goals of his government.

The nosedive in relations between Pakistan and Afghanistan after a well orchestrated bonhomie between the two countries has indeed been a cause of worry for Pakistan, stakeholders in peace and security in our region and the world community, particularly US and its NATO allies. This disruption was attributable to a host of factors including revelation about the demise of Mullah Umar, the ensuing struggle within the ranks of Taliban for leadership of the movement, attacks by Taliban in Kabul in August for which Ghani blamed Pakistan, pressure built by the proponents of the war economy and the war lords, unprecedented institutional corruption within Afghanistan, burgeoning crimes, geo-political realities nurtured by Indo-Pakistan animosity, strong anti-Pakistan lobby within Afghanistan, shrinking writ of the Afghan government and strong nexus between RAW and Afghan NDS.

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah have been severely criticizing Pakistan and the former even went to the extent to state that relations between Pakistan and Afghanistan were not brotherly but relations between two states. On one occasion he also spurned Pakistan’s further involvement in facilitating dialogue between Afghan government and the Taliban.

In my articles on Pak-Afghan relations I have always maintained that this estrangement was temporary. Pakistan and Afghanistan were indispensable for each other in fighting the common threat of violent extremism and terrorism and this factor could act as a catalyst in putting their relations back on the same wavelength; a reality which is now acknowledged world-wide and the reason why they are urging Pakistan to nudge the process of reconciliation in Afghanistan. It would perhaps be pertinent to mention that Pakistan’s stance on Afghanistan and its importance as an indispensable broker of peace is now acknowledged at the global level as was evident from the vibes emanating from US during the visits of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and COAS General Raheel Sharif.

Pakistan is surely willing to re-launch efforts for resumption of talks between the Afghan government and Taliban, although the internal struggle between Taliban has made the task even more difficult. Pakistan’s permanent Ambassador to UN speaking in the General Assembly reiterated that Pakistan was ready to assist in reviving the peace process in Afghanistan once Afghanistan makes a formal request in this regard. She very rightly remarked that the parties in Afghanistan appeared to have moved away from the international consensus that peace could only be achieved through negotiations.

It is hoped that the meeting between Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and President Ashraf Ghani would help to end the bitterness between the two countries and pave the way for renewed collective efforts to fight the common challenges. Both sides need to work together with sincerity of purpose showing sensitivity to mutual concerns and making a new beginning. Before it is too late, an immediate re-evaluation of the current relationship is essential in order to move forward. It must be understood that as the US troops gear up to withdraw, Afghanistan would need Pakistan more than ever. President Ghani is struggling to maintain his unity government intact and the withdrawal of US and NATO troops might precipitate his woes as the Afghan army was still not in a position to maintain security. The battles in Kunduz and Badakhshan are indeed very dangerous portents which have exposed the vulnerabilities of the new political dispensation in Afghanistan.

Increased attacks by Taliban on government installations, their offensive to capture Afghan cities as well as the presence of IS in Afghanistan in the shape of Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan are real threats to the Afghan government. There is a strong likelihood that Afghanistan might drift towards an unending conflict and struggle for ascendency among different power players after the departure of US-NATO troops. To prevent this horrible scenario from re-emerging, Ghani’s government has no alternative but to join hands with Pakistan in forestalling the impending disaster. Similarly Pakistan also is in desperate need of Afghan cooperation in taking the war on terror to its logical conclusion, implementing its economic initiatives including CPEC and achieving its strategic objective in the region.

Pakistan and Afghanistan cannot change the geographical and historical realities. Their destinies are interwoven with each other. The challenges that they are faced with will keep haunting them indefinitely if they do not overcome the mutual distrust and the under currents that are undermining the chances of the two countries to form a common from against them. It is an inevitable choice. It would surely need neutralizing the machinations of RAW through mutual cooperation, which Pakistan can orchestrate by presenting credible evidence regarding the involvement of Indian intelligence in sponsoring terrorism in Pakistan from Afghan territory and its deliberate attempts to foment tension-ridden relations between Afghan and Pakistan.

Afghan leadership must realize that it has a historic opportunity to end strife in Afghanistan with the help of the regional countries including Pakistan and China as well as the world community who are more than willing and committed to see Afghanistan returning to peace and stability. They should not fritter away this chance through their unimaginative and misguided approach to the whole issue. They are better advised to exhibit firm determination in tackling internal weaknesses rather than trying to externalize them.

 The writer is a freelance columnist.