ISLAMABAD - Tension between Pakistan and Afghan intensified yesterday as Islamabad shut its embassy in Kabul.

Pakistan’s embassy in Kabul announced it will remain shut indefinitely following the harassment of its diplomats by residents of Afghanistan’s capital.

The Pakistani mission said that the “Consular Section of the Embassy of Pakistan, Kabul will be closed from tomorrow, Monday, 4th November, 2019 until further intimation” due to security concerns.

Islamabad had also summoned Afghanistan’s charge d’affaires to protest the harassment of Pakistani diplomats in Kabul.

“The Afghan Charge d’affaires was summoned today to convey serious concerns over the safety and security of the diplomatic personnel of the Embassy of Pakistan, Kabul, and its sub-missions,” said a statement issued by the Foreign Office, adding that the harassment had persisted for two days.

Washington asks neighbours to resolve issues through talks

Senior government officials told The Nation that Kabul had been asked to ensure security to the Pakistani diplomats. “There is a tension. (Afghan) President Ashraf Ghani is also not happy with us (Pakistan) for our role in peace talks with the Taliban,” said one official.

Another official said Pakistan has made it clear to Afghanistan that security and safety of “our diplomats is the responsibility of the Afghanistan government.”

He added: “We cannot run the embassy and consulates amid security risks. Afghanistan has to give us guarantees on security.”

The official said Washington had contacted Islamabad and urged for talks to resolve the Pak-Afghan differences. “The US also contacted Afghanistan. They have asked us to hold talks with Afghanistan,” he said, citing contacts with the US.

The Foreign Office said Pakistani officials’ vehicles had been obstructed, and motorcycles have also hit them during employees’ daily commute to the mission. It said Kabul had been informed that under the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Privileges and Immunities 1961, it was the Afghan government’s responsibility to ensure the safety, security and freedom of movement of diplomats. The closure of the visa section is likely to have the greatest impact, as hundreds of Afghans apply for permission to travel to Pakistan daily.

The consular section typically processes about 1,500 visa applications a day. A spokesperson said while the mission is Kabul was closed, visas would continue to be processed in Herat, Jalalabad and Mazar-e-Sharif. Pakistan and the United States are already moving forward to resolve the Afghanistan issue.  US Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad just completed his Islamabad visit.

The US had expressed satisfaction over Pakistan’s role for Afghan peace. The Afghan government has set new conditions for talks with the Taliban and appeared to shed a previously conciliatory stand towards Pakistan.

Last week, Hamdullah Mohib, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani’s security adviser, said that Kabul wanted Pakistan, which says it wants peace, to not incite the conflict in Afghanistan and aid the Taliban. He also said Kabul insists on a one-month ceasefire as a precondition for talks with the Taliban.

Pakistan has been pushing for a resumption of US-Taliban talks since they collapsed in September after US President Donald Trump declared the negotiations ‘dead.’ Trump’s declaration followed a series of violent attacks in the Afghan capital, Kabul, that killed several people, including a US soldier.

Khalilzad earlier met Afghan leaders including President Ashraf Ghani, who has mostly dismissed any talks not led by his government. Afghan President Ghani has been opposed to the US-Taliban deal negotiated in Qatar by the US special envoy, Zalmay Khalilzad, because the Afghan government had been excluded from the talks.

According to most accounts, the agreement was extremely limited, exchanging the offer of a US troop withdrawal for a Taliban undertaking that attacks on the US would not be launched from Afghanistan. Mike Pompeo, the US secretary of state, said it was up to the Taliban when talks would resume.

Pakistan is leading the Afghan peace process as Afghan Taliban met the Pakistani civil and military leadership this month amid the group’s stalled dialogue with the United States. The two sides agreed that peace was a mutual goal and talks were the only way to achieve normalise situation in the war-torn Afghanistan.

Prime Minister Imran Khan and US President Donald Trump have held two meeting in three months to discuss Afghanistan among other issues. They had agreed in July to bolster cooperation on Afghanistan to pressure Taliban militants to reach a peace deal.

Recently, the delegation of the Taliban Political Commission in Doha - led by Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar - held an important meeting with Prime Minister Imran Khan as part of negotiations to end persisting deadlock with the US regarding Afghan peace process.