A month after what had seemed to be a start towards promising political reconciliation between the Afghan government and the Taliban with Pakistan as a mediating body, the Pak-Afghan relationship had returned to its cyclical repertoire of allegations and disavowals. The recent statement on Wednesday from the Afghanistan ministry of foreign affairs alleging that Pakistani jets dropped four bombs in Kunar’s Dangam district, was a convenient precursor to PM Abbasi’s visit to the country, one that will dominate any dialogue on bilateral cooperation during his sojourn in the region.

Where Pakistan has extended its role in reviving cooperation between the Taliban and the Afghan government, the bilateral relationship between the two countries remains strained. What the recent allegations and ensuing rebuttal highlights is the overarching mistrust and resentment that repeatedly defines and impedes a promising Pak-Afghan engagement. Where the visit of the PM was to be a genial gesture of cooperation and goodwill, the preceding accusations and inflammatory blame-game redresses it as a sign culpability and conciliation. Such rhetoric is peddled by the media, rousing nationalistic ire that foments anti-Pakistan sentiments in the country itself and dissident factions in Pakistan, leading to further instability and uprisings. That in turn feeds into the larger trope on Pakistan being the sole arbiter of instability in the region, a narrative that Trumps America and acrimonious neighbors are more than happy to prescribe to, in a bid to ostracize an already maligned Pakistan.

In an attempt to reclaim the narrative on peace, the PMs visit and any resultant dialogue needs to be unequivocal in lending its support to initiating and mediating stability in the region. Where Pakistan has offered to hold one-on-one talks with the Afghan Taliban and bring them to the table, it should be clear in demarcating its role as the mediator rather than a sympathizer of the radical body. With Pakistan under global scrutiny, its clandestine relationship in sanctioning selective extremist groups on its soil and in imminent danger of being put on the FATF watch list, the establishment needs to put as much distance as it can from allusions of terrorism. Afghanistan in turn needs to restrain elements of discord that seek to implicate Pakistan without just cause. Only then can both sides build a rapport of trust that can be used to address concerns like regional security, Pak-Afghan border management and cross-border terrorism, and ultimately lead to an enhanced bilateral relationship.