For the first time since the new leadership took the reigns in Afghanistan, COAS Gen Raheel Shareef has visited Kabul where he will hold meetings with President Ashraf Ghani, Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah and other members of Afghan civil and military leadership. Set against the backdrop of NATO withdrawal from Afghanistan, military operations in Pakistan and issues related to cross-border, the significance of the visit cannot be undermined.

Pakistan has been consistently in the line of fire of the previous Afghan leadership for harbouring terrorists and employing them as proxies in Afghanistan to pressurise Kabul and counter Indian influence. Similar accusations have been levelled from this side of the border, as several reports suggest that the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan leadership is currently operating from Afghan territory. Distrust and misguided policies have prevented the two neighbours from forming a mutually beneficial relationship that would enable them to counter the threat of militancy. The change of guard in Afghanistan and Pakistan’s military operations against militants holed up in the tribal areas are being viewed as positive indicators, which may pave the way for the two countries to achieve a breakthrough; something that did not occur during Hamid Karzai’s long spell in office.

As far as Pakistan’s political leadership is concerned, it appears quite eager to mend relations with both India and Afghanistan. Since coming to power a little more than a year ago, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has assumed a friendly posture, hoping to mend mutually destructive relations. However, with growing political turmoil primarily due to Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf’s politics of agitation, Nawaz Sharif’s government has had to give up on its foreign policy ambitions. Nawaz Sharif’s initiative for India irked the military leadership and was met by street protests by organisations such as Jamat-ud-Dawa (JuD), which act as the military’s political wing whenever their services are required. India’s discouraging response to PM Sharif’s friendly overtures and the escalation of violence along the LoC and International Boundary further weakened his case, compelling him to retreat to the traditional Kashmir-centric stance.

Traditionally, it is Pakistan’s military leadership which has had the last say on matters pertaining to foreign policy and national security among others areas that ought to fall in the civilian government’s domain. Therefore, it is safe to say that while General Raheel Sharif may be visiting Kabul as the COAS, he is likely to play the role of a foreign minister; one with guns, of course.