It is an unfortunate reality that the relations between Pakistan and its neighbouring countries India and Afghanistan remain volatile as ever in spite of the best efforts by the former to make a new beginning. In regards to improving relations with India and re-starting the long suspended dialogue process between the two countries, persistent efforts made by Pakistan have not been reciprocated positively and the former continues to persist with its bellicose posturing towards her in complete disregard to the commitments and agreements to ensure peaceful co-existence and resolution of disputes between them.
The ranting proof of Indian disregard for agreements between the two countries is the continued violation of the ceasefire agreement of 2003 along the LOC and working boundary. DG ISPR briefing the media the other day revealed that between 2003 and 2016 Indian forces violated the ceasefire agreement 2001 times, on 1881 occasions in 2017 and 1577 times during the last five months. The ceasefire violations during the last five months resulted in killing of 48 civilians and injuries to 265 people. The exponential increase in the ceasefire violations in 2017 and 2018 amply demonstrate the Indian mindset of keeping the things hot along the LOC and the working boundary ostensibly to keep Pakistan under pressure as well as erect a smoke screen around the persecution let loose by her security forces in IHK.
Pakistani forces exhibited utmost restraint to these provocations and restricted themselves only to respond when the civilians were deliberately targeted. It was in the backdrop of the increased Indian hostilities along the LOC and the working boundary and the likelihood of escalation of conflict between the two countries that Director General Military Operations, Pakistan established a hotline contact with his Indian counterpart on last Tuesday to discuss the situation at border with a view to defuse the rising temperatures. After their parleys both the DGMOs agreed to fully implement the ceasefire understanding of 2003 in letter and spirit forthwith and to ensure that the ceasefire would not be violated by both sides. They also agreed to undertake credible and sincere measures to improve the existing situation and avoidance of hardship to the civilian along the borders.
The outcome of the talks was rightly hailed by the US and China as well as within Pakistan as a positive step towards lessening tensions between the two countries. But regrettably that optimism proved to be short-lived and the Indians were back to their antics within 4 days of the renewed commitment when on Sunday the Indian BSF started unprovoked and heavy shelling and firing at Bajwat sector of Sialkot working boundary killing two women and injuring 23 civilians.
What India is failing to realise is that the continued hostility between the two countries is not only a threat to peace and stability in the region but also inimical to their economic interests in the long run as economic prosperity could not be achieved in an environment of conflict and hostility. The other reality that it also needs to come alive to is that it would not be able to suppress the freedom movement of the people of Kashmir through the barrel of the gun and the reign of terror. History is replete with examples of military might having failed to resolve conflicts and suppress the freedom movements. Ultimately it would have to concede the right of self-determination to the people of Kashmir as per the UN resolutions. By failing to recognise the realities India was not only prolonging the agony and sufferings of the people of Kashmir but also undermining its own strategic and economic interests. Sooner this reality sinks into the minds of the Indian leadership the better.
Pakistan has also been making earnest efforts to bring peace in Afghanistan and taking the fight against terrorists to its logical end collectively but the relations between the two countries have remained mired in mutual suspicion and the required cooperation from Afghanistan never materialised.
However after a prolonged ambience of mistrust and incessant blame-game between Afghanistan and Pakistan, there appeared a realisation on both sides to reverse the course. The two countries concluded Afghanistan Pakistan Action Plan for Peace and Solidarity (APAPPS) on 14 May in the fourth meeting held at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, envisaging formation of six working groups. It was indeed a welcome development because dialogue and continued engagement are the essential ingredients in regards to resolving conflicts and removing kinks in relations between the states. It was a follow up of former Prime Minister’s visit to Afghanistan in April this year at the invitation of the Afghan President Ashraf Ghani.
Both the leaders discussed the whole range of bilateral relations including peace and reconciliation in Afghanistan, counter-terrorism, return of Afghan refugees, regional connectivity and bilateral trade. It was agreed between the two sides that peace, prosperity and stability of the two countries were interlinked and they also reaffirmed their commitment to regional connectivity as they had done in Herat on 23rd February 2018 while jointly inaugurating the entry of TAPI Gas Pipeline from Turkmenistan into Afghanistan.
A multi-agency Afghan delegation led by National Security Advisor of Afghanistan Mohammad Hanif Atmar visited Pakistan in the last week of May and held talks with the COAS General Qamar Javed Bajwa which were also joined by the foreign secretary Tehmina Janjua. The talks focused on implementation of APAPPS. The Afghan side was appreciative of Pakistan’s initiative to prepare the framework document for improving cooperation and coordination between the two countries on a host of confidence building and substantive measures. The two sides agreed to fast track the formulation of working groups, especially on bilateral security cooperation and to undertake measures that would assist both sides in reduction of violence at the hands of terrorists.
The foregoing positive developments however were again marred by attacks on border posts and border fencing parties in Bajaur area of KP and Qamar Din Qarez area in Balochistan from Afghanistan side in which four security personnel and a soldier of Pakistan Air Force were injured. The terrorists according to a release of ISPR, taking advantage of ungoverned spaces and with facilitation from inside Afghanistan were resorting to such attacks to prevent border fencing and building of posts. Pakistan has been trying to fence the border between the two countries to prevent cross-border movement of the terrorists as a unilateral effort in that regard.
Under the new understanding and the process initiated to mend fences between the two countries it is incumbent upon Afghanistan to make sure that its territory is not used by the terrorist for attacks against Pakistani forces deployed along the border and those engaged in fencing the border which is mutually beneficial to the two countries. Mere rhetoric and optics are not going to make much of a difference. Terrorism is a common enemy of Pakistan and Afghanistan and both of them have high stakes in curbing the menace. What is required is the sincerity of purpose. Both India and Afghanistan will have to honour their commitments if they are really sincere in establishing peace in the region.
n The writer is a freelance columnist.