Pakistan can ill-afford strained relations with its neighbours lying on the east and the west. There were high expectations that with President Ghani’s advent relations between the two countries would improve especially after his promising visit to Pakistan and reciprocal visits by our prime minister and the army chief. Encouraging steps were taken on both sides. Pakistan went to the length of stating that Afghanistan’s enemies were Pakistan’s enemies and that it would make its contribution in fighting militants there. The bonhomie didn’t last very long. And now we fine that Ashraf Ghani is using strong language accusing Pakistan of harbouring anti-Afghanistan terrorists on its soil and that Pakistan was sending war-like messages. Though some damage control has been attempted, the relationship continues to suffer because of lack of trust. Mention may here be made of a high level delegation headed by foreign minister Salahuddin Rabbani accompanied by Acting Defence Minister and head of the Afghan intelligence agent agency. While grievances were exchanged on both sides, the two countries agreed to work together to curb and control terrorist activities perpetrated from across the border.  Hopefully the recently escalated tension will subside in the days to come.

Even the much appreciated meeting arranged by Islamabad at Murree between the Afghan Taliban and the government of Afghanistan has remained inconclusive with the postponement of the subsequent session at the end of July because of a sudden release of news by Kabul of Mullah’s Omar’s death. It is not clear why this information was communicated just before the scheduled meeting was to be held. This news has also impacted Taliban’s internal affairs. Mullah Mansoor’s successive leadership is being disputed by one of deceased’s sons and like minded influentials. Will the new leadership agree to the renewal of talks started at Murree or will this valuable initiative peter out with differences remaining unresolved in the Taliban Shura?

One thing about Afghan Taliban’s relations with the American/Nato-sponsored-and-supported-government in Kabul which this scribe finds somewhat puzzling is that why may, at all, the Taliban negotiate with the new government which more or less is the creation of Taliban’s enemies?

Taliban as we know are the sworn enemies of USA which dismantled their government and for more than a decade used their lethal state of the art war machinery to destroy them. They failed to defeat them, had to admit their failure publicly and withdraw the bulk of their combat forces. If for certain reasons including friendly pressure from Pakistan, they appear somewhat inclined to take to talks, their first condition is bound to be a total departure of all US/Nato forces from the country. As things stand both Washington and Kabul are determined to a keep ten to fifteen thousand American troops stationed in Afghanistan. Can in these circumstances Taliban enter into a settlement with a dependent or client government currently in place?

Another matter of ambiguity are the surprising statements on the part of our Prime Minister and the Army Chief that Pakistan would be helping Afghanistan government fight its enemies which obviously are the Taliban with whom Pakistan has had a good relationship and whose government was recognized as legitimate before Washington decided to invade the country.

The other neighbor in the east is perhaps more difficult to engage. It managed to bilateralize the settlement of disputes through the Simla Agreement. Yes the UN linked Kashmir issue still needs to be resolved but the matter has to be resolved bilaterally which means meetings between representatives of the two governments. But no such meetings focusing on the issue are held. India comes up with one excuse after another. The way the unfortunate Mumbai incident has been used to put down and corner Pakistan speaks volumes for India’s real intentions. Not even the simpler matters like Siachin and Sir Creek can be settled.

Pakistan is keen to restart the talks. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has gone out of the way more than once. All that he has met with are rebuffs and hostile statements. Imagine a prime minister of a neighbouring country calling Pakistan ‘a nuisance’ while visiting another country. Statements made by Prime Minister Modi in Bangladesh in which he glorified Indian’s role in breaking up Pakistan were to say the least highly provocative. The UFA meeting between two Prime Ministers remained unproductive for many weeks because no date for the National Secretary Advisors was fixed. The joint statement was a lopsided expression of wishful thinking and tilted towards India’s concern about Pakistan’s terrorist activities. Rightly realizing the somewhat disconcerting wording of the joint statement and subsequent accusations hurled at Pakistan in regard to the Gurdaspur incident also restarting of unprovoked firing across the Line of Control and the Working Boundary, our security Advisor, Mr. Sartaj Aziz has been expressing reservations about the proposed meeting schedule. Good that he wants an agenda which includes India’s involvement in Pakistan in trouble sports like Balochistan, Fata and Karachi.

Earlier this week the Indian High Commissioner in Pakistan addressed specially convened meetings in Lahore. His speech at the human Rights Commission was interesting in the sense that he chose to confine his remarks to highlight the positive aspects of the history of relations between the two countries. He referred for instance to the Indus Basin Treaty and how it has held. He was silent about the real disputes and bones of contention like Kashmir and Siachin. When pressed at question time to say a few words about Kashmir, he advised to keep it sidelined while focusing on other matters such as trade and religions tourism. It was surprising to learn that no tourist visas at are being issued at present. The one big stick India keeps wielding is terrorism. It is India which forged the words first that Pakistan was the epicenter of terrorism in the world. It is quick to point its figure at Pakistan whenever a terrorist incident takes place. It uses a well-worked-out public diplomacy to justify its stand internationally.

Mr. Sartaj Aziz will be going to New Delhi for a meeting with his counterpart on August 23. Hopefully he will raise the question of India’s terrorist activities in Pakistan and provide convincing evidence. He should also raise the issue of violation of human rights in Kashmir which has suffered brutal state terrorism for decades.