Pakistan presently has much to its credit in managing foreign affairs. There also have been some setbacks.

A tremendous boost has come with the Chinese president’s visit. China-Pakistan Economic Corridor and other projects will bring in investment in this benighted country amounting to 46 billion dollars. Hopefully implementation will not falter and will yield the desired results.

Nawaz Sharif’s initiative in developing a personal rapport with the newly elected President of Afghanistan Ashraf Ghani, has brought about a change for the better in mutual relations. Frequent contacts between the top leaders of the two countries including the military chiefs have served to dispel the brazenly articulated unfriendliness on the part of the previous president Mr. Hamid Karzai. During Nawaz Sharif’s latest visit to Kabul, the two declared that “your enemy is our enemy”. Mr. Sharif went to the length of saying that “any effort by militants or a group to destabilize Afghanistan will be severely dealt with and such elements will be outlawed and hunted down… coordinated operations will be planned and conducted on a mutually agreed basis to target militant hideouts along the border”.

Reuters in its May 12 report adds that the neighbors are seeking to increase military cooperation to fight the two main branches of the Taliban, one fighting to topple the US-backed government in Kabul and the other against Pakistan’s government. Further, that Mr. Ghani’s move to mend relations with Pakistan is partially aimed at convincing Islamabad to use whatever influence it has among the Taliban leaders to persuade them to join peace talks. It also needs to be noted that representatives of the Afghan government and Taliban recently met in Qatar for informal discussions on a possible peace process. At the same time the Taliban launched attacks across the country as a part of their spring offensive.

One may well wonder at the contradiction built into the situation. The Taliban were attacked by the Americans and Nato forces and ousted from power in their country. The present Afghan government is a creation of the Americans. The Taliban are dead against the continuing presence of the US forces in Afghanistan—even a few thousand of them. Ashraf Ghani has signed an agreement with USA under which more than 10,000 American soldiers along with advisors and consultants would be staying on for a few years to provide support to the newly established Afghan army. During his visit to Washington, Ghani was able to persuade President Obama to increase the number of American troops in Afghanistan and for a longer period.

It defies logic to assume that, in these circumstances, the Taliban will enter into any meaningful agreement with the Afghan government.

It is, however, considered that this time the Taliban may not succeed in capturing Kabul and take control of the country as they did in the nineties and therefore if their conditions relating to release of their prisoners and an early departure of the foreign forces are accepted, they might be willing to agree to a dispensation in which they exercise substantial power along with the present government. Add to this analysis the latest statements made by Nawaz Sharif in Kabul in which he committed Pakistan to severely deal with militants who seek to destabilize Afghanistan. One may here point out the fact that the formidable ISAF armed forces equipped with the latest state-of-the-art weapons failed, after fighting for more than a decade, to defeat and dismantle the Taliban. How on earth, can a much weaker and much less equipped Afghan army successfully fight the battle-hardy and dedicated Afghan Taliban force. It will indeed be sheer stupidity if for the sake of the newfound friendship with Afghanistan, which has yet to be tested Pakistan moves ahead and provides physical support to the Afghan government. All that Pakistan may promise to do is not to allow the Afghan Taliban to use Pakistani soil to establish bases for launching attacks across the border as well as advise the Afghan Taliban leadership to open talks with Ashraf Ghani’s government.

Talking now of Pakistan-Saudi Arabia relations, it is not clear as to how much damage has been done to this very special friendship which has existed for decades. While the stand taken by Pakistan not to be involved in the war in Yemen, makes sense, how the matter was handled leaves much to be desired. It might have been politic considering the expectations harbored on the other side, to have sent some troops for the protection of the Saudi Kingdom’s territorial integrity. Some action too could have been taken in line with the UN Security Council directives. How to mend and restore this exceptional relationship which served to support Pakistan in dire times in the past, is a challenge Pakistan government and Nawaz Sharif in particular has to address sooner or later.

Nawaz Sharif accepted Modi’s invitation to attend his inaugural ceremony as prime minister. This gesture on his part did not bring in any dividends but proved to be devoid of any significance. Soon after, on the flimsy excuse of the Pakistani ambassador meeting the Kashmiri leaders, the agreed resumption of a dialogue between the foreign secretaries of the two countries was cancelled and a provocative wave of firing across-the-LoC-and-the-border unleashed. This along with some utterances by Mr. Modi in India and abroad added to the strained relationship. Moves to set up separate housing colonies of Pundits in Kashmir and speculation about the amendment of the Article 370 of the Indian Constitution along with continuing state terrorism have only exacerbated bitterness. India has also sought to use UN to accuse Pakistan of not doing the needful in prosecuting the accused who had allegedly masterminded the Mumbai tragedy. The result has been a sharp reaction from the foreign office. And the army chief himself has named Raw for terrorist activities in Pakistan. Pakistan has also asked Kabul (according to Foreign Office Spokesperson Qazi Khalilullah) not to allow Raw to operate from Afghan territory to create unrest in Pakistan.

It is indeed unfortunate that with Modi coming to power in India, relations between the two countries have soured considerably. Nawaz Sharif will have to wait for better times to pursue his goal of forging friendship with our large easterly neighbour.

The writer is an ex-federal secretary and ambassador, and a freelance political and international relations analyst.

pacadepak@gmail.com