The meeting between Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and Afghan President Ashraf Ghani on the sidelines of SCO summit in Ufa has surely helped in resurrecting the Pak-Afghan ties, which seemed to have gone off the track in the wake of some recent developments. President Ashraf Ghani eulogized Pakistan’s role in facilitating dialogue between the Afghan government and the Afghan Taliban held in Pakistan on 7th July and the two leaders also reaffirmed their resolve to continue working together for establishing peace and stability in Afghanistan and fighting terrorism. It was indeed a very significant development in regards to keeping the newfound bonhomie between the two countries intact.

The Afghan Taliban who launched a country wide offensive against government and foreign targets in April, known as the spring offensive, attacked the Afghan parliament on 22nd June resulting in the death of two civilians. The Afghan intelligence sources claimed that the attack was carried out with the support of an official of ISI. Then an NNI report in the media attributed a statement to Afghan President Ashraf Ghani that Pakistan was waging an undeclared war against Afghanistan. These hiccups were followed by exchange of fire between the security forces of the two countries, when reportedly a Pakistani security post at Angoor Adda came under fire from the Afghanistan side. A Pakistani diplomat was detained by the Afghan authorities and both sides also summoned each other’s ambassadors to lodge protest against these episodes.

Both Pakistan and Afghanistan who since the installation of the unity government in Afghanistan, had successfully triggered a process of rapprochement between the two countries- leaving behind the era of mutual mistrust and unending blame gameunder Karzai - and entered into a cooperative partnership in the fight against terrorism, seemed to be relapsing into the realm of their unenviable past relations.

The improvement in relations between the two countries was a result of the exchange of several high level visits between them, with both pledging a new beginning in bilateral relations and fighting the scourge of terrorism collectively, management of borders and action against TTP militants based in Afghanistan. During the last visit of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and COAS General Raheel Sharif to Kabul in May, the two sides even went to the extent of declaring each other’s enemies as their own enemies and the security establishments of the two countries also signed an agreement to cooperate with each other in fighting the common enemy. There were visible signs of the turn-around in the relations between the two countries.

Pakistan’s civilian and military leadership had worked very hard with sincerity of purpose and commitment to bring this about and deserve appreciation for their vision and initiative. The sudden reversal of the mutually launched peace initiative between the two countries was indeed mind-boggling. There could be two plausible explanations to this phenomenon. One was that ever since the commencement of the process of rapprochement between the two countries, the Indian intelligence agency RAW who has a strong presence in Afghanistan, has been working to sabotage the emerging amity between Afghanistan and Pakistan besides sponsoring acts of terrorism within the territorial jurisdiction of the latter. It might have successfully used its contacts within the Afghan intelligence to misguide the Afghan government about the attack on the Afghan parliament, prompting Ashraf Ghani to hurl the wildest ever accusation against Pakistan. The heads of the governments usually rely on the reports of the intelligence agencies while dilating on issues pertaining to security.

The other factor contributing to change in the Afghan President’s perception about Pakistan’s sincerity in re-calibrating relations between the two countries and assisting the Afghan government in nudging reconciliation in Afghanistan, could have been his frustration over his inability to deal with the growing operations of the Taliban who now in addition to their strong holds in Southern Afghanistan are also operating in the Northern province of Kunduz and adjoining areas in collaboration with the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU). The IMU is believed to have 5-7 thousand fighters under its command and the number is swelling with new recruitments from Central Asian states. Ashraf Ghani probably needed a scapegoat to vent his frustration.

It is pertinent to mention that the Afghan President is not politically strong enough to deal with the emerging situation and making decisions in this regard. His partner in the unity government Abdullah wields and commands strong influence in the northern part of Afghanistan. The deterioration of the situation in North could change the equation altogether. His failure to deal with security situation in the country and clinching reconciliation with Taliban could undermine his authority and scuttle the chances of peace in Afghanistan with all the accompanying negative consequences. Ashraf Ghani, therefore, needed to be resurrected from the precarious situation he finds himself in at the moment and kept on course to promote collaborative relations between Pakistan and Afghanistan, reconciliation in the country and fighting terrorism with unflinching determination.

The dialogue between the Afghan government and Afghan Taliban facilitated by Pakistan and participated by US and China as observers is a propitious development with respect to propping up Ashraf Ghani’s position, removing the haze engulfing relations between the two countries and establishing Pakistan’s credentials as an honest facilitator of the process. The Taliban and Afghan government have agreed to continue the dialogue. However Pakistan and China, who are facilitating dialogue between the Afghan government and Taliban, will have to redouble their efforts to make sure that the dialogue leads to tangible and positive outcomes. It is indeed a historic opportunity for the countries of the region to restore peace in Afghanistan and eliminating the scourge of terrorism from the region.

There are no two opinions about the fact that reconciliation in Afghanistan and an end to the decades old conflict in that country is an inescapable imperative for peace and stability in both Afghanistan and Pakistan, more so for the success of operation Zarb-e-Azb and dealing with other issues related to terrorism and religious extremism. Pakistan therefore has a bigger stake in peace in Afghanistan than any other country and must make sure that the process of reconciliation stays on course. There is a need to maintain continuous contacts at the highest level to prevent any misunderstanding and to thwart attempts of enemies of Pakistan to scuttle the process. Similarly close liaison between the intelligence outfits of the two countries, in pursuance of the agreement signed, is also essential to forestall the machinations of RAW to create a wedge between the two countries.