The Pak-Afghan relations have an interesting dynamics; just when there seems to be some sort of improvement, they nosedive into another crisis. Nonetheless, it is encouraging that soon after each crisis, both Islamabad and Kabul resume taking well measured steps to put ties back on track.

The latest rupture came last month when Afghanistan’s presidential spokesperson Aimal Faizi said: “Pakistan had now abandoned the peace process and imposed ‘impossible’ preconditions on any further discussions.” A day prior to the Brussels talks, Faizi maintained: “Our message to Pakistan is enough is enough.......This time we will tell Pakistan that our people’s patience is running out and we cannot wait for Pakistan to deliver on the Afghan peace promises.” On the same day, however, Pakistan’s Foreign Ministry said: “Pakistan remains committed to continue its positive and constructive role towards a durable peace in Afghanistan.”

Kabul has grown increasingly frustrated with Pakistan over its efforts to pursue a peace process involving the Taliban, suggesting that Islamabad intends to keep Afghanistan unstable until after the foreign combat forces have left at the end of 2014. On the contrary, Islamabad is convinced that a peaceful, stable, prosperous and united Afghanistan is not just in Pakistan’s interest, but the whole region.

Against this backdrop, the US hosted talks in Brussels between President Hamid Karzai and Pakistani officials with the aim to re-rail the stalled Afghan peace process. The participants included Afghanistan’s Defence Minister Bismillah Khan Mohammadi, and Pakistan’s COAS General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani and Foreign Secretary Jalil Jilani. The marathon session spread over three hours was chaired by US Secretary of State John Kerry. Diplomats had hoped that Kerry, who has a good relationship with President Karzai, would be able to bring the parties back to the negotiating table. Things, however, did not move beyond a photo session.

After the talks, Secretary Kerry said: “We had a very extensive, productive and constructive dialogue.......but we have all agreed that results are what will tell the story, not statements at press conferences.......We have a lot of homework to do.......it was better to under-promise, but deliver.” The three parties would “continue a very specific dialogue on both the political track as well as the security track…….We have a commitment to do that in the interests of Afghanistan, Pakistan and peace in the region,” he added. But there were no statements by President Karzai and General Kayani.

These trilateral talks came a day after Nato Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen’s comment that Pakistan must crackdown on the militants, who use the country as a sanctuary to launch attacks in Afghanistan. He said: “If we are to ensure long-term peace and stability in Afghanistan, we also need a positive engagement of Afghanistan’s neighbours, including Pakistan.”

Since the last quarter of 2012, nevertheless, Western diplomats have acknowledged Pakistan’s effort to promote the peace process in Afghanistan. This impression was reinforced by Ambassador Richard Olson during his Senate confirmation hearing when he stated that “the Pakistani military and the Pakistani government have moved away” from the strategic depth doctrine.

Pakistan, for instance, has released at least 26 Afghan Taliban prisoners during recent months, in the hope that it could help persuade the militant group to enter into peace talks. Yet, there is little evidence of any forward movement. Although there have been several meetings in the Western capitals over the past few months, in which representatives of the Taliban have met Afghan peace negotiators, there have been no signs of a breakthrough.

In a run up to the Brussels moot, the US Acting Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, David D. Pearce, had visited Pakistan for discussions with General Kayani; both discussed the issue threadbare. The ISPR said: “The two sides discussed matters of mutual interest with particular focus on the Afghanistan reconciliation process.” Both sides felt that their approach, with its main focus on bringing the Taliban on board in the negotiation process, was similar. The US administration sees Pakistan as a key player in brokering peace with Taliban insurgents.

Even though the erratic Afghan President is known to engage in public tirades against friends and foes, his close associates, too, pick up the cues and go ballistic. The recent outburst by Deputy Foreign Minister Jawed Ludin took observers by surprise. Accusing Pakistan of “shifting” its position on the peace talks and of “changing the goal posts”, he threatened to go it alone on the peace process without Pakistan’s assistance.

Needless to say, President Karzai by his periodic critical views of US and Pakistan policies, in the context of Afghan peace, has been spoiling the show. He is, perhaps, under compulsion to indulge in this kind of mudslinging in an attempt to regain the Pashtun’s sympathies, whom he had alienated during his two terms in office. No less important are Karzai’s growing fears about his own future when his term ends in 2014.

Pakistan has all along extended cooperation to Afghanistan for peace and stability, but the repeated rhetoric of Karzai and associates accusing Islamabad of facilitating the extremist elements have been muddying the atmosphere. The Afghan President does not realise that relationship between the two neighbours has to be tension free and for this purpose, each side must address the concerns of the other. Karzai, for example, has refused to handover the terrorists from Swat and Balochistan, who are being hosted by Afghanistan as special guests. Reportedly, they are encouraged and facilitated to launch cross-border attacks in Chitral, Malakand and Balochistan.

Despite all the goodwill gestures by Pakistan, it is unfortunate that the Afghan leader is not reciprocating in kind. Just a handshake in Brussels by President Karzai and General Kayani will not be enough; the President needs to stop blaming Pakistan for all the ills in the region.

Afghanistan is currently in a critical transformational period. The question of Afghan reconciliation to make for peace in the country is acquiring an enhanced focus. Without internal harmony in Afghanistan, Pakistan will also not be able to get rid of ongoing menace of militancy.

Moreover, in case Afghanistan slides down into a civil war after 2014, the US would lose its claim about an honourable exit. The effectiveness of future negotiations in the region hinges upon forging better relations between Pakistan and Afghanistan. It is not only in the interest of Afghanistan and Pakistan, but also the South Asian region.

    The writer is an academic and a freelance columnist.