The Afghan regime has upped the ante with Pakistan, with Deputy Foreign Minister Jawed Ludin saying that Afghanistan was shocked with its ‘complacency’ in the nascent peace process and was ready to work without its help. Mr Ludin’s statement was followed by an announcement of the Afghan Foreign Ministry that the visit of 11 Afghan army officers scheduled to take part in a military exercise in Quetta was being cancelled in protest against alleged cross-border shelling. The involvement of both the Foreign Ministry and the Afghan National Army indicates US approval of this development. Mr Ludin’s statement is the first time Afghanistan has suggested the possibility of going it alone. Pakistani centrality to the Afghan peace process has been so far a necessary assumption, but the Karzai regime keeps reverting to an anti-Pakistan stance. If Kabul does not give up accusing Islamabad on flimsy grounds and making unfriendly gestures, we should have no hesitation in sending back the millions of Afghans who have taken refuge here, whether they like it or not.

The Karzai regime, based on the Northern Alliance, has been pro-India and hesitant to trust Pakistan ever since the Soviet invasion. It also seems too much of a coincidence that Afghanistan has wrought itself up to its present frenzy at a time when Pakistan has just installed a caretaker Prime Minister and is heading towards elections. Not only does the new Prime Minister still have to choose a cabinet, including a foreign minister, but he also has hardly had time to consider the issue.

The new Prime Minister must not come under pressure, particularly from the Afghan government. The caretaker government may have as its primary task the holding of elections, but if it can take the foreign policy in the right direction, away from an excessive reliance on the US, and towards long lasting stability in the region, based on neighbourly cooperation and partnership, it will be performing a national service. As the incoming government will be the one which will preside over Pakistan’s fortunes when the US withdrawal takes place, any help it gets from the caretakers will be helpful.