Perhaps prompted by the US decision to redeploy in Afghanistan - for past few months Pakistan and Afghanistan relations are heading in a very positive direction. What started as affirmations of shared problems and destinies by the diplomatic wings of both governments, morphed into calls for an open dialogue between the two nations. This culminated in the Afghan President’s address to the United Nations General Assembly, where he called upon Pakistan to “engage with us on a comprehensive state to state dialogue on peace, security and regional cooperation leading to prosperity.”
While all of this is very encouraging, up till now they have just remained that – very encouraging positive overtures. Both countries have yet to begin the actual dialogue. However, the Pakistani Chief of Army Staff (COAS) Qamar Javed Bajwa’s upcoming visit to Kabul is set to be that event which sets the dialogue in motion.
An announcement by the Afghan Defence Ministry on Tuesday read that Pakistan’s COAS will hold meetings with those in the higher echelons of the Afghan government, both civilian and military. While it is not known whether the COAS will met with US military commanders operating in Afghanistan, it is know that the dialogue process with the Taliban – one of the most crucial issue in the region – is on the table along with other bilateral concerns.
As COAS, Qamar Bajwa will be a key figure for the Afghan government to talk to. The ruling government and the Foreign Office (FO) may be officially in charge of deciding foreign policy, but the armed forces have a large say in that policy making process, especially on security matters, especially in Afghanistan. That ground reality is undeniable. If there is anyone who can negotiate with the Kabul with authority, and influence a policy change in Pakistan, it is the army chief.
As such this visit takes on additional importance. Not only does it present us a chance to reset Af-Pak relations in anticipation of the US redeployment, it also is the first real test for our new COAS.
Considering that this is the first visit to Kabul and his first high-profile diplomatic venture, with so much riding on its success, the meetings will also test how well he performs the arts of diplomacy and statesmanship – a task that all military leaders in this country have to perform in keeping with their input in policymaking.
It is hoped that he performs well, and comes back with tangible achievements and actionable goals. The bitter relationship with Afghanistan has been our biggest hurdle in effectively controlling cross border terrorism; we need to make fixing it out topmost priority.