The narratives in Kabul and Islamabad refuse to change; Afghan officials insist Tehreek-e- Taliban Afghanistan (TTA) militants remain ensconced in Pakistani havens in Islamabad, Peshawar, Quetta and elsewhere. They insist the Haqqania seminary in Akora Khattak, many in Kuchlak (Balochistan) that belong to JUI-F clerics continue to serve as support centres to the TTA militants including those from the Haqqani Network. They believe the TTA offers the bedrock of social support to all shades of terrorists including the TTP, Jamaatul Ahrar, ETIM, IMU, Chechens and Daesh. At the Munich security conference in February, President Ashraf Ghani spoke of some 20 terrorist groups currently operating out of Afghanistan. Masoom Stankzai, the head of the mighty National Directorate of Security, talks of some 30 terror groups based in the tribal areas between Afghanistan and Pakistan. They cannot flourish if they are not tolerated. If there is a will to counter them, how can they operate, he asks, implying that Afghanistan’s enemies operate out of Pakistan? The Afghanistan Times editorial on February 19, for instance, laid in to “Pakistan’s complicity snakes.” “In Afghanistan we are fighting insurgents, while in Pakistan they (militants) are using the country’s passports, airports, hospitals and the army toilets,” wrote the paper. The editorial a day earlier accused Pakistan of backing terrorists that are killing its own people. Such arguments amount to turning logic on its head because they imply that the Pakistani establishment is paying terror groups to blow up Pakistani people and security forces and it is exporting terrorism to Afghanistan.
Notwithstanding Pakistan’s baggage of involvement — together with the US and Saudi Arabia — with Afghan mujahideen including Ustad Sayyaf, Prof Rabbani, Jalaluddin Haqqani, Hekmetyar, Haji Qadeer, Mr Karzai — and then support to the Taliban under Mullah Omar, the current Afghan discourse also overlooks the intricacies of geo-politics that has begun playing out, with Russia, Uzbekistan, Iran and Tajikistan concerned about the terror outfits that are working against these respective countries. And Indo-US alliance is the other big elephant in the room, with a common narrative on Pakistan and other countries.
Pakistan’s narrative is also rooted in the attacks from across the border by various TTP factions and used it to shut the border on February 17, saying much of the terror witnessed in the first six weeks of 2017 was guided from safe havens in eastern Afghanistan. The gunfight resulting in the deaths of five Pakistani soldiers on March 6 delivered another stark reminder of the reality that terrorists and militants are moving both ways of the border.
Decisions such as abrupt border closure also result from this view on violence. A naive proposition which pushes Afghanistan closer to India. Through smart, aggressive and pro-active approaches India has systematically conquered critical strategic spaces in Afghanistan, while Pakistan has been on the losing side. Its image in Afghanistan is battered. All thanks to effective strategic communications which preys on partially false perceptions built inside Afghanistan as well as the foreign policy tactical mistakes such as abrupt closure of the border or linking all sources of terrorism to the Afghan soil, very much like the Afghans believe the roots of their troubles lie in Pakistan.
These mutually conflicting narratives entail huge human and security costs for the at least 220 million inhabitants of Pakistan and Afghanistan together. The UN Assistance Mission to Afghanistan documented 11,418 casualties in 2016, the highest since 2009. Pakistan’s suffered over 6000 casualties last year.
Can both countries anchor their relations in the international covenants guiding inter-state ties such as the requirement of visa regime as an unavoidable requirement? Also, both need to craft the bilateral and transit trade in the light of global good practices elsewhere such as between India-Nepal and Bangladesh, or Iran and Afghanistan. Inter-state relations are guided by globally accepted rational mechanisms and not emotions rooted in history.