KABUL: Recriminations between Afghanistan and Pakistan on Thursday undermined hopes that a recent thaw in cross-border relations could help bring Taliban militants to the peace table.
Western officials believe Pakistan, which backed Afghanistan’s 1996-2001 Taliban regime, has a crucial role to play in efforts to negotiate a political settlement with the extremists and end more than a decade of war.
Relations had recently improved, building up to a three-way summit hosted by Britain last month as part of efforts to end the conflict in Afghanistan.
But a confidence-building visit by 11 Afghan officers to take part in a military exercise in the Pakistani city of Quetta was called off by Kabul over reported firing across the border from Pakistan.
Afghanistan has been pushing Pakistan to encourage the Taliban to open talks, but said its neighbour now seemed unwilling to take action.
“Pakistan for a long time supported an Afghan-led and Afghan-owned peace process,” Janan Mosazai, the Afghan foreign ministry spokesman, told AFP.
“Now Pakistan is shifting the goalposts… which is extremely disappointing and demonstrates Pakistan’s unwillingness to support the Afghan peace process.”
Mosazai also lashed out at “disingenuous” reported accusations by unnamed Pakistani officials this week that Hamid Karzai, Afghan president since 2001, was an obstacle to the peace push as international combat troops start to withdraw.
“President Karzai has put his reputation on the line and invested a tremendous amount of political capital into improving trust with Pakistan,” he said.
The governor of the eastern Afghan province of Kunar, Fazlulah Wahidi, said up to 50 rockets fired from Pakistan damaged property on Monday and Tuesday.
The Pakistani foreign ministry said its troops had responded to what it called “some intrusions from the Afghan side”.
“We believe that Afghanistan overreacted to a small incident,” said foreign ministry spokesman Aizaz Ahmed Chaudhry after Kabul cancelled the military visit.
Chaudhry said the visit had been designed to increase “mutual cooperation and confidence.”
But Afghanistan and Pakistan deeply distrust each other and trade blame for Taliban violence plaguing both sides of their 2,400-kilometre border, drawn up by British colonialists.
Last month a conference of Afghan and Pakistani religious scholars aimed at pushing forward the peace process was called off due to disagreements.
The head of Pakistan’s Ulema Council, Allama Tahir Ashrafi, said there was no point to the meeting unless the Afghan Taliban were invited.
He was then accused in Afghanistan of condoning suicide attacks in a television interview in which he insists he was misunderstood.
There was another dispute over Maulvi Faqir Mohammad, a senior Pakistani Taliban fighter arrested recently in Afghanistan. Pakistan demanded he be handed over, but Kabul indicated he would be held as a bargaining chip for prisoner exchanges.