ISLAMABAD: Officials at the Presidential Palace in Kabul recently leaked contents of President Ashraf Ghani’s ‘secret letter’ to Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, demanding the “arrest of Taliban leaders in Pakistan”.
Taking their usual stance, Pakistani officials insist they are unaware of any such letter.
Afghan and international outlets like BBC and Voice of America report that Ghani issued a month’s deadline to Pakistani leaders to take action against the Afghan Taliban and authorities in Kabul have not refuted any such media reports.
In his letter, the Afghan president pushes Islamabad to extend its operation against the Haqqani Network and not allow the Afghan Taliban to treat their injured on Pakistani soil.
The contents of Ghani’s leaked letter raise certain concerns about the re-emergence of the traditional blame game that previously widened mistrust between the two countries and badly affected security cooperation.
There is also speculation among observers in Afghanistan that ‘sharing’ details of the letter with the media could be an attempt by Ghani to respond to harsh criticism by some leaders about the government’s approach towards Pakistan.
During Ghani’s first state visit to Pakistan in November last year, leaders from both sides agreed to use bilateral forums to address each other’s concerns instead of the media, according to officials privy to those meetings.
Ghosts of yore
Public insinuations by former President Hamid Karzai caused a serious setback to bilateral relations between the two neighbours. Although Kabul has not officially issued Ghani’s letter to the media, the local and international press quoted an “unnamed official” at the Presidential Palace who shared the details.
A senior Pakistani official, dealing with Afghan affairs, told The Express Tribune “certain elements across the border are opposed to an improved relationship”. He especially mentioned Hamid Karzai and his close aides, saying they have “created obstacles” for his successor to normalise ties with Pakistan.
Karzai strongly condemned the recently signed Memorandum of Understanding between the two countries about intelligence sharing and said it was against Afghan’s national interest. He had earlier opposed Ghani’s decision to send army officers for training to Pakistan.
Two to tango
Elements in Afghanistan will be trying to frustrate efforts by both countries to improve relations, but it will be unfair to shift all the blame on Kabul. Pakistani leaders will also have to seriously look into the past disappointments of Afghan officials.
Many in Pakistan believe that President Ashraf Ghani has taken practical steps to address to the concerns of Pakistanis and now it is Islamabad’s time to return the favour.
Ghani’s letter coincides with remarks by Afghan Deputy Foreign Minister Hekmat Karzai who said in Islamabad last week, “Pakistan has now agreed with our notion that both countries have been involved in an undeclared war for 20 years.”
“People in Afghanistan believe that whoever launches attacks on the security forces, kills tribal elders and burns schools has roots in Pakistan and they view this as an undeclared war,” said Hekmat who was in the federal capital to co-chair a Heart of Asia-Istanbul Process meeting.
Convincing the Taliban
Although these allegations are nothing new, they reflect a change in the mood of President Ghani’s regime.
There is also added frustration over the fact that the Taliban are unwilling to talk to the Afghan president. The fact that the militant organisation has stepped up its attacks is also seen as another major setback.
Afghan leaders will be mistaken of think Pakistan can force Taliban leaders to gather on the negotiating table with Kabul.
In fact, anyone who has held meetings with the Taliban, including China, has failed to convince the outfit to join the intra-Afghan dialogue.
Many in the Taliban office in Qatar such as its head Tayyeb Agha do not want Pakistan to be involved in the peace process at this stage, claim several leaders of the organisation.
For its part, the Taliban leadership encouraged interaction with Afghan political leaders, civil society members as well as women social activists at unofficial talks along the lines of the meetings held in Qatar last month. The Taliban on Friday confirmed its emissaries met Afghan social activists in Norway on June 3-5 to “listen to their concerns”.
Published in The Express Tribune, June 6th, 2015.