The warming of relations between Pakistan and Afghanistan has been welcomed in these columns, and now we are concerned about what appears to be slippage and a return to more fractious days and ways. On July 3, the Foreign Office summoned the Afghan Ambassador, Janan Mosazai, in order to lodge an official protest at a cross-border firing incident that occurred on July 1, and even more worryingly, the detention of a Pakistani consular official in Kandahar by the Afghan authorities. The detention of diplomatic staff by a host country is an exceedingly rare event globally, as diplomatic immunity is generally respected by all concerned. Only in extreme cases is that immunity either annulled or waived, and in this instance there does not appear to be any substantive reason why the consular officer was detained, only to be released on July 2 after strenuous intervention by the Pakistan embassy in Kabul. At the very least, this is a serious breach of diplomatic protocols.
At the bottom of this deterioration in what appeared to be a positive reboot of Pakistan-Afghanistan relations may be Afghan suspicions that Pakistan has not entirely abandoned the concept of strategic depth. A consequence of this may be that there are Afghan Taliban commanders that might still be finding a safe haven in Pakistan, seen by some elements as strategic assets. There is no evidence of this one way or another, but the mere suspicion may be enough to sour relations at a time when it takes little to upset a delicate balance.
Tensions in Afghanistan may also arise from the fragility of the process of reconciliation with the Afghan Taliban that has of late become fragmented, pulled apart by factional interests and with a surfeit of players, not all singing from the same songbook. Add to the mix the uncertainties that are being created by the Islamic State in both Pakistan and Afghanistan, and it is not difficult to see why rocks have appeared in the road. All is not lost. There have been real advances for the better in Pakistan-Afghanistan relations in the last year, and rocks in the road are inconvenient but not immovable.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 6th, 2015.
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