Afghanistan and Pakistan, as two neighbors with substantial cultural, linguistic, social and ethnic linkages, share a common destiny. This realization should, sooner or later, dawn upon the leadership and policymakers in both countries. The common vision for both countries should be one of peace, stability, development and prosperity. In the absence of such a vision and if the leaderships in the two countries fail to commit themselves to such a vision, darker days would await the two nations.
The decades-old barriers and obstacles in the way of pursuit of such a shared vision can be and should be gradually removed with the two governments leveraging their shared legacies for the purpose of maximizing mutual benefit. For the current sorry state of affairs, both the governments are to blame. Afghanistan has had shortcomings as has had Pakistan; yet the opportunity to renew the tries and bringing about a major overhaul in the bilateral elations should be lost on both the countries.
Relations between Afghanistan and Pakistan have been tumultuous over the years since the fall of the Taliban in 2001. The bilateral relations have further come under strain since the assassination of Burhanuddin Rabbani, the chairman of the Peace Council.
The border areas between Afghanistan and Pakistan have long been the sanctuaries for extremist elements that, over time, have spread their tentacles beyond their traditional strongholds in this tribal belt. Tahrik-e Taliban Pakistan, widely considered as the umbrella movement for the Pakistani Taliban as well as a resurgent Afghan Taliban and the resourceful Haqqani network continue to have their main base of operations in these border regions.
Other extremist groups which have international intentions and are bent on internationalizing their operations, the most important of which is Al-Qaeda, are also operating out of these areas. The Afghan Taliban started their regrouping and reinvigorating of their movement in these same areas, after their initial ouster from power in 2001.
They gradually built their momentum encouraged by the heat of an ideology that has long persisted in the consciousness of these masses. Much has been said, speculated and written on the insidious role of murky helping hands extended to Taliban from governments in our immediate neighborhood.
The fact remains that aiding and abetting of the Taliban movement by certain governments in the region are signs of deep-seated mutual distrust that exists to this date between our government and our neighboring countries especially Pakistan.
Developments in Afghanistan especially after the formation of the High Peace Council by President Karzai and the istanbul Conference of a few days ago make it abundantly clear that engaging in an honest dialogue with these neighboring countries particularly Pakistan is the vital link that has so far been missing.
The diplomacy machinery of our government has so far not been able to come up with the kind of diplomatic initiative that can endure such an outcome. Has our Ministry of Foreign Affairs shown such a political and diplomatic vision to be able to float the idea of initiating diplomatic overtures to our neighboring countries in particular Pakistan? In actuality, our government in general and our Ministry of Foreign Affairs in particular have not been able to show this level of strategic vision.
The time is ripe to start getting serious about this. The wholehearted attention of the US-UK alliance towards speedy resolution of the Afghan problem and the general consensus that is currently reached among the international community in relation to opening paths of dialogue and reconciliation with the Taliban as well as Afghanistan's neighbors represent perfect opportunities in this regard.
In the context of the ongoing efforts, the government of Afghanistan and the foreign diplomacy machinery of our country need to seize upon the opportunity and unravel serious diplomatic initiatives in dealing with our neighbors.
History has provided both the countries and governments with a golden opportunity to, with the active help of the international community, have a fundamental rethinking of their attitudes towards one another and break away from the vicious cycle of distrust and violence. What is required more than ever is a clear vision for a better tomorrow on the part of two governments as well as a genuine commitment to such a vision. History and experience show that in such situations, vested interests and the powers that see their interests
It is undeniable that commencing serious negotiations with Pakistan and Iran and trying to allay the fears and concerns that these countries have had with regards to Afghanistan promise to have great potential in stabilizing our country Afghanistan.
The kind of "strategic depth" that the establishment in our neighboring country has vigorously pursued inside our country has had an immense destabilizing effect. It is time to sit down with cool head and discuss with our neighbors the fears and concerns that they might harbor in relation with Afghanistan. Unless such fear and concerns persist in our neighboring capitals, these capitals would continue to pursue the same old sets of policies towards Afghanistan.
The Afghanistan-Pakistan-U.S. trilateral meetings as well as the joint Peace Commissions have regularly been convened and the trilateral relationships between the three countries discussed. Notwithstanding the limited achievements of these meetings so far, these meetings as platforms of outreach have been devoid of the kind of strategic content that is required in order to commit Pakistan to peace in Afghanistan.
The need still remains to engage the Pakistani government in a more bilateral setting in which the U.S. can weigh in by providing support to Afghanistan's bargains. The issues discussed should include a sweeping range of issues in which Pakistan can find its fears, concerns and interests addressed.
Serious bilateral negotiations between Afghanistan and Pakistan, at the current juncture, should be a priority for the Afghan government. It is, nonetheless, the responsibility of our government and our diplomatic machinery to take initiatives towards this goal.
Afghanistan and Pakistan have had wide-ranging negotiations over issues of bilateral trade and commerce. It is time for the government to gather courage and the necessary political will to engage Pakistan in changing its attitude towards Afghanistan.
Distinction needs to be made between the Pakistani civilian government and the Pakistani military as two separate entities that do not necessarily harbor the same intentions and policies towards Afghanistan. The king-maker is the latter as opposed to the former. It is the military that holds the promise.