A Turbulent Af-Pak Again?

A recent letter by Pakistan’s Caretaker Prime Minister, Anwar ul Haq Kakar, to his Afghan counterpart is being received as a routine exchange by some while as a reconciliatory move by others. The former say it was a response to the felicitation message by Afghanistan’s Acting Prime Minister, Mullah Hassan Akhund. The latter are trying to read between the lines and see the letter through the intent of melting the ice that has frosted up in the second year of the Interim Government of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan (IEA).

The takeover of Kabul and establishment of the IEA was initially hailed in Pakistan and as a good neighbor, it extended the support it could and even received a fresh wave of Afghan refugees. However, a building streak of militant attacks on Pakistan’s security forces after the takeover of Kabul reversed that equation.

An emboldened Tehrik e Taliban Pakistan (TTP) was the least desirable outcome of the transition in Afghanistan

But a reality nevertheless, an active TTP launching attacks from Afghanistan has become a new irritant in the love-hate relationship between the two countries. Any calls for action by Pakistan are responded with a denial of the presence of TTP inside Afghanistan by the IEA. But far from being true, such denials are only worsening the situation as was illustrated by two simultaneous encounters on September 6 and the subsequent closure of Torkham Border Crossing for nine days.

Now the closure was received in Afghanistan as an unfair move affecting trade but the lack of will to address the underpinning cause still persists. As for TTP’s presence on Afghan soil, what more evidence is needed than the recent report presented before the United Nations Security Council that records 4000 active TTP members in Afghanistan and also notes that NATO weapons are in the hands of such militants, unfortunately.

But as for the internal discourse in Pakistan and Afghanistan, once again, it has started revolving around “who started the fire?” The downside of such a discourse is that it steals away the space that could otherwise be filled with bilateral exchanges on what long-term policy steps must be taken to ensure that no flicker catches fire. It seems like no lessons have been learnt and policy circles on both sides are giving in to misleading rhetoric.

Both countries have had a fair share of damage caused by reaction-driven approach to problems that actually want long-term redressal

After coming to power, the IEA displayed such a spirit by facilitating talks between the TTP and Pakistan but after those talks could not make a headway, the IEA has adopted an approach that repeatedly labels Pakistan’s own internal issues to be the cause of increased militant attacks.

But the Chitral incursion made it clear as day that militants crossed into Pakistan from the other side of the border. This incident only puts the IEA in a paradoxical position; where the incoherence of its policy regarding TTP becomes apparent. Even if the letter by the Caretaker PM of Pakistan was a reconciliatory move, it was the right gesture. Instead of turning the irritant into a hardened conflict, the best that both sides can do is to take the matter with caution and to keep navigating for possible peaceful solutions.


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