Ghani’s Test’ – Ayaz Wazir

Dr Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai, the president of Afghanistan, will be paying his first visit to Pakistan in the next few days. This will be his second visit to a neighbouring country, the first having been China where he went after taking over as president.

Soon after his inauguration he received a number of important visitors from Pakistan, one after another. The Advisor to the Prime Minister on Foreign Affairs and National Security, Sartaj Aziz, extended an invitation to President Ghani, on behalf of our prime minister, to visit Pakistan.

This was followed – within days – by our chief of army staff assuring, according to media reports, the Afghan president of Pakistan’s help and cooperation in bringing about peace to his country. The third most important visit was that of the newly appointed boss of the ISI who visited Kabul on the very second day of his assuming office as DG ISI. These visits signal the importance Pakistan attaches to the establishment of good neighbourly relations with Afghanistan.

It has been observed that whenever the Afghans talk of Pakistan’s interference in the internal affairs of their country they accuse the ISI of playing the lead role in this context. The ISI chief’s visit to Kabul and that too immediately after taking charge is indicative of Pakistan’s firm resolve to place bilateral relations on a friendly basis.

Dr Ashraf Ghani enjoys not only the confidence of the ordinary Afghan but is also held in high esteem by all others as his hands are not stained with Afghan or anybody else’s blood; he has not taken part in any of the Afghan wars. Rather he tried to serve the country in different capacities after a civilian government was installed in Afghanistan.

We have to wait for just a day or two longer to see whether Dr Ghani will be able to contribute to placing relations between the two countries on an even keel. Nevertheless, it can be said without any fear of contradiction that if ever there has been a favourable time in the beleaguered history of our relations for turning over a new page and normalising ties this is that moment. This is the time when civilian governments in both Kabul and Islamabad along with their respective security establishments are more than willing to move forward for restoring friendly relations.

Under President Ghani’s leadership Afghanistan has already tried to allay Pakistan’s apprehensions through confidence-building measures. Immediately after taking over Dr Ghani agreed to reduce electricity transit fee from Tajikistan to Pakistan via Afghanistan under the Central Asia-South Asia (CASA-1000) power project. The price was negotiated down from the initial asking price of 2.5 cents to 1.25 cents per KW. An agreement to that effect has already been signed.

Another important step he took was cancellation of the arms deal his predecessor had concluded with India under the strategic partnership agreement. These actions augur well for a return to good neighbourly relations with Pakistan.

On Pakistan’s part it would be in the fitness of things to take advantage of this atmosphere by refraining from raising contentious matters at this point – matters such as the Durand Line issue. No government in Afghanistan will ever agree to publicly accept it as an international border. They have strong reservations about it on the ground that Amir Abdur Rehman Khan who signed the agreement was not a sovereign king as such but only a titular head under the British Raj. Therefore the Durand line agreement signed between him and the then British foreign secretary Sir Mortimer Durand in 1893 is considered by them as a step taken done under duress and not free will.

Whatever their reasoning or arguments, the fact remains that the agreement was signed and Pakistan inherited it as a successor state from British India in 1947. Since then it has not been raised at any bilateral or multilateral forum nor violated as a disputed line of division between the two countries. It has been there for the last 121 years and will remain so as long as the two countries exist on the world map.

But to ask Afghans to formally recognise the Durand line would be asking for too much at this point. It would simply amount to deliberately spoiling the atmosphere which right now is conducive for moving forward in the right direction. It would be better to leave it to a time when conditions are more propitious for its discussion and resolution on a permanent basis.

Also it would be a good gesture if Pakistan proposes waiver of visa requirement for people of both countries for a period up to a month and some other mechanism is evolved such as the ‘Red Pass’ which existed long ago. This will make travelling easier and do away with visitors having to queue in front of each other’s embassies in Kabul and Islamabad. Moreover it will regularise the current illegal crossings which, according to media reports, amount to more than 50,000 people on a daily basis.

But the pivot for all such positive steps is the successful functioning of the national unity government in Afghanistan. Everything depends on that. President Ghani will have to make sure that it is cohesive, successful, stable and united on all policy decisions that he agrees to with foreign governments, especially the one in Islamabad. He will also have to tread carefully and ensure that other important countries in the region which have close links with Kabul but are wary of Kabul having similar links with Islamabad do not derail the process.

Come what may, the fact is that good neighbourly relations between Kabul and Islamabad are in the interest of everybody in the region. A stable Afghanistan that has friendly relations with Pakistan will contribute greatly to the opening of new avenues for trade and commerce between the countries of the region and beyond. – See more at: