Goodwill after Pak-Afghan meeting?

Army Chief Gen Qamar Bajwa and Afghan President Ashraf Ghani have held an important and necessary meeting in Kabul to try and put the Pak-Afghan bilateral relationship on a more stable footing.

What is particularly encouraging is that both sides appear to have come away from a series of meetings on Sunday with a relatively positive assessment of what transpired, suggesting that a modicum of much-needed goodwill has been generated.

Given the destabilising approach to the region outlined by US President Donald Trump in his South Asia strategy and the Afghan government suffering from a number of ongoing political and security crises, it was necessary that Pakistan and Afghanistan engage each other directly to prevent a further unravelling of ties.

While a true regional solution to Afghanistan’s problems is needed, the fact remains that Pakistan and Afghanistan are the two countries with the most at stake. As previously Afghan and Pakistani leaders have also discovered, the two countries have no option but to engage in meaningful dialogue.

However, the necessity of constructive dialogue has not necessarily caused it to materialise in the past. Part of the problem appears to be that neither the Pakistani nor the Afghan side have approached a potential dialogue in a structured manner. Blame games, allegations and recriminations, and short-term demands at odds with long-term confidence-building measures have been plentiful; missing has been the belief that joint problem-solving is likely or possible.

In recent times, Pakistan has tried to change the ad hoc approach to the bilateral relationship by suggesting a list of priority areas for cooperation that can progressively reduce militant violence on both sides of the border and create the space for an intra-Afghan dialogue that all sides agree is necessary.

Until now, Afghanistan has not been particularly receptive to the newer Pakistani approach, choosing instead to insist that Pakistan is an impediment to peace regionally rather than a genuine partner in dialogue. It is hoped that Gen Bajwa’s personal outreach to Afghanistan will help build some much-needed trust on both sides.

While military cooperation along the border and security issues dominate the bilateral relationship, the reference to trade and commerce and people-to-people contact in the ISPR statement was a welcome nod to the sheer range of ties that affect the two countries.

Civil-military cooperation may not be easy to achieve, but it is necessary for the long-term stability of ties with Afghanistan. A partnership inside Pakistan will make it more likely to achieve a partnership with Afghanistan.