ISLAMABAD – Pakistan and Afghanistan must restore the trust between two countries, Advisor to the Prime Minister on Foreign Affairs Sartaj Aziz said, asserting that Islamabad looks forward to strengthening cooperation with Kabul to address the challenges.
“I need to be very frank and undiplomatic. I think the main hurdle to peace, the biggest obstacle to peace is Afghan-Pakistan relationship. It is the environment of mistrust it is the environment that we suspect each other, it is the environment of practical disengagement,” Sartaj Aziz said addressing a seminar.
The panel discussion ‘From Winter to Spring: Revisiting the Afghan Question’ organized by Jinnah Institute in Islamabad.
Aziz retreated that there is a pressing need to implement an “effective framework for border management” to check cross-border movements of terrorists and other criminal elements threatening security and stability of their two nations.
Afghanistan’s ambassador to Pakistan, Omar Zakhilwal, speaking at the seminar said the tensions and trust deficit between the two countries are the main hurdle to peace in the region. Taking note of the nature of shared challenges facing both countries, he agreed that it was important for both sides to talk to each other, and not at each other.
“Without peace in Afghanistan, there could be no peace in Pakistan” Afghan envoy noted while acknowledging that Pakistan too had paid a high price for regional conflict. He cautioned that elements supporting violence in Afghanistan continued to use Pakistani territory. Pakistan loses $70-80 billion annually due to instability in Afghanistan and the region, he estimated.
If a peaceful agreement is not reached then Pakistan would always face roadblocks in its endeavors to become a gateway to Central Asia, as would Afghanistan in its attempt to be a land-bridge to Central Asia.
“It is vital to improve people-to-people relationship for greater peace and stability, given our common ancestry, faith, language and geography” he suggested.
Sartaj Aziz and the Afghan diplomat both insisted it is widely believed back in his country that Taliban commanders are using Pakistan for insurgent activities with the knowledge and help of the country’s security institutions.
Pakistan advisor Aziz, however, insisted that member nations in the four-way group have agreed to collectively decide how to deal with Taliban groups who refuse to join the peace process.
“While Pakistan will continue to play a positive role in the process it is important to recognize that we cannot dictate terms to either the Afghan government or the Afghan Taliban. It is they who have to come to terms and reach a basis on which negotiations can be successful,” he said.
Mr. Aziz said that Pakistan felt the pain of Afghans caused by continuing violence in their country. Pakistan itself has been a victim of brutal terrorism, with attacks in Charsadda and Lahore as recent examples. Pakistan is, therefore, committed to the idea that one of the key goals of the Afghan reconciliation process be reduction, and ultimate cessation, of violence.
Jinnah Institute President Senator Sherry Rehman appreciated President Ashraf Ghani’s role as an advocate of regional stability and change. She added that it was important to strive for an inclusive, Afghan-led peace process given recent Taliban battlefield successes. A negotiated settlement was in the best interest of Afghanistan as well as regional players, she noted.
“Both Afghanistan and Pakistan needed each other for trade, transit and combatting terrorism. But Pakistan has been put in a difficult position: fighting one of the largest inland war against terrorism which has been made all the more difficult by a long porous border (shared by Pakistan and Afghanistan).”