An independent think-tank

Incremental follow-ups are must to improve Pakistan-Afghanistan relations


12 November 2018

To achieve the lofty projections made of Pakistan-Afghanistan ties, there is a need to take corresponding incremental measures. The Afghanistan-Pakistan Action Plan for Peace and Solidarity (APAPPS), which was constituted this year and which inspires confidence from both sides, needs to be strengthened with proper monitoring mechanism. That is one example of taking forward the bilateral ties to their betterment.

These came in the report “Afghanistan-Pakistan Peace Process and Scenarios for the Future”, released by Pak Institute for Peace Studies, an Islamabad-think tank. The report is compiled by PIPS director Muhammad Amir Rana and is based on the scenario-building exercise, which he facilitated, with experts from Afghanistan and Pakistan this year.

The report notes even though the two countries face a range of common problems, albeit with varying intensity, they rarely see eye-to-eye with each other. A single terror attack on either side can trigger a blame game against each other, resulting in reducing the bilateral trade, closing the border, enforcing strict visa regimes and scaling down people-to-people contacts.

But such downward tide is not the only the relations are supposed to move. There is however great room for the two to set their relations. In this regards, groups of experts from Afghanistan and Pakistan were engage to brainstorm six probable scenarios between the two countries, ranging from the worst possible scenario to status quo to the best one.

Experts had diverse backgrounds, from politics to military and security affairs, media, academics, business, and civil society. Interestingly, experts were optimistic when conceiving the best-case scenarios but had to grapple a lot in coming to terms with the worst-case scenarios.

The report noted that for the negativities, there have been some trust-building moments too: in May 2018, in what is lauded as a big step forward, the two countries operationalized a joint framework for peace, the Afghanistan-Pakistan Action Plan for Peace and Solidarity (APAPPS). The plan is read as a big step forward; ever since it has come into effect, the level of accusations on media has significantly decreased.

This plan has great potential of being taken forward. For one, Pakistan and Afghanistan should chart out quarterly progress report on the implementation of APAPP. Civil society should be involved too. Even now, instead of blaming each other for security lapses, both governments should abide by rules laid down by the liaison office in his action plan. Without implementation mechanism, trust-building mechanism fails, the report noted.

Broadly stating, the experts agreed that an approach of “zero tolerance” against all shades of transnational and local militant groups could trigger a transformation in bilateral relations between both countries. Lately, hate narrative on both sides exacerbate the tensions. Proper check or regulation should be put in place that ensures that the hate narrative does not flow unabated.

The report noted that among other things, political consensus in Afghanistan is essential not only for socio-economic development but also to chalk out a strategy to deal with the Taliban. The mistrust between the two states was identified as the “mother of all irritants”, which encourages spoilers and boosts uncertainties. That too can overcome with gradual step, provided they are consistent.