ISLAMABAD — The latest diplomatic rift between Pakistan and Afghanistan speaks volumes about the underlying frictions among both countries and the United States in the so-called war on terror.
Disagreement centers on Afghan officials’ allegations that Pakistan turns a blind eye to the activities of anti-Afghanistan militants. For Pakistan, conflicting messages from the U.S. don’t help. The U.S. commends Pakistan for supporting the antiterror campaign while lamenting Pakistan’s failure to offer full cooperation. Confusion should come as no surprise.
Afghan leaders, including President Hamid Karzai, are keen to note that Afghanistan’s proximity to Pakistan brings it closer to its neighbors. Yet the influence of Karzai’s words in Pakistan are limited when followed by skeptical remarks from other Afghan officials.
The latest disagreement over how much Pakistan is cooperating in the war on terror hardly helps with the efforts to provide relative stability in Afghanistan ahead of parliamentary elections due in September. Those elections are considered a major milestone in the Central Asian country’s journey from a tribal society to a state where representative politics has taken root.
Key players in Afghanistan come from the ranks of the Northern Alliance, which opposed the former Taliban rulers. They now hold Pakistan responsible for everything that goes wrong in Afghanistan. This rivalry has the potential of undermining relations with Pakistan. It’s therefore clear that the troubles surrounding Pakistan’s relationship with Afghanistan, and hence with the U.S., need to be reconsidered.
It is clear that the three countries must agree to settle any disputes behind the scenes rather than through public debate. Visible acrimony of any kind reinforces the message that Pakistan’s recurring rifts with Afghanistan and the U.S. will be a permanent feature of this trilateral relationship, and thus prompts nationalists from all sides to demand that their governments take a harder line.
Afghanistan and Pakistan need to establish a more permanent structure for exchanging information relevant to security affairs and for debating points of disagreement well before they become the basis for long-term public discord. A long overdue arrangement of this sort must be built around regular meetings of key officials. Pakistan and Afghanistan are close enough to have frequent high-level meetings on each other’s soil.
Although Afghan officials this week have tried to place the onus of responsibility for Afghanistan’s continued turbulence on Pakistan, ultimate responsibility for whatever is going on lies with Afghanistan’s rulers.
The connection between militancy and the economy cannot be ignored. Afghanistan today has more individuals benefiting from the drug trade than at any time during the reign of the Taliban, whose claim to fame was their effectiveness in curbing the flow of narcotics.
To a large extent, this condition challenges the apparent U.S. tendency to conduct its war on terror by concentrating on large and expensive military deployments rather than on dedicating resources to a fast-paced plan for economic rehabilitation.
Outside cities such as Kabul and other large urban centers, Afghanistan contends with abject poverty. It’s no surprise that such poverty in turn breeds violence and militancy. Pakistan undoubtedly had close ties with Afghanistan’s Taliban rulers, but it cannot be held responsible for matters central to Afghanistan’s internal challenges.
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