A year after Pakistan heralded the entry of Taliban and the Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) then led by the controversial chief Lt Gen Faez Hameed assisted the renegades to form a govrenmetn in Kabul, relations between the two neighbours have soured. Multiple issues including allegations of support to terrorism and provision of airspace to the United States to carryout air and drone strikes have emerged which indicate that the relations may be going down hill.
Here is a review of some of the major contentions-
Pakistan Air Space for Attacks on Afghanistan
Taliban has claimed that Pakistan airspace was used by US drones to attack Afghanistan in return for cash of millions of dollars. In a meeting commemorating World Tourism Day, Sher Mohammad Abbas Stanekzai, Political Deputy of the Taliban government’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, claimed that Pakistan had allowed the US to use its airspace for American drones to strike in Afghanistan, possibly acknowledging for the first time, the strike that decapacitated al Qaeda chief Ayman al Zawahiri in Kabul.
Pak Allegations of Terrorist Havens
Meanwhile accusations by Pakistan Prime Minister Shahbaz Sharif of Afghanistan harbouring terrorists in his country statement at the 77th UN General Assembly was strongly protested by Afghanistan.
Shahbaz referred to major terrorist groups operating out of Afghanistan, particularly ISIL-K and TTP, as well as al-Qaeda, ETIM and IMU. “All of these need to be dealt with comprehensively with the support and cooperation of the interim Afghan authorities,” he stressed as per the Dawn News.
Rejecting the same Afghanistan Ministry of Foreign Affairs called for the Islamic Emirate beign provided an opportunity to share the ground realities in the UN General Assembly.
“These concerns are based on misinformation and sources and are being raised because the parties concerned have yet to hand over Afghanistan’s seat at the United Nations to its legitimate legal and political owners, the Afghan government,” spokesman for the Afghan Foreign Ministry said. He added that, “If this authority is indeed conferred on the Afghan government, it would provide an opportunity to directly share the ground realities of Afghanistan with regional and world countries and address any concerns that may arise.”
Asad Abbas, the Chargé d’Affaires of the Pakistani embassy in Afghanistan attempting to play down these differences as per Khaama Press and said that any expression of concern should not be interpreted as “enmity,” insisting the “thriving” relationship between the people of Pakistan and Afghanistan.
JEM Terror Leader Masood Azhar
In another contentious issue, the Islamic Emirate spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid denied that Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) chief Maulan Masood Azhar was in Afghanistan, and said he is in Pakistan. Pakistani media reported that Pakistan's Foreign Ministry in a letter asked the Islamic Emirate to find and arrest Azhar.
“We also call on all parties to refrain from such allegations lacking any proof and documentation. Such media allegations can adversely affect bilateral relations,” said Abdul Qahar Balkhi, a spokesman for MoFA.
It is believed that to stave off concerns by the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) which is considering removal of Pakistan from the grey list, Islamabad has contended that UN proscribed terrorist leader Masood Azhar is in Pakistan.
Meanwhile border clashes are another contentious issue. Clashes took place in Paktia province's Dand Patan area between Afghanistan’s border forces and Pakistan Army as the Taliban claimed that military facilities were being constructed close to the Durand Line which is not recognized as a border by the Afghans. Terrorists foraying from Afghanistan have also been carrying out attacks in Afghanistan.
In April after a spate of cross border terrorist attacks, Pakistan had to retaliate by carrying out airstrikes across the border. The move compelled the Afghan Taliban to pacify Pakistan’s concerns as it persuaded the outlawed Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) to restart negotiations with Islamabad but these talks remain stalled.
On the refugee front, the National Assembly Standing Committee on Human Rights in Pakistan was informed about the grim situation being faced by Pakistan due to the presence of over 1.4 million Afghan refugees, following refusal by the US and European countries to receive further Afghan asylum seekers.
Meanwhile trade has emerged as a major concern as movement of fresh fruits and dry fruits from Afghanistan to Pakistan has dropped due to increase in tariffs by Islamabad.
Positive Side – Pak International Support But?
On the positive side, Pakistan leaders have been called for support to Afghanistan. Prime Minister Shahbaz Sharif speaking in the UN General Assembly as well as the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation summit warned that isolation of Afghanistan can turn the situation worse.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken in a meeting with his Pakistani counterpart Bilawal Bhutto Zardari in Washington, said that Washington and Pakistan have a “shared stake in Afghanistan’s future after two decades of war”. “We have had our differences; that’s no secret, but we share a common objective: a more stable, a more peaceful and free future for all of Afghanistan and for those across the broader region,” Blinken said.
Pakistani Foreign Minister, Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, said that a stable, peaceful, and prosperous Afghanistan is a “priority” for Pakistan while meeting the US special representative for Afghanistan, Thomas West, in New York as per multiple media sources.
Afghanistan has resented Pakistan acting as an agent of the United States and thus even the positive factor may emerge as a challenge in the future.