There is little current chance of progress in ties between Kabul and Islamabad.
British National Security Adviser Mark Lyall Grant facilitated in London a meeting on Thursday, March 16, between Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s Adviser on Foreign Affairs Sartaj Aziz and Afghan National Security Adviser Haneef Atmar. And sources in the Pakistani High Commission in London say the meeting was “positive, productive and held in a cordial atmosphere” where “Pakistan raised the issue of Afghan-based groups involved in terrorist activities in the country, such as the recent attacks in Lahore and Sehwan.”
As the two neighbors stand today, little progress is expected. That is because both are prisoners of their narratives amid changing regional geopolitics. Kabul is a besieged capital with the Afghan Taliban attacking half of the country’s provinces at will and setting up a parallel government. The population of Afghanistan has lived without the coercive rule of the Taliban since 2001 and has tasted freedom, but factions fear Pakistan is the patron of their killers. Kabul draws some strength from two states—superpower America and regional power India—and its claim of Pakistan’s complicity in encouraging a Taliban state are valid in the eyes of the world. It doesn’t help that Pakistan defied the world by nursing a Taliban government-in-exile, the Quetta shura, in Balochistan for almost a decade.
The Afghans can’t fight the Taliban without outside help. They also unsuccessfully contend with the Pakistani Taliban hiding in Afghanistan and attacking inside Pakistan. Pakistan has been blinded by its strategic fix on India to comprehend the mistakes it has made in Afghanistan in the past, offending neighboring Iran as well. India’s “isolation” of Pakistan by linking up with Kabul and Tehran is “reactive” rather than active because of what Pakistan’s proxy warriors have done inside India in the past decades. Extra-regional powers remain engaged too, America directly on the side of Kabul, and China carefully neutral. Pakistan needs to adopt a soft policy of reconciliation in place of the hard one punishing the traders of both sides by closing the Pak-Afghan border.