Pakistan must convince Afghanistan it has shifted its policy on the Taliban
On April 5, according to Pakistan’s military, Afghan forces attacked soldiers protecting census takers near the Chaman border crossing, killing at least seven Pakistani nationals and injuring another 33. In retaliation, according to an ISPR statement, Pakistani forces killed 50 Afghan security personnel and injured another 100. The border crossing was shuttered following the skirmish and has yet to be reopened.
That the Afghan army took to cross-border shelling after three very high-level visits by Pakistan Army officers and parliamentarians seeking “normalization” of ties with Kabul is troubling. The mistrust remains so great that it was not even dented by Pakistan’s recent drive to target the very elements Kabul accuses of spearheading “Pakistan’s covert invasion of Afghanistan.” This mistrust has grown over decades of cross-border terrorism committed by elements sheltering in Pakistan.
A glimpse of this mistrust could be had from an article written by Pakistani journalist Batool Rajput in 2015, but reproduced by Dawn on Monday. She blames the lack of communication on Pakistan’s media. “Pakistan’s biggest TV channels have few to no correspondents in Kabul or other cities in Afghanistan,” she writes, adding that the local citizenry views Pakistan’s security agencies with great suspicion. “The current mood in Kabul is quite anti-Pakistan, or to be more precise, anti-ISI. Most Afghans do not hate Pakistan per se, but the ISI, they staunchly believe, supports the Afghan Taliban and has vested interests in destabilizing their country. While the ISI was berated by many, whenever I asked for specifics, I only got half-stories, hearsay and no evidence.”
This mistrust can only be eradicated through a sustained effort to purge past—not entirely misplaced—prejudices. Islamabad has made a volte-face on its Afghan policy and Kabul must be persuaded of this. Both countries face a common enemy and until they come together, will continue to suffer damage from the same extremists lodged on both sides.