The Time is Ripe for a New Chapter in Af-Pak Relations

With new leadership in Afghanistan, it might be the right time for both sides to turn pages and open a new chapter in Af-Pak relations.

af-pak-relationsAshraf Ghani, Afghanistan’s new president, has provided hope for peace and stability to the troubled nation.

Even in his first weeks in office, President Ghani, a former World Bank technocrat and professor in leading American Universities, has embarked on sweeping reforms from tackling corruption to resolving the issues of the prisoners in Kabul’s Puli Charkhi prison. Ghani seems serious and an ideal leader for a post-conflict country such as Afghanistan where people want swift actions from public leaders and are usually frustrated by lack of action.

President Ghani has yet to nominate his cabinet and governors of Afghanistan’s 34 provinces. The general perception in Afghanistan is that together with his Chief Executive Officer, Dr. Abdullah Abdullah, he will nominate one soon, and it could be a more technocratic one than compared to his predecessor, Hamid Karzai. Ghani’s minister selection will be important for delivering on his campaign promises and furthering the tasks he has started in Afghanistan.

Among the many policy issues facing Ghani, a major one is how he tackles Afghanistan’s troubled relations with its eastern neighbor, Pakistan.

Afghanistan and Pakistan share a long border of nearly 2,600 kilometers (1,615 miles) named as the “Durand Line.” Pakistan recognizes this line as an “international border” crossing inherited from British India; Afghanistan, however, recognizes it only as a temporary boundary that was agreed to between British India and the Afghan Emir more than a century ago. Borer disputes have resulted in serious mistrust between Kabul and Islamabad, and both sides have failed to capitalize on the enormous economic benefits they can reap from establishing cordial relations.

Hamid Karzai, the outgoing Afghan president, labeled Pakistan as one of the key stakeholders to peace and stability in Afghanistan. However, he also outlined that his nearly 20 state visits to Pakistan and many efforts failed to result in any constructive outcome.

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Now that there is new leadership in Kabul and that Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif is keen on contributing to a more stable region, it might be the right time for both sides to turn pages and open a new chapter in Af-Pak relations.

Unlike the past, President Ghani should take lead and propose a more compromising approach that builds trust and enables Pakistan to see more benefits in Afghan stability. One thing that President Ghani should make sure to avoid is to break from the past where most of Afghanistan’s problems are blamed on Pakistan.

Instead, President Ghani’s government should opt for a policy that recognizes the need for mutual Af-Pak relations, defies issues of mistrust and promises good will for the people of Afghanistan and Pakistan. This policy should also focus on promoting regional economic cooperation that in turn can foster mutual respect for national sovereignty and territorial integrity.

Pakistan’s leadership should also respect Afghan’s desire for stability and actively engage with Kabul on overcoming political and security challenges. Unlike the past, Pakistan’s strategic depth policy should seek closer economic ties with Afghanistan and understand that building better and more trustful relations with Afghanistan’s legitimate government in Kabul is better for Pakistan’s future stability.

If both Afghan and Pakistani leaders can make this shift in their foreign policies, the two Asian countries can benefit from significant economic and political relations, and collectively contribute to more prosperous societies in the region.

Moheb Arsalan Jabarkhail is an Afghan analyst and writer on the governance and socioeconomic development affairs of Afghanistan and the region. After studying Economics at Kabul University and Bard College in New York as a Fulbright 2003-2007, Moheb studied for Master in Public Policy and Governance at Willy Brandt School of Public Policy in Germany 2010-2012. He also has extensive experience of working on development programs with various organizations in and out of Afghanistan. He is currently based in Kabul and can be reached at arsalan.moheb@gmail.com.