Change of heart in Kabul
At long last the mistrust that had clouded the Pak-Afghan military relationship far too long seems to be dissipating, giving way to hope of constructive ties between the two sides to effectively cope with the security challenges following the withdrawal of coalition forces from Afghanistan next year.
Copyright Business Recorder, 2013
A high-powered Afghan delegation, headed by Defence Minister General Bismillah Khan Muhammadi, was recently on a visit to Pakistan, seeking co-operation between the two militaries - something quite unusual and a clear departure from the past, but certainly a welcoming development from Pakistan's point of view. Of course, there was a two-year-old invitation of General Kayani to the then Afghan chief and now defence minister. That the visit has now materialised is certainly indicative of the change of mind in the Afghan powerhouse military, though Pakistan has all along been supportive of Afghan efforts to find national solutions to their problems. But somehow Pakistan's image as a partner to Afghan Jihad and later on its support to the Taliban regime refused to fade out from the minds of the non-Pushtun military elite in Kabul. Given the in-depth deliberations the Afghan delegation has had with Pakistan army top brass, one tends to suggest that reality is finally catching up as the accusation that Pakistan is supportive of the Taliban or any other brand of insurgents in Afghanistan has not many takers in Kabul.
That Pakistan has suffered as much as Afghanistan, if not more, at the hands of militants residing in the common border regions of the two countries is a strong reality for Kabul. Those militants with safe havens in the two countries are a common threat to both - that too is being realised in Kabul. That Islamabad is as much pro-Pushtun as it is pro-Tajiks, which General Bismillah is, or pro-Uzbek, is also being appreciated in Kabul. Afghans seem to have figured out. That there are some regional powers which consider the post-withdrawal Afghanistan an open invitation to establish their big-power ambitious agendas. But for all this the Afghan military leadership would not have come visiting Pakistan. Obviously, during the talks the Afghan team had with General Kayani at the GHQ Rawalpindi, the issues that came under sharp focus are the ones that are expected to dispel mistrust and try building constructive bilateral military-to-military relationship. Therefore, they discussed essentially three issues - to train Afghan security forces; to make border control mechanism a bilateral instead of the existing trilateral affair and to weed out militancy from the border regions. At the same time, Kabul seems to have recognised Pakistan's sincerity in weaning the Taliban away from militancy and to become part of the Afghan national reconciliation - in that General Muhammadi has appreciated the release of some Taliban leaders by Pakistan.
Training of Afghan National Army has been Islamabad's standing offer to Kabul. At the Tokyo Conference on Afghanistan last July Pakistan committed a 20 million dollars assistance, but there was some reluctance on the part of the Afghan government. Some other countries, including India, were also found making such offers. But Kabul seems to have finally cast its vote in favour of Pakistan, as indicated by the composition of Afghan team of which two are linked with the training of Afghan security forces. They are scheduled to visit some of Pak Army's premier training stations and sites including Pakistan Military Academy, Kakul; Staff College, and School of Infantry, Quetta; and Combat Training Centre, Jhelum. Undoubtedly, the visit of Afghan military's top brass is the much-wanted and eagerly-waited development. It is, therefore, in the fitness of things that no effort is spared to convert this change of heart into a permanent reality. The bilateral gains made by Pakistan and Afghanistan are needed to be protected and preserved.