Pakistan’s response to Ghani’s talks offer

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan has cautiously responded to Afghan President Ashraf Ghani’s talks offer for normalisation of bilateral ties, reminding him of the need for an extensive multilayered engagement and revitalising the existing processes for dialogue.

“During our interactions, of late, both sides recognised the need for political-to-political, military-to-military and intelligence-to-intelligence cooperation,” a rather lukewarm FO res­ponse to the Afghan president’s Eid message said.

Mr Ghani had in a statement delivered at the presidential palace after Eid on Friday, which was broadcast by TV channels, said his message for Pakistan was that Afghanistan “is ready for comprehensive political talks. Peace with Pakistan is in our national agenda”.

Pakistan and Afghanistan have lately restarted their engagement to address the irritants in relationship. Multiple exchanges have taken place between the two sides over the past month. Mr Ghani’s statement was seen as an acknowledgement by Kabul that the way forward lay in engagement.

The FO response reminds Mr Ghani that an understanding to that effect already exists between the two nei­ghbours, which should be made operative.

Pakistan and Afghanistan had during their talks in March, which had been facilitated by the British government, agreed on building a mechanism that would provide for interaction at multiple levels — military, intelligence and political. However, traditional ‘mistrust’ bet­ween Pakistan and Afgha­nistan hampered the implementation of the ‘understanding’ reached in London and which came to be known as ‘agreement on bilateral cooperation mechanism’.

Mr Ghani’s statement mentions only political talks, which essentially precludes the military and intelligence-level engagement. However, given the nature of issues in the relationship — border disputes and terrorism — engagement at military and intelligence levels appears indispensable. It should be recalled that a 2015 attempt at developing intelligence cooperation framework between the two countries was scuttled due to sharp opposition in Afghanistan to the arrangement and the same resistance to a full-scope engagement with Pakistan is still persisting.

The FO, moreover, reminisced that Pakistan and Afghanistan were part of several processes, which too could be utilised for dealing with the problems souring the ties.

“We already have bilateral, trilateral, quadrilateral and multilateral mechanisms for dialogue and interaction with Afghanistan in place. Those mechanisms should be utilised to their full potential,” the FO rejoinder said.

Quadrilateral Coordina­tion Group (QCG) has been dysfunctional for over a year. Three of the participants of the four-way process had a few months back called for its renewal, but the US, which was then busy with its review of policy on Afgha­nistan and South Asia, stayed away. Now that the US review has been completed and a new policy has been announced, US Ambassador David Hale in a meeting with Pakistan’s National Security Adviser retired Lt Gen Nasser Janjua last week indicated that the Trump administration was considering the revival of QCG.

The FO, meanwhile, reiterated the government’s position that it wanted to see peace and stability in Afghanistan and for that Pakistan would contribute and play its due role in all the initiatives taken to that end. Agencies