It would appear that with every passing day diplomatic relations between Islamabad and Kabul are ever more firmly trapped in a downward spiral. The recent visits by senior political and military officials to Kabul resulted in nothing but further mistrust. Then the Chaman skirmish happened, leading to accusations and conflicting claims being hurled by both sides regarding the number of casualties — with flag meetings yielding no progress. Now it would appear that another red line of diplomatic norms has been crossed with the ill treatment of Pakistani embassy staff stationed in Kabul.
The kidnapping and torture of two embassy staffers — who included a visa assistant — by National Directorate of Security (NDS) agents is a very unfortunate breach of human rights. Moreover, such actions violate the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, 1961. When one state sends its officials to another, local officials are bound to treat them with respect, dignity and above all, diplomatic consideration. But it was not so, in this case.
In the past, diplomatic officials were confined to the Pakistani embassy in Kabul due to violent protests, which allowed for speculation that elements of the Afghan state had given at least tacit support. Such events leave a particularly bad taste in the mouth for Islamabad, given that it is widely perceived in Pakistan that the NDS and the Indian spy agency RAW collaborate regularly to ‘contain’ Pakistan.
Pakistan has been already making efforts to improve relations with Afghanistan, by extending the hand of friendship through official and track-II initiatives, and also by playing a role in the Afghan peace process with the backing of Beijing, Moscow and Ankara. Such efforts need to be redoubled from Islamabad, but even more importantly, Kabul will also have to meet its neighbour halfway. Sullen hostility will not help any of the sides.
The region is already at the crossroads of major economic development especially with the One Belt One Road (OBOR) project rapidly materialising. It would be helpful if the administration in Kabul were to fashion foreign policy goals which are conducive to regional economic and cultural synergy, rather than conflict. In fact, all countries of the region would benefit from keeping this priority paramount. *