The kidnapping of two Pakistani officials working at the consulate across the border in Jalalabad comes at a time when the relationship between the two neighbours can best be described as being at its nadir. The officials were kidnapped while driving through the provincial capital of Nangarhar. They were said to be en route to Pakistan by way of the Torkham border. And although no group has taken responsibility for the kidnapping — both the Afghan and Pakistani Taliban have a strong presence in Nangarhar, with the Islamic State also recently establishing itself in the province.
Yet this time around it is heartening to see that Pakistan and Afghanistan are collaborating on this issue, instead of trading recriminations as had become the norm in the two neighbours’ tempestuous relationship. The Pakistan Foreign Office, in its official statement, refused to speculate about who might be behind the abduction. The statement also refrained from accusing the Afghan government of failing to protect Pakistani citizens and officials; a sign of maturity that is too often lacking in our dealings with Afghanistan. The Kabul government, on its part, has sent three different teams to investigate the abduction.
Historically, Pakistan’s relationship with Afghanistan has been plagued by accusations of supporting radical movements inside one another’s borders. The incumbent Afghan government under President Ashraf Ghani has repeatedly accused Pakistan of providing safe-havens within its borders to the Afghan Taliban. Islamabad has denied these claims and instead believes that it is Kabul that is pussyfooting on taking action against the Pakistani Taliban, which is said to have fled across the border following Pakistan’s military operations in its north-western territories.
The state level collaboration between Pakistan and Afghanistan on the kidnapped officials is, thus, a welcome interlude. Although the immediate priority should be to ensure the safe return of the two officials, the kidnapping can be used to build trust between two countries that do not see eye to eye on most things. Albeit a small step, collaboration at a civilian and intelligence level on the abduction can allow Pakistan and Afghanistan to build on this, and eventually develop enough trust and confidence to launch joint intelligence operations along the border. The idea of joint operations was floated around years ago, but like most Pak-Afghan initiatives, failed to live up to its potential.
Both Pakistan and Afghanistan need to realise that the two countries share a common history and indeed a common future. Pakistan cannot overcome its challenges as long as Afghanistan is unstable, and Afghanistan cannot overcome its demons without a responsible Pakistan sharing some of its neighbour’s burden. Concerned citizens on both sides of the border, therefore, hope for the safe return of the officials and for this opportunity to knock some sense into both our governments. *
Published in Daily Times, June 20th, 2017.