To bridge trust deficit, Shah Mahmood set to visit Afghanistan this week

* Both countries plan scholars' conference on Afghan war

ISLAMABAD: To bridge the trust deficit that has widened further following the Taliban attack in Afghanistan’s southeastern Ghazni city in August, Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi is scheduled to travel to Kabul this week.

Following his visit to the attack site days after the Taliban insurgents’ retreat, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani had alleged that the injured assailants were ‘receiving treatment’ in Pakistan, a charge denied by the latter.

FM Qureshi’s visit would be the first ministerial-level visit to Afghanistan since Prime Minister Imran Khan has taken office. The visit will also accord the two countries an opportunity to review progress on the much-publicised Afghanistan, Pakistan Action Plan for Peace and Solidarity, or APAPPS.

In a series of interaction with Pakistani and Afghan officials, this scribe has learnt that both sides are deeply divided on their understanding on the seven key principles of APAPPS, a joint action plan for cooperation on counter-terrorism, reduction of violence, bilateral trade and transit, connectivity, and people-to-people contact.

The most important aspect of APAPPS was the agreement that both countries will ‘undertake action against fugitives and the irreconcilable elements posing security threats to either of the two countries’.

Pakistani officials maintain that the Taliban are not ‘irresponsible’ as they have opened talks with the United States and also declared ceasefire during Eid-ul-Fitr in June in response to the Afghan president’s ceasefire offer. Taliban did not declare ceasefire during Eidul Azha in August.

On their part, Afghan officials insist that the Taliban are ‘irreconcilable’ as they remain unwilling to talk to the government in Kabul, and continue to engage in violent attacks.

In the most recent such attack, the Taliban insurgents ambushed security check posts in Herat and Maidan Wardak provinces, killing 19 security personnel.

Although Pakistani authorities support President Ghani’s peace offer to the Taliban, they insist that reconciliation with the Taliban is now a ‘shared responsibility’ of all stakeholders who have contacts with the Taliban’s Qatar office including the U.S., Russia, China, Iran, Central Asia and countries like Turkey, Indonesia and Saudi Arabia.

Pakistan and Afghanistan remain at loggerheads over action against those Taliban factions who don’t join the peace process. Afghan leaders want Pakistan to take action against such leaders, however, the latter is of the view that it can no longer fight another war for others on its own soil.

Meanwhile, both countries are also working on a plan to convene a joint conference of religious scholars on the Afghan war, months after an international clerics’ moot in Saudi Arabia, with no representation from Pakistan, had declared the Taliban war as ‘haram’. The declaration was strongly rejected by the Taliban.

Daily Times has learnt that prior to the Ghazni attack, an Afghan delegation visited Islamabad to exchange views on the proposed conference. However, consultations remain suspended following the incident.

Published in Daily Times, September 10th 2018.