Afghanistan and Pakistan put aside their mutual recriminations on Thursday after a meeting between the Afghan National Security Advisor Dr Rangin Spanta and the Pakistani Prime Minister (PM) led to a joint communiqué announcing the two countries would formally cooperate to fight terrorism on their border. The communiqué is the first sign of joint cooperation between the two countries since Pakistan began a military operation in the tribal areas aimed at eliminating Taliban terrorists who operate across the border in Afghanistan as well. Afghanistan has long accused Pakistan of providing shelter to Afghan Taliban groups on its territory. Mistrust between the two sides has been at a historic high over the last decade. Afghanistan was sceptical of Pakistani claims regarding this operation despite repeated overtures by Islamabad for Kabul's help in securing its side of the porous border region. Till recently those requests were met with stony silence but last week a visit by parliamentarian Mehmood Khan Achakzai acting as a special envoy for the PM to Kabul appears to have convinced the Afghan government of Pakistan's sincerity and the importance of Afghan cooperation. Achakzai met Afghan President Hamid Karzai after the PM and Karzai spoke on the phone. That initiative faced a hurdle after an attack in Afghanistan’s Kunar province four days ago was blamed by Afghan officials on Pakistani servicemen dressed as civilians. The Foreign Office (FO) strongly rejected those claims and it appears the Afghan side has now accepted that Pakistan was not involved.
The communiqué not only recognised terrorism as the “common enemy”, it also outlined a joint working group co-chaired by the Afghan Deputy Foreign Minister and the Pakistani Foreign Secretary to increase “cooperation at [an] institutional level”. While not the first of its kind, the joint statement does carry a different tone from previous agreements. Afghan recriminations were built on Pakistan’s use of the Taliban as a strategic asset before home-grown terrorists began attacking the Pakistani state without mercy. For its part, Pakistan has always been wary of Afghan ambitions towards territory across the Durand Line that demarcates the international border between the two. The trust deficit therefore has decades of built up hostility to overcome. However, the offer of Afghan cooperation shows that Afghan officials believe the operation and statements by Pakistani officials represent a change in strategy and thinking in Islamabad and Rawalpindi. The Pakistani military has been at pains recently to emphasise that the operation has the full political backing of the civilian establishment while polls show that the public overwhelmingly supports military action. The other day the military also clarified that it would not make a distinction between Taliban groups as some commentators have accused it of, saying the operation was wholesale against any and all terrorists. This seems to have convinced the Afghans that the operation is a turning point and now the hope is that both sides will take this process forward and meet their obligations as the fight unfolds. *