Pakistan’s diplomatic relationship with Afghanistan throughout the Ashraf Ghani regime remained tumultuous to say the least, littered with verbal spats and a never-ending blame game accusing each other of allowing terrorists to use their respective territories to attack one another. Following the Taliban takeover, the PTI government and Pakistan’s security agencies have displayed a sense of relief that perhaps a more amenable setup would now be in place, eager to mend ties, start afresh and maintain a mutually respectful and beneficial relationship going forward. However, this is hardly what has transpired owing to an obvious anti-Pakistan sentiment still prevalent in Afghanistan, as evidenced by the anti-ISI protests that were held in Kabul demanding a separate Balochistan soon after the Taliban took control, where order had to be restored through force. A few days back one of the many container trucks carrying food and medical supplies was stopped and vandalized as it had Pakistan’s flag pasted on it. These incidents are part of a pattern that is hard to notice and therefore requires investigation, understanding and resolution to avoid a situation where even the new Taliban government is unable to effectively work with Pakistan due to pressures emanating from within that want the exact opposite to happen.
One rationale that is understandable is Pakistan’s outright support to US and NATO forces in the War on Terror during the Musharraf years, some of the wounds of which are still fresh and may never fully heal. Another element is the fact that Pakistan’s enemies, chief among which is India, still has their tentacles deeply rooted within Afghanistan’s intelligentsia, which continues to unjustifiably spew venom against Pakistan. So far, Pakistan’s efforts to create regional cooperation and include the Taliban in the process whereby they are part of the solution rather than the problem have been partly successful. It is imperative at this stage of the political, social and economic transition taking place in Afghanistan that Pakistan is not only tangibly doing all it can to help but is also perceived as a neighbouring country that is friendly, trustworthy and dependable. Unless the reasons for our severe unpopularity are not narrowed down and the sentiments behind those not fully understood, these presumed misconceptions will remain unresolved. A serious conversation along these lines must be had between the civilian and military setups of the country to reach some concrete conclusions worthy to be acted upon.