Churchill once described Soviet Union as "a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma." The state of relations with Kabul are equally perplexing and defy analysis or explanation of the contention between Kabul and Islamabad. Leadership of both countries keep vowing fraternal solidarity, and yet both sides find enough reason to be critical of the policies, the favourite pastime being the blame game. The bilateral relations are heavily influenced by international factors and regional rivalries. Accusation of cross-border terrorism is just one of the dimensions of this strained relationship. The increasing wave of resistance in Afghanistan by Taliban is instinctively ascribed to Pakistan's support for militants, be it ISAF commander or president Karzai. Pakistan's denial are equally emphatic, with reiteration of Pakistan's policy that it will not allow its soil to be used against another country. During Musharraf era the accusations became vitriolic and blame game escalated to a point where President Bush summoned the two leaders Musharraf and Karzai in December 2006 to Washington and urged than to mend fences. Following year Turkey was moved for rapprochement between two neighbouring countries, which it readily agreed. How Turkey got involved and with what mandate has not been explained. Musharraf and Karzai visited Ankara and a Tripartite summit was held on April 29-30. What transpired in their talks and what role or mandate Turkey has was never explained. During the recent visit of Prime Minister Gilani, yet another summit was held on October 30 in Istanbul. The nature of Turkey's mediatory role is still not clear. The joint Declaration issued after the talks spoke of regional security and Turkey's support to Pakistan and Afghanistan to resolve their disputes for an overall development in the region. Prospects for an early reconciliation have brightened with induction of a democratic government in Islamabad. Karzai was the only leader from abroad to attend the oath taking ceremony of President Zardari. Belligerent tone of Karzai has since been softened. Earlier he had met Prime Minister Gilani on the sidelines of the SAARC Summit in Colombo in August. It was agreed that the "two foreign ministers will meet to prepare grounds for a framework for close and constructive engagement to build confidence and develop a common strategy at the political, military and intelligence levels." Accordingly it was agreed to hold the meeting of mini jirga in Islamabad, as a follow up to the grand jirga held in Kabul last year. It was also agreed to hold the third Regional Economic Cooperation conference in Islamabad in the second half of November and also reactivate the Joint Economic Commission (JEC) to sort out issues relating to bilateral trade etc. The mini jirga held two days meeting in Islamabad last week. The meeting featured 50 members 25 from each side and included officials, representatives of tribes and political parties. Afghanistan was led by former Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah considered a hawk on Pakistan. Owais Ghani, governor NWFP, led Pakistani component. Both sides displayed great bonhomie and goodwill and mutual understanding on issues related to joint security, development in the tribal areas and coordination in tackling the terrorism. Pakistan assured Afghans of its commitment to dialogue with elements ready to reconcile, development of effected areas, expelling foreign fighters and addressing root causes of militancy. Afghan leader reciprocated the sentiments and assured "the door is wider open today for those who accept the country, constitution and the principle of non-violence." The mini jirga urged the two governments to deny sanctuary to the terrorists and decided to meet after three months to evaluate the progress. The jirga recognised "urgent and imperative need for dialogue and negotiations with the opposition groups with a view to guiding a peaceful settlement of the on-going conflicts." For this purpose a committee of prominent individuals would be constituted to initiate contacts with these groups. It further clarified that the Islamic teachings, customs, traditions and rivaj would be used as appropriate means to pursue the course of dialogue to promote peace and reconciliation. The recognition that negotiations and dialogue alone would render the desired results must translate into a strong political will for a sustainable peace. The convening of jirga and its decision to open dialogue with militant groups is a hopeful development but it can be secured only through actions to overcome suspicion and distrust that have until now plagued the bilateral relations. A political strategy of reconciliation and economic reconstruction and development should be pursued to win over the tribes and the moderates and to isolate extremists. There is also need for both sides to accelerate economic cooperation by jointly establishing reconstruction of opportunity zones (ROZ) along the border. Dialogue and development should go together to restore peace, halt and reverse extremism and eliminate terrorism and violence. Pakistan and Afghanistan enjoy a strategic location and can serve as the hub and corridor for trade and economic cooperation between the dynamic regions of South Asia, Central Asia, Gulf, and China. Peace and security is critical for Pakistan to meet its dire energy needs through IPI and TAPI. The significance of good relations with Kabul should be seen in this perspective and Pakistan must persevere in this course. Jirga diplomacy representing true representations of the tribes across the border has fair chances to succeed in removing misunderstandings and bridge the trust deficit. Involving any other country however friendly would unnecessarily internationalise a bilateral issue which in any case is merely of perceptions and not policies. The writer is a former ambassador