The root of the problematic Afghanistan-Pakistan relations is lack of trust and misperceptions. There is a long history behind this relationship beginning with the only negative vote cast against Pakistan at the time of its admission to the United Nations.

Heads of the two governments often meet and exchange sweet assurances only to be followed by expressions of anguish and often anger at the incidents occurring on the ground. When the head of the High Peace Council set up by President Hamid Karzai was killed, promptly Islamabad was accused of involvement and accusing finger still points at Pakistan.

The last detailed report in the New York Times on Pak-Afghan relationship is captioned “Rockets Fired From Pakistan Pound Villages in Afghanistan”. The report filed in the Times by Declan Walsh from Islamabad needs to be read to realise the gravity of the worsening situation: “KABUL, Afghanistan - Villages in north-eastern Afghanistan - an area thick with competing Taliban factions, operatives from Al-Qaeda and other militants - were bombarded with hundreds of rockets fired from Pakistan over the weekend, leaving at least four civilians dead, Afghan officials said. The militants now use north-eastern Afghanistan as a springboard for cross-border attacks; there have been 15 in the past year, resulting in more than 100 deaths, a Pakistani military official said Sunday. The latest came this past week when militants attacked a Pakistani village militia that is fighting the Taliban, according to Pakistani officials. The Afghan Foreign Ministry, in a statement, stopped short of outright accusing Pakistani forces. But it did say that Deputy Foreign Minister Jawed Ludin had summoned Pakistan’s envoy in Kabul and told him that continued rocket fire would have a ‘negative impact’ on relations.”

The Karzai government at one stage even hinted that they might take the matter of attacks from Pakistan to the Security Council.

In the matter of these cross-border attacks, Pakistan has been slow in taking up these aggressive acts internationally. Good that the Pakistani Ambassador in Washington has directly brought the matter to the notice of US lawmakers when she invited some of them to her residence. According to a press report she handed over a list of the cross-border attacks on the Pakistani military posts from bases inside Afghanistan. The US, it appears, has taken official notice of these violations of the territorial integrity. Said George Little, a Pentagon spokesperson, at a news briefing: “We’re working closely with both countries, obviously, to try to limit violence along the Afghan-Pakistan border. We have obviously been in constant contact with the Afghan government to work on these issues. And we have put pressure on the enemy to operate along the border.”

Like many other tough questions and dilemmas facing Pakistan, there is a lack of clarity and consistency and (I may add in some cases, competence) in regard to our formulation of foreign and security policies and in particular how we actually handle our international relations.

The dilly-dallying and dithering displayed by Islamabad in dealing with the aftermath of the Salala killings and the less-than-satisfactory way we almost suddenly agreed to restart the Nato land supplies speak volumes for our lack of sagacity and seriousness about our vital national issues and interests.

Do we have a clear understanding of the repeated accusations hurled at us by the US media, Congress men and women as well as the administration and the warnings administered? Does the policy or whatever one may call it, have the blessings of elected representatives of the people or has it been totally left to the military top brass? Now that cross-border attacks from Afghanistan have escalated, are we to react by launching counter attacks thus providing Kabul and other centres of power and influence to condemn us and put our military further in the dock. Has this crucial matter been ever debated to arrive at a workable approach that safeguards our interests and neutralises the accusations and propaganda against Pakistan?

Pakistan cannot afford a breakdown of relationship between the two countries or a possible international isolation. The issues involved have wider and increasingly complex regional and global repercussions. Indeed, Afghanistan has become the hub of a new great game, which is being played by not only the neighbours, but also the superpower of the day. The prize is not only the obvious location and hidden minerals of Afghanistan, but also the fabulously huge natural resources of Central Asia. The stakes are high. One may here recall that the US has already declared a shift in its global strategy, which now is linked to pivoting towards Asia and the Pacific. And that India, Australia, Japan and Korea are a part of this new reconfiguration of interests and relationships. The target is China and some of its allies.

Instructive it will be, here, to read the mind of a perceptive Indian analyst of regional developments. Wrote C. Raja Mohan in the Indian Express on July 21: “Caught red-handed hiding bin Ladin, Pakistan Army's credibility as America’s leading partner in the war on terror sunk to a new low. Through 2011, the relations between the US and Pakistan steadily deteriorated. Pakistan’s decision to shut down US overland access to Afghanistan in November 2011 underlined the deepening crisis of bilateral relations. The international community could no longer ignore Pakistan Army’s role in harbouring the Taliban and the Haqqani network, the two principal forces destabilising the government in Kabul. That the Pakistan Army is part of the problem in Afghanistan, rather than the solution is now widely acknowledged. In a revamp of its strategy, the US chose to sign a long-term strategic partnership agreement with Kabul, leave a small residual force in Afghanistan after 2014, rally international economic and military support to the Karzai regime…….Finding itself isolated, Pakistan has struggled to put itself back on the centrestage in Afghanistan in the last few months. A few weeks ago, Pakistan agreed to reopen the supply routes into Afghanistan and it has now decided to reach out to Kabul. In his talks with Raja Ashraf, Karzai emphasised the importance of Pakistan closing down the sanctuaries to the Haqqani network and putting pressure on the Taliban to negotiate a political reconciliation with Kabul. The Pak PM, in turn, has promised to facilitate talks between the Taliban and Kabul. The big question now is: whether the Pak Army can deliver the Taliban to the negotiating table.”

It remains to be seen how the military setup, finally departs from the time-worn notion of “strategic depth” and under the leadership of the civilian government extends help to USA and Afghanistan by managing an understanding with the Taliban, to bring about a feasible dispensation after the withdrawal of the US/Nato forces.

    The writer is an ex-federal secretary and ambassador, and political and international relations analyst.

    Email: pacade@brain.net.pk