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Editorial: Common interests

Aftab Ahmad Khan Sherpao, a Pashtun nationalist leader from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, urged Islamabad and Kabul to normalize the fragile bilateral relations. Chief of his own political faction, Qaumi Watan Party, said that removal of trust deficit between Pakistan and Afghanistan is imperative to ensure security in the two countries and the entire region. He suggested a joint mechanism so Islamabad and Kabul could protect their common interests. Sherpao’s statement carries weight because he is former interior minister of Pakistan and is in coalition with Imran Khan’s party in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

Relations between Afghanistan and Pakistan are at the lowest point because the latter had failed to assure the former that it is against terrorism and all those extremist groups which are killing innocent Afghans. Islamabad had made many claims in this regard but the output is still zero as the Taliban, Haqqani Network and other militant groups enjoy support of certain state and non-state actors in Pakistan. Officials of the two countries met several times to overcome the trust deficit but the gulf of mistrust widened due to lack of sincerity. Sans genuine efforts and sincere commitments relations between the two countries would never gain momentum.

Terrorism would continue to haunt the entire region because Pakistan has badly failed to eliminate trans-national militant groups from its soil. Pakistani authorities are reluctant to take action against those actors who are supporting terrorist groups. These extremist outfits had not only damaged Islamabad’s ties with Kabul, New Delhi and Tehran but also caused instability in Pakistan. As Afghanistan is immediate neighbor of Pakistan, therefore, Islamabad had to take concrete steps to normalize relations with Kabul. In the recent past, relations between the two neighboring countries had dropped to sub-zero level due to clashes at the Torkham crossing point over illegal installation of gate by the Pakistani security forces.

Moreover, the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government is using Afghan refugees as a political card to mislead the electorates as the general elections are not far away. Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) is in power in the province. The party’s leadership is forcing the refugees to leave the province. The provincial government is violating the international rules and human right by harassing and torturing Afghan refugees. The refugees are accused of fueling extremism in Pakistan. However, both the central and provincial governments failed to prove it. PTI is the leading player in this blame game, but it could not refer to a single incident of terrorism in which Afghan refugees were involved.

Since Sherpao’s party is part of the coalition government in Pakhtunkhwa, the party should stop PTI from harassment and forced deportation of Afghan refugees. He should also play his role to overhaul relations between Afghanistan and Pakistan by convincing the civilian and military establishments to take military action against Afghan militant groups.

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