The visit of Afghan President Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai to Pakistan takes place following the controversial remarks made about two months ago by the Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan on the “negative role of the Kabul government in the Afghan peace process”. Afghan officials and political groups showed strong reactions to this stance of the Pakistani premier. Of course, the Pakistani Foreign Ministry explained that the media had misinterpreted Imran Khan’s statement and that the Islamabad government supports the national sovereignty of Afghanistan and did not intend to weaken the Kabul government.
Under such circumstances, Ashraf Ghani’s trip, given that he will again run for presidency and compete with other candidates over the next few months and try his chances for re-election, is very important. Currently, Ashraf Ghani’s main concern is to advance the peace process in Afghanistan and hopes to take positive steps in the months leading up to the presidential election in November 2019 and compete with other Afghan presidential candidates with a winning card.
In this regard, the most important goal of Mr. Ashraf Ghani’s visit to Pakistan is to draw the attention of the government of Islamabad and Mr. Imran Khan’s support for the peace process in Afghanistan. In the opinion of the Kabul government, Pakistan does not have the transparency and integrity required to help the peace process in Afghanistan. This, according to the Kabul government, has neutralized any attempt in Afghanistan to achieve peace and understanding with the Taliban by establishing truce to end war.
It seems, therefore, that among the speculations raised about Ashraf Ghani’s travel plans to Islamabad, the balance is in favor of the political goals of attracting the Pakistani government to the peace process in Afghanistan.
Meanwhile, Pakistan in encouraging the Taliban to engage in the Afghan peace talks adopts certain stances some of which are not accepted by the Kabul government.
The Pakistani government has repeatedly announced that it does not have the kind of influence over the Taliban as expected by the Afghan government and that if it had this influence it could have controlled the process of insecurity in Pakistan. But despite the confirmation of this position of the Pakistani government by some media outlets in Afghanistan and Pakistan, the Kabul government believes that the Islamabad authorities have a significant influence over the Taliban and that they can persuade them to enter the peace process in Afghanistan.
Since last year when Imran Khan took office in Pakistan, he created the hope among the Afghan authorities that the Pakistani government would play a more effective role in the peace process in a change of approach to the developments in Afghanistan. It should also be noted that previous Pakistani governments have not taken steps in this regard despite their declared policies to help bring about peace, as expected by the Kabul government.
Although part of the Taliban, such as the Quetta Council, have links to some of the political currents and religious groups in Pakistan; this may also create the impression that there is such influence over the Taliban in Pakistan. But in general, it does not seem that the country can modify the Taliban stances on the withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan as precondition for the peace talks. Therefore, the Kabul government is better off modifying its expectations of Pakistan’s decisive role in the peace process.
Meanwhile, Ashraf Ghani’s visit to Pakistan as the highest government official in Afghanistan indicates that both the Kabul government and the government of Islamabad have the intention to develop relations, reduce tensions and, in fact, end the differences and conflicts. But whether these meetings and consultations at the level of heads of state really contribute to détente in Afghanistan-Pakistan relationship or not is a question overwhelm by different ambiguities. Because inside Pakistan, it is not just the government which makes the decisions; intelligence and security institutions are also influential in this process. Also, there are groups that do not support strengthening of cooperation between Afghanistan and Pakistan. Therefore, it seems that we should not pin much hope that the trip of Ashraf Ghani to Pakistan would make a remarkable transformation that could be described a ‘milestone’ in the tense relations between the two neighbors.