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Pakistan accused Afghanistan of overreacting when it pulled out of a military visit to its neighbor this week – a cancellation that puts added strain on an already tense relationship and presents another hurdle to the Afghan peace process.
The Army in Pakistan had invited more than 10 Afghan officers to participate in military drills in Quetta, in Pakistan's southwest. But the officers refused to come after what the Afghan government called “unacceptable Pakistani shelling” across the Afghanistan-Pakistan border.
Scores of shells were fired into Afghanistan on Monday and Tuesday, and have been followed by “days of angry diplomatic exchanges,” reports Reuters. Such incidents have occurred sporadically across the Durand Line, the British-drawn border that Pakistan acknowledges but which Afghanistan disputes.
"We believe that Afghanistan overreacted to a small incident," a foreign ministry spokesman told Agence France-Presse, adding that its "disciplined and responsible" troops had responded to what it called "some intrusions from the Afghan side."
The altercation comes just days after US Secretary of State John Kerry visited Afghanistan to complete the handoff of the Bagram military prison. The Afghan war is now in its 12th year and more than half of the 66,000 American forces will withdraw from the country by 2014, reports The New York Times.
According to The Christian Science Monitor, Mr. Kerry and President Hamid Karzai “held a rosy news conference” where they discussed US-Afghan relations, which have also been strained in recent weeks by Afghan government accusations that the US is supporting the Taliban.
Pakistan and Afghanistan have long traded blame for the Taliban violence that has plagued their shared border, and last month there was a sense of hope for cooperation after a trilateral meeting with British leaders.
The gathering was “billed as a success after it ended with an optimistic pledge to seek a peace settlement with the Taliban within six months,” reports The Wall Street Journal.
In reality, senior Afghan officials now say, Pakistani preconditions made at the summit — and rejected as unacceptable by Kabul — have set off a new crisis between the two neighbors. “What we ask from Pakistan is to prove that that country wants peace and stability in Afghanistan,” Mr. Karzai’s chief of staff, Abdel Karim Khurram, said in an interview.
Pakistani officials said they set no preconditions and that their government supports a peaceful and stable Afghanistan.
Pakistan was the Taliban’s crucial supporter during the 1990s civil war, and US and Afghan officials say the insurgency’s leadership is still operating from Pakistani shelters.
One Pakistani official this week told Mr. Karzai he was blocking opportunities for peace and taking his country “straight to hell,” reports Reuters. Afghanistan responded such words were part of “a failed propaganda attempt” to push a historic transition off course.
Although Pakistan’s cooperation is seen as crucial to a successful peace process in Afghanistan, for the first time this week Afghan officials signaled they may be ready to “go it alone,” reports a separate Reuters story.
Deputy Foreign Minister Jawed Ludin told Reuters that Afghanistan planned to use senior Taliban officials "recently handed over by the United States in Bagram prison to urge militants to pursue peace.”
Mr. Ludin acknowledged the critical role Pakistan plays and noted that Afghanistan would still welcome its support. But, he said, "[we] here in Kabul are in a bit of a state of shock at once again being confronted by the depth of Pakistan's complacency, we are just very disappointed."
"The sad reality is though Pakistan still remains the most important missing link in this whole vision that we have," Lundin said.
In an editorial in Pakistan’s The Nation, the very same language and themes were repeated.
Afghanistan is not only Pakistan’s neighbour, but is also closely and inextricably linked to it in more than one ways….
It is hard to fathom whose agenda President Karzai could be following to throw spanner in the works of efforts to bring about reconciliation in the war-torn and ethnically torn Afghanistan. It is a measure of the confusion that prevails in his mind that his stalling of the process, with the exit of foreign troops not far away, is, in fact, thwarting his own agenda of survival in the Afghan milieu….
President Karzai should realise that Pakistan’s role is positive and crucial in arriving at the goal. Secretary of State John Kerry whose country has all along promoted India in Afghanistan would not otherwise have acknowledged that Islamabad’s role was indispensable to ensuring peace and stability in the post-withdrawal period.