| Afghan policemen prevent protesters from entering the Pakistan ambassy in Kabul on Tuesday. (AFP)
Islamabad, July 8: Old wounds are very difficult to heal. This comment by Syed Naveed Qamar, a senior MP of Benazir Bhutto’s Pakistan Peoples’ Party Parliamentarian, summed up the state of relations between Pakistan and Afghanistan.
Having been bouyed by friendly gestures and optimistic assessments in recent months, bilateral ties between the two countries have once again turned sour after a mob charged into the Pakistan embassy in Kabul chanting slogans like: “Death to Musharraf, down with Pakistan.”
Ambassador Rustam Shah Mohmand immediately shut down the embassy and said it would not be reopened until the Afghan government apologised for the incident, compensated the losses and gave firm guarantees for the safety of his staff.
The Islamabad government reacted to the incident by summoning the Afghan charge d’affairs Musa Ghazi and lodged a “serious protest” with him. Ghazi was reminded that protection of diplomatic staff was the obligation of the host government under the Vienna Convention.
Foreign minister Khursheed Mahmood Kasuri, in his reaction, said it was quite obvious that “some elements are not happy with the improvement of relations between the two countries and President Karzai’s successful visit to Pakistan.”
Kasuri also told the Afghan acting foreign minister Rahim Sherzoi over the phone that incidents like this are “unhelpful for both governments to have a model relationship. It is unfortunate that this happened.”
Sherzoi apologised and assured Kasuri that action would be taken against those who perpetrated this attack.
President Hamid Karzai also called up President Pervez Musharraf and offered his apologies for the incident.
Since the first assault on a Pakistani mission in Kabul in the early sixties, there have been four major incidents. One in September 1995, shortly before the Taliban swept into Kabul, had resulted in serious injuries to more than a dozen Pakistani diplomatic staff with extensive damage to the embassy compound itself.
The mob had then set everything ablaze after ransacking the building.
This time around it was President Karzai’s remarks about Musharraf's assement of the security situation in Afghanistan. During his European tour last week Musharraf, while supporting the calls for beefing up and spreading out the International Security Assistance Forces (ISAF) across Afghanistan , had also suggested that the ethnic composition of the current Afghan government needed to be broadened.
This apparently irked Karzai. Considering it as a personal swipe against him, he had vowed on Sunday (June 6) that he would soon discuss this with Musharraf.
Regardless of Karzai’s displeasure, tensions between the two countries had been mounting even otherwise; for a couple of weeks, border forces of both countries have been exchaning fire in small but regular skirmishes amid mutual allegations of border violations. Some of Pakistan's leading officials have also been expressing concerns about “growing Indian presence in major power centres like Kabul, Mazare Sharif, Jalalabad.”
The growing Indo-Afghan nexus in trade and security of course is one of the reasons behind this incident, Naveed Qamar opined. Another MP, Maulana Ghafoor Haidri of the pro-Taliban Jamiat Ulami Islam (JUI) blamed it on the “wrong policies successive Pakistani governments had been pursuing under the lead of the army.”
“If Kabul residents have expressed themselves against Pakistan, this is just because of our past policies — the rulers here did things which Afghans did not like and that is why our diplomats have been exposed to mobs,” Haidri said in a reference to the chain of events that have been instrumental in forming public opinion about Pakistan, which had agreed to become a pawn and a staging post for the CIA-funded anti-Soviet Russian war in Afghanistan in the late 70s, but had promoted its own favourites during the Soviet occupation of that country. By doing so, it had neglected former defence minister Ahmed Shah Masood, who never swallowed this and remained adament on “teaching Pakistan a lesson" until he was killed by suicide bombers on September 9 , 2001.
This has cast Pakistan dearly, and embittered Masood’s Northern Alliance, which continues to enjoy massive following in Kabul and the areas to the north. Viewed against the past record, it seems improbable that even big diplomatic and political interaction could help remove the old bitterness and misgivings that have accompanied the Pak-Afghan relations for more than four decades.