The Afghan and Pakistani presidents accepted an invitation recently from their Turkish counterpart to visit Ankara in an effort to smooth rocky relations between Kabul and Islamabad.
After a tete-a-tete and a public meeting that included their Turkish host, Presidents Hamid Karzai and Pervez Musharraf issued guidelines to improve Afghan-Pakistani relations in the so-called Ankara Declaration.
Turkish President Ahmet Nacdet Sezer's initiative to bring together Karzai and Musharraf followed months of feuding between Kabul and Islamabad. The Afghan side had accused Pakistan of doing too little to stop cross-border infiltrations by insurgents and terrorists, or even aiding antigovernment forces in Afghanistan. Pakistani officials had countered that Afghanistan's own shortcomings have provided a foothold and allowed militants to transform their momentum into a populist movement.
According to the Ankara Declaration, the Afghan and Pakistani leaders agreed to build on a joint press statement that was issued in September 2006, when Musharraf visited Kabul. They agreed that terrorism is a "common threat" and vowed to "deny sanctuary, training, and financing to terrorists and to elements involved in subversive and anti-state activities" in either country. They also pledged to "initiate...specific intelligence exchanges in this regard."
Musharraf and Karzai committed themselves to enhancing confidence-building measures by establishing a "Joint Working Group" with high-level participation from both countries and from Turkey.
In the Ankara Declaration, Karzai and Musharraf also "expressed concern at the alarming increase in poppy cultivation in Afghanistan and underlined the connection between terrorism, drug-trafficking, and organized crime in the region."
Between The Lines
Taken at its word, the Ankara Declaration addresses Kabul's most pressing charge -- that Pakistan is providing sanctuary and training facilities for what Afghan officials describe as "enemies of Afghanistan" or "enemies of peace and security."
Notably, the text avoids Islamabad's recent insistence that Kabul put a stop to finger pointing. But the reference to the September statement indirectly highlights Pakistan's concern. At the end of his visit to Kabul at the time, Musharraf appealed to his Afghan hosts to stop blaming Pakistan for all that was taking place in Afghanistan. He said such accusations affect the Pakistani and Afghan peoples' "brotherly relations."
In the face of an increasing international awareness that some opponents of the Karzai administration and its foreign backers are supported by elements within the Pakistani military-intelligence establishment, Islamabad appears to be seeking an end to the blame game as a primary strategy to quiet critics.
Pakistan's strategy is to suggest that the Taliban resurgence is not the main cause of Afghanistan's problems, but is a symptom of a lack of governance and sense of hopelessness. Musharraf angered Afghan authorities when -- less than a week after his trip to Kabul in September -- he told the European Parliament in Brussels that the "the real danger...lies in the emergence and further strengthening of the Taliban, because they have the seeds of converting and drawing the population to them and converting this into a national war by the Pashtuns against maybe all foreign forces."
In the Ankara Declaration, Pakistan was unable to include allusions to the weakness of the Afghan state as such. But it was able to link the rampant production of narcotics in Afghanistan -- a sign of a weakness on Afghanistan's part -- to terrorism.
Turkish efforts to encourage Musharraf and Karzai to resolve their differences come after more that a year of high-level mudslinging.
The mutual good will expressed in Kabul in September was short-lived. It ended promptly with Musharraf's speech in Brussels. Later, during the UN General Assembly in New York, both men pointed fingers at the other's country as the main focal point of terrorist activities. Karzai insisted that the hubs of terrorism were located outside Afghanistan's border, while Musharraf accused his counterpart of an unfamiliarity with the "environment" in which terrorism flourishes in Afghanistan.
By the end of September 2006, both presidents found themselves in Washington as guests of U.S. President George W. Bush. That meeting -- in many ways similar to the gathering in Ankara -- had all the hallmarks of peacemaking efforts involving Israeli and Palestinian leaders. In Washington, as in Ankara, while Karzai and Musharraf dined and talked, their body language reflected the ongoing war of words. It is significant that the leaders of two key states in the global counterterrorism effort neither shook hands nor spoke with each other in public.
In Ankara, Sezer lifted the Afghan and Pakistani presidents' arms in a gesture of victory. But what followed was more equivocal.
On his way home from Turkey, the Pakistani president described the Ankara Declaration as very positive. And he expressed hope that it would bring an end to the blame game.
The Afghan president's office issued a statement that borrowed directly from the Ankara Declaration but left out the section on narcotics -- Pakistan's main argument that Afghanistan should look beyond Pakistan to understand its troubles.
By viewing the Ankara Declaration through their respective prisms and leaving any discussion on the sensitive yet crucial issue of their disputed international border out of the document, both Musharraf and Karzai left the Turkish capital feeling that they had won.
But unless Karzai and Musharraf heed their own words in the Ankara Declaration as a starting point to a meaningful dialogue -- leading to genuine bilateral cooperation -- they risk allowing terrorists, drug dealers, and their allies to present themselves as the victors.