Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan cancelled his scheduled phone call to Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, indicating a further downturn in relations between Islamabad and Kabul.
There is no word in the media about the cancellation of the phone call, according to Pakistani sources. There are two reasons for this. First, Ghani’s remarks against Pakistan in an interview with Der Spiegel and his national security adviser, Hamdullah Mohib’s incendiary comments calling Pakistan a "brothel house” — just days after Pakistani army chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa’s visit to Kabul on May 10, have angered Pakistan.
Interestingly, just before the cancellation of the phone call, on Saturday June 5, Pakistan Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi harshly reacted to recent remarks by Afghan National Security Adviser Hamdullah Mohib. He said Afghan NSA’s utterance will harm the efforts to forge peace talks with the Taliban, though he added that such statements will not impact Kabul-Islamabad ties.
"Listen to me closely," he said, calling out the Afghan official. "Pakistan has played an important role in helping achieve stability in Afghanistan. Afghanistan's national security advisor should review his statement. He is creating obstacles in the road towards peace," a furious foreign minister said. He added: “Pakistan has paid a high price, we have transferred coffins on our shoulders. We are talking about peace, we are talking about stability, but the words that you are using–you are putting the blame on Pakistan, I, as the Foreign Minister of Pakistan, am telling you that if you do not stop such remarks, no conscientious Pakistani will shake hands with you or talk with you.”
Qureshi said that Pakistani officials from the prime minister to the army chief to the foreign minister had visited Kabul for peace. Yet, the NSA had still likened Pakistan to a "brothel” house. You should be ashamed and you should be guilty of your words and my blood is boiling ever since your speech in Nangarhar.”
On May 13, the Afghan NSA, Mohib during a trip to the eastern province of Kandahar criticised Pakistan, saying that Islamabad–by supporting a power-mongering group–is expanding its territory in Afghanistan.
“If Pakistan wants to improve its relations with Afghanistan, the neighbouring country should cut ties with terrorists in Pakistan. Instead of focusing on terrorist groups, it should focus on good relations with the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan," Mohib said in his speech.
Quereshi reminded the Afghan government that Pakistan had suffered a "huge cost" in terms of lives lost and financial consequences from terrorism, adding that Pakistan was only concerned with peace and stability in the region.
Yet, it is evident that the Afghan government deeply distrusts Pakistan. Unsurprisingly, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and other Afghan leaders have on various occasions asserted that it’s time that Pakistan chose its path when it comes to its relations with Afghanistan. On May 14, Ghani in his interview with the German Magazine, Der Spiegel, stressed that the question of peace or hostility is now in Pakistani hands. “Pakistan operates an organized system of support. The Taliban receive logistics there, their finances are there and recruitment is there. The names of the various decision-making bodies of the Taliban are Quetta Shura, Miramshah Shura and Peshawar Shura – named after the Pakistani cities where they are located. There is a deep relationship with the state.”
A top Pakistani official has been in Doha to persuade the Taliban to show flexibility and resume the intra-Afghan dialogue and reduce violence. But the Taliban don’t seem to be in a mood to listen at a time when Pakistan’s leverage has been diminishing. The US special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad is in Kabul and expected to visit Pakistan for another round of shuttle diplomacy in a last-ditch effort to achieve these goals.