ISLAMABAD — Relations between neighbors Afghanistan and Pakistan have taken another downturn with each side blaming the other of hindering the already fragile peace process in Afghanistan. The tensions come at a critical time, as foreign forces prepare to leave Afghanistan in less than two years.
Afghan Foreign Ministry spokesman Janan Mosazai on Saturday accused Pakistan of having set a number of unacceptable pre-conditions to the peace and reconciliation process with the Taliban.
"They have asked us to sever our ties with the Republic of India, they have asked us to send our army officers to Pakistan for training, and they have asked us to immediately sign the strategic partnership agreement that Pakistan proposed to Afghanistan," he said.
Pakistan's Foreign Ministry spokesman rejected the accusation that Islamabad had laid down any conditions. In a statement, spokesman Aizaz Ahmad Choudhry said the Strategic Agreement had come from Afghan President Hamid Karzai.
He also said Pakistan's offer to train Afghan army officers had been nothing more than a gesture of goodwill, and finally that Pakistan had no objection to Kabul developing relations with any country, but only stressed that "external forces" based in Afghanistan to destabilize Pakistan should be discouraged.
India, which Pakistan sees as a regional adversary, is one of the largest international donors in Afghanistan. Islamabad also believes both Taliban militants and intelligence agents from India use Afghanistan as a base to enter its territory.
Former U.S. ambassador Karl Inderfurth with the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies says it is crucial for regional stability that the two countries to cooperate.
"The question is whether or not Pakistan and India are able to find some way to accommodate their respective interests in Afghanistan," he said. "They have deep suspicion of each others' actions and motives in that country. I think what is clearly needed is for the two countries to find some way to discuss and try to reconcile those differences and address those suspicions, otherwise Afghanistan will continue to be a country that is insecure and not at peace."
Earlier in the week, Afghanistan had accused Pakistan of a lack of interest in the peace process - apparently a reaction to reports that Pakistan Foreign Ministry officials had described Afghan President Hamid Karzai as an obstacle to the reconciliation process.
Islamabad's involvement in that process is seen as crucial because of its close ties with Afghan insurgents whom the U.S. has said take refuge along Pakistan's long and porous border with Afghanistan.
Pakistan retired general Talat Masood says the war of words is unhelpful.
"There is a need for cooperation at this time rather than confrontation and making allegations against each other, which will make things much easier for the militants and especially for the Taliban to expand their influence and create a space for themselves," he said.
The high level tensions come as Karzai left on a state visit to Doha, the capital of Qatar. While there, Karzai is expected to discuss the opening of an office for the Taliban where peace talks with the militants could be held.
Afghan Foreign Ministry spokesman Mosazai says Kabul has called on the Taliban to join the peace process, and engage with Afghanistan's High Peace Council to end the conflict in the country before all foreign troops leave.