ISLAMABAD— While congratulating Afghan authorities on successfully holding Saturday’s presidential and provincial council elections, officials and political observers in neighboring Pakistan hope the development will help improve their usually uneasy bilateral relations.
Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif says he hopes the Afghan elections will be “instrumental in creating unity and harmony among the war-torn people” of Afghanistan. An official statement released in Islamabad quotes him as promising to work in collaboration with the new leadership in Kabul for regional peace and stability.
Before Saturday’s polls, Pakistan and Afghan security forces closed all border crossings and deployed additional troops to beef up security on the mostly porous border between the two countries.
Sharif has said the election in “brotherly” Afghanistan would prove to be a historic moment for its people in their democratic journey. As he put it, making decisions through ballot boxes by the Afghan people reflects their determination and keen interest for adopting democratic culture.
Pakistan Senate Defense Committee Chairman Mushahid Hussain says the Pakistani government adhered to a policy of non-interference in the Afghan election process and that the principal Afghan presidential candidates avoided Pakistan-bashing during campaign rallies.
The opposition senator says he is hopeful the outcome of the democratic process in Afghanistan will prove to be “a major leap-forward” for bilateral relations. He says "this is a great opportunity for Pakistan."
"A new leadership would be in place very soon in Kabul, a new leadership which has popular legitimacy, which has the support of the international community and mind you that this leadership during the entire election campaign did not target Pakistan, in fact they had positive feelings about Pakistan," he said. "So, I think we should build upon this goodwill build upon this positive environment and ensure that peace in Afghanistan and stability in Afghanistan is inextricably intertwined with peace, security and stability in Pakistan.”
Hussain says the Afghan elections also have a “loud and clear message” for Pakistani leaders struggling to deal with domestic Taliban militants.
"With such a large turnout at 60 percent in a country which is strife-torn like Afghanistan, it shows that Afghanistan today is a changed and transformed place where the supremacy of the ballot over the bullet is evident," he said. "The people have spoken and they have reinforced their faith the future Afghanistan as a democratic pluralist country.”
Hussain said that under Sharif the Pakistani state, particularly its military, is no longer supporting Afghan groups for influence in Afghanistan. He says, “Pakistan has turned the corner. It is a new chapter and there is a new leadership in Pakistan of the armed forces, also a new political leadership as well."
"And the proof lies in the pudding as they say because in practical terms in the elections in Afghanistan, Pakistan had no role," he said. "Pakistan was not even accused of any interference, so that shows that Pakistan is sincere and keen that Afghanistan develop as a friendly sovereign neighbor of Pakistan. So, I feel that this is a good building block for a new relationship.”
Pakistan helped the Taliban take control of most of Afghanistan in late 1990s and elements within its military have allegedly helped the Islamist group in its insurgent attacks to this day, charges Pakistani officials deny.