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Hope And Expectation: The Pakistani Media's Response To Karzai's Visit

Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif (right) greets Afghan President Hamid Karzai in Islamabad on August 26.
Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif (right) greets Afghan President Hamid Karzai in Islamabad on August 26.
While the concrete outcome of Afghan President Hamid Karzai's two-day visit to Pakistan has yet to be seen, hopes and expectations are higher than they have ever been.

One reason for this could be the fact that Karzai's 20th and perhaps last trip to Islamabad as president of Afghanistan has come at a time when international forces are getting ready to leave the country and a new government has replaced the old guard in the Pakistani capital.

Karzai and Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif met after a deadlock of more than a year between the two South Asian neighbors. During this period both sides also accused each other of making illegal border incursions.

Relations took a nosedive following Karzai's assertion that he had been left out of the Doha peace efforts by his American partners and Pakistani neighbors.

Although it did so in a mostly muted manner, Islamabad also continued to express its anger over Afghanistan's increasingly cordial relationship with Pakistan's archrival and eastern neighbor India.

However, the mood in Pakistan changed when Karzai and his delegation landed in the Pakistani capital on August 26.

The first sign of improved relations was seen during a joint news conference with the Afghan president when the Pakistani prime minister expressed his government's backing for an "Afghan-led and Afghan-owned" peace process in the landlocked country.

As Karzai was leaving Islamabad after holding one-on-one talks with his host, Sharif, in the tourist resort of Murree on the second day of his extended visit, the Pakistani media were booming with comments of both hope and despair.

"Trust deficit was the underlying theme of Afghan President Hamid Karzai's visit to Islamabad," said Pakistan's leading English daily newspaper, "Dawn," in its lead editorial on August 28.

Referring to the fact that Karzai has less than a year left in office as well as to the looming withdrawal of international forces in 2014, "Dawn" concluded that it is difficult to solve a puzzle in six months when it has been insoluble for more than a decade.

In its lead editorial, "Righting the region," on August 27, "The Express Tribune" newspaper said that "...Pakistan needs to be taken on board regarding growing Indian influence in Kabul. But perhaps, most important is the need for Islamabad to clearly show that it accepts that Afghanistan is a sovereign, independent country whose people have a right to determine their own destiny."

Another English language newspaper, "The Nation," took a slightly different tack in its editorial on August 28 by posing the question: "Can Karzai be trusted?"

In making reference to a number of allegations and counterallegations between Afghanistan and Pakistan and also referring to Sharif's strategy of dealing with the Pakistani Taliban, "The Nation" concluded that "the Prime Minister, while faced with the tremendous task of neutralizing the extremist faction, must protect the interests of Pakistan when dealing with the Afghan President, and also, ensure consistency between him and the rest of his cabinet. A united front is crucial to the present and the future of the country."

In its lead editorial on the same day, the Lahore-based "Daily Times" described the immediate outcome of the visit as "a mixed bag."

The newspaper also discussed the future of a stable and peaceful Afghanistan in a nuclear-armed Pakistan's backyard, adding that "while Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif promised every possible facilitation for this and the international community's efforts for peace, there are no details so far of how and when Islamabad may proceed on this score."

While writing about Karzai's visit and the expectations surrounding it, the Urdu-language "Jang" newspaper called the trip an important step in bringing relations between the two countries back on track. "You may change your friends or foes but you can't change your neighbors," the daily said.

In its main August 28 editorial titled "Pak-Afghan relations," another leading Urdu-language newspaper, the "Daily Express," said that ties between the two sides have never been stable despite being close neighbors and brotherly Muslim countries.

The paper added that Karzai's visit would help overcome misunderstandings between the two sides, which in itself is a good omen for developing a strong partnership in terms of regional peace and stability at a time when the 2014 date for the international withdrawal from Afghanistan is getting closer.

-- Daud Khattak