What do we want in Afghanistan? — I

Our generosity towards some militant leaders may have strategic causes. That is, we need them as our insurance policy in a rapidly changing scenario along the western border  

What do we want in Afghanistan? — I

Pakistan’s relationship with Afghanistan has yet again plunged to a nadir following the recent wake of terrorist attacks in Kabul and other Afghan cities.

After Kabul had been hit by a horrific attack killing at least 150 people on May 31, the Afghan leadership held Pakistan responsible for the incident. The Haqqani Network and the Taliban denied responsibility, while some websites carried unverified claims linking the attack to the Islamic State (IS). The official IS publication, Amaq, however, did not carry any statement in this regard.

On June 1, a car bomb went off outside the airport at the eastern Afghan city of Jalalabad, killing one and injuring five others. No group claimed responsibility for the attack. On June 2, more than 1,000 people demonstrated in Kabul’s downtown demanding better security arrangements for the capital. The protest turned violent when the police started firing at demonstrators, resulting in several casualties. The next day a series of blasts at the funeral of one of the deceased left at least 19 people dead. Yet again, no group claimed responsibility but, the very next day, the Afghan Intelligence released a video showing a man held in a crackdown following the blasts confessing to his role and claiming that he had received training in Pakistan.

On June 4, six policemen were killed when two fellow officers opened fire on them in southern Kandahar province. Among those wounded was the Kandahar city district police chief. Qari Yusouf Ahmadi, a Taliban spokesperson, claimed responsibility for the attack.

On June 6, seven people died as a bomb went off outside a historic mosque in Herat — one of the largest cities strategically located along the Afghan-Iran border. Taliban were quick to deny their role. On June 10, three US soldiers were killed in a Green-on-Blue attack on a joint US-Afghan military operation in Nangarhar province. The attack was termed as ‘an insider job’ by US officials. Meanwhile, it was claimed by the Taliban spokesperson Zabihullah Mujahid.On June 15, four people were killed in an explosion inside a Shia mosque in west Kabul’s Dasht-e-Barchi area. Islamic state readily claimed responsibility, after the Taliban yet again denied a role.

The problem with the argument that Afghanistan should look inwards for its troubles is that it can very well be used against Pakistan’s claim that Afghan and Indian intelligence agencies sponsor terrorist attacks from inside its territory

Amidst all this, Afghan president Ashraf Ghani also hosted the Kabul Process meeting on June 6. In an aggressive speech at the congregation, Mr Ghani lamented that his country was suffering “an undeclared war of aggression from Pakistan”. His remarks had followed a statement by the Interior Ministry of Afghanistan holding Pakistan responsible for orchestrating the deadly truck bombing in Kabul.

Instead of relying on the usual denials issued through the Inter-services Public Relations (ISPR), this time Pakistan’s Chief of Army Staff convened a special Corps Commanders Conference that called upon Afghanistan to ‘introspect and not accuse Pakistan of sponsoring terrorism’. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif also chaired a special meeting of the National Security Committee of the Cabinet that “strongly rejected baseless allegations on Pakistan”.

Afterwards, defence analysts and commentators kept reminding Afghanistan of its failings with references to the weak capacity of Afghan police forces as well as to recent reports that more than 40 percent of Afghan territory remained under the operational control of Taliban or other militant outfits including the Islamic State in Khurasan Province (ISKP). They cautioned the Afghan government that terrorist attacks may well have been launched from militant’s strongholds inside the country.

The problem with this argument is that it could very well be used against Pakistan’s claims that Afghanistan and India sponsor terrorist attacks inside its territory. And no amount of our innocent bewilderment at Afghanistan’s allegations can justify our continued insistence on not tackling the Afghan Taliban on our soil.

In an unusually candid admission on March 1, 2016,Adviser to the Pakistani PM on Foreign Affairs, Sartaj Aziz, had said that Islamabad held considerable influence over the Taliban since several of the group’s leaders lived in the country. His exact quote, while speaking at Washington’s Council on Foreign Relations, was, “Their families are here, we can use those levers to pressurise them to say ‘come to the table’. But we can’t negotiate on behalf of the Afghan government because we cannot offer them what the Afghan government can offer them.”

There has yet been no official denial of Aziz’s statement. Though, in recent informal discussions, this scribe has been caustically told that the security institutions have no knowledge of any Taliban presence in Pakistan and that the question should be posed to Mr. Aziz.

No matter how well we try and twist the narrative, one cannot help but suspect that some unwanted people may indeed be hosted on our land by the authorities. We may in fact be able to find a lot of evidence about this scattered across the country. Those possibly hosted in ‘sensitive’ areas might be cringing everytime a statement comes from Foreign Office or Ministry of Defence to the effect that across the board action is being taken against all militants. The question remains: why the hesitation in naming Taliban and Haqqani network?

Our generosity towards‘some leaders’ might have strategic causes. That is, we need them as our insurance policy in a rapidly changing scenario along the western border. Who knows when the post-drawdown US forces are further scaled down yet another Taliban insurgency gets to power — a la 1996!

In such a scenario, we would not afford a hostile Taliban government having a considerable influence in our areas along the border and in the KP. That too, when Afghan and Indian agencies, we think, have penetrated quite deeply in some of these areas. Remember the Sehwan Sharif attack that took place well inside the Sindh province?

But this thesis hinges on some extremely unlikely assumptions — that the Americans would leave soon with Afghan security infrastructure in shambles and Taliban lionised enough to capture power without difficulty. As this unfolds, the world would look away letting Taliban comfortably reestablish their rule. Surely, Pakistan’s Rommels and Guderians would not be that clueless of the time and space.

So what exactly is our objective in Afghanistan? I will explain it in these pages next week.



The writer is a staff member and can be emailed at marvisirmed@gmail.com, accessed on Twitter @marvisirmed



Published in Daily Times, June 20th, 2017.