Dr. Hasan Askari
Pakistan and Afghanistan share culture and history but their relations are currently strained. These relations reflect distrust between Pakistan and Afghanistan and both have complaints against each other. Their relations experienced a new crisis when, on January 10 when suicide bombing and planted bombs in Kabul, Kandahar and Lashkargah (Helmand province) killed 57 people and injured some people.
In Kandahar, the bomb was said to be hidden in a sofa in an official building in the Governor’s security compound. The bomb killed 12 people in the building, including five officials of the United Arab Emirates who were on an official visit. The UAE ambassador to Afghanistan and the Governor of the Kandahar region were injured.
The Afghan Taliban took the responsibility for the explosions in Kabul and Lashkargah but they maintained that they were not involved in the Kandahar explosion. The Afghanistan government did not wait for any investigation of these explosions and blamed Pakistan and especially the ISI for these explosions. Afghan President Ashraf Ghani claimed that the Afghan Taliban have “safe-havens” in Pakistan and they come from there to engage in violence and killings in Afghanistan.
The Government of Pakistan condemned the attacks and rejected Afghanistan’s claim that Pakistan’s intelligence agencies were involved in the bombing or the Afghan Taliban have their bases in Pakistan for engaging in violence in Afghanistan.
Three days later, a large number of Afghan staged a strong protest outside the Pakistan Embassy in Kabul condemning and criticizing Pakistan for its support to Afghan Taliban. This protest had official Afghan blessings.
Pakistan’s Army Chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa telephoned Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, expressing his grief over the loss of human life. He also sought Afghanistan’s cooperation for countering terrorism in the region and for effectively regulating unauthorized movement of people. The Afghan President was not forthcoming for effective border control and repeated his complaint of the Afghan Taliban operating from Pakistan,
The worsening of the relations between Pakistan and Afghanistan led the Commander of the U.S. Central Command, General Joseph L. Votel, to visit Islamabad and meet with the Army Chief and other top commanders to defuse the situation. It may be mentioned here that currently there are about 9800 American troops based in Afghanistan that are under the overall control of the U.S. Central Command.
The Afghan government blames Pakistan for every major bombing or violent incident in order to cover up its inability to assert its authority over large parts of Afghanistan. The Afghan Talban control parts of Afghanistan and challenge the Kabul government from time to time to demonstrate their strength. The Afghan National Army and the Police, trained by the U.S. and the NATO, are not always successful in coping with the Taliban fighters. The real security challenge to the Kabul government is internal which is unable to cope with. There is another reason for criticism of Pakistan. The ruling elite in Afghanistan are divided. The notion of external enemy united them. Anti-Pakistan sentiments are integral to the Afghan nationalism as advocated by the Kabul government since 2001-2002.
If the role of the Taliban and other militants is to be contained, both Afghanistan and Pakistan will have to cooperate. As the unauthorized movement of militants in both ways on the Pakistan-Afghan border, the Afghan and Pakistan security forces will have to work together to strengthen security arrangements on it. Surely some Afghan Taliban move from Pakistan to Afghanistan and return. In the same way, Pakistani Taliban, including their top command is based in Afghanistan and these Pakistani Taliban cross over into Pakistan for engaging in violence against Pakistan’s security forces and their rival militant groups.
Afghanistan talks only about the Afghan Taliban and reuses to pay any attention to Pakistani compliant about the presence of Pakistani Taliban in Afghanistan.
The Afghan Taliban senior leaders may be identifiable but their activists cannot be identified because of their ethnic and linguistic overlap with the Afghan refugees based in Pakistan and the local Pakhtun population. Not all Afghan refugees are not in favor of the Kabul government. This gives space to Afghan Taliban activists to hide. The best strategy to deal with this problem will be an effective border control to restrict the movement of Afghan and Pakistani Taliban across the Pakistan-Afghan border.
Another problematic issue in the Afghan situation is the increased influence of India’s security and intelligence establishment in Afghanistan. The closer interaction between the two causes much concern in Pakistan’s official circles because they are convinced that India is using Afghanistan to provide funding to Pakistani Taliban and some Baloch separatist elements in order to build security pressure on Pakistan.
Instead of cultivating cooperation with Pakistan to jointly counter Afghan and Pakistani Taliban, the Afghan President is trying to bypass the government of Pakistan for tackling Afghan Taliban. He approached Maulana Samiul Haq to control the Talban and restoring peace in Afghanistan on January 19. This effort may not succeed because the political profile of the Afghan Taliban has improved because Russia and China are now cultivating them. This is being done to counter the Daeesh (Islamic State Organization) in Afghanistan. China and Russia are also encouraging them for a political settlement in Afghanistan which may not be to full satisfaction of the resent Kabul government.
Afghanistan cannot succeed in restoring peace within its territory all by itself. It needs to work with Pakistan and take into account the current Russian and Chinese interest in the region. Peace and stability in Afghanistan is beneficial to both Afghanistan and Pakistan and it will reduce the concerns of Russia, China and many other states about the spillover of Afghanistan based radicalism and terrorism.