LAHORE: In the wake of recent terrorist attacks on its soil, Afghanistan has hurled serious allegations on its neighbour and former ally in the war of terror, Pakistan. Afghanistan’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations (UN) Mahmoud Saikal, has alleged that the terrorist involved in the attack on Kabul’s Intercontinental Hotel last month was trained in Pakistan, while a senior Afghan diplomat has further accused the Pakistani military to have provided equipment used in the attack by Islamist fighters. Pakistan has denied the allegations, with Taliban already having claimed responsibility of the attack which left over 20 people killed.
The strong allegations, however, did prompt Pakistan to reveal that it has handed over 27 individuals reportedly affiliated with the Tehreek-e-Taliban Afghanistan (TTA) and Haqqani Network (HN), to Afghanistan last November.
The revelation has come after US President Donald Trump announced early this year suspension of $2 billion security assistance to Pakistan for failing to take “decisive action” against the Afghan Taliban and the Haqqani Network. Recently, the US claimed to have killed four suspected Haqqani militants in drone attacks in Pakistan’s Kurram Agency, which are said to continue until Washington is ‘satisfied’. Pakistan had protested by saying that the recent attack was targeted on an Afghan refugee camp.
Allegations and their subsequent denials by Pakistan continue amid fragile security situation in Afghanistan. Within a week during the last month, Taliban militants drove an explosives-packed ambulance through a security checkpoint, killing at least 100, while ISIL militants stormed the office of an international aid agency and killed two people. Militants also attacked a military academy in the capital Kabul, killing 11 soldiers.
Pakistan, while condemning all attacks and calling for a ‘credible’ probe, has remained at the centre of controversy.
In a meeting of the UN Security Council earlier last month, accusations were hurled at Pakistan by the US, Afghanistan and India for ‘giving sanctuary to terrorist organisations’. Pakistan’s Ambassador to the UN, Dr Maleeha Lodhi had urged Afghanistan and its partners to address ‘the challenges inside Afghanistan rather than shift the onus for ending the conflict onto others’.
The challenges inside Afghanistan are many.
Experts in Pakistan believe that a myriad of complex issues plaguing Afghanistan along with its government’s lack of political will to resolve issues has worsened the situation.
“There are many ethnic issues among the factors contributing to instability in Afghanistan,” explains Sartaj Aziz, the former adviser to prime minister on foreign affairs and former national security adviser. “Their economy is in a bad position, there is a superpower rivalry going on in the region. 40 per cent of the total area of the country is not under the government’s control. Pakistan has shown interest in dealing with them (Taliban) with a political will and brings them on the negotiation table, but there is indecision among the Afghans,” Aziz says.
However, the US, the key stakeholder in the region has made a decision.
Railing against a series of ‘atrocities’ in Afghanistan, Trump has said that his country would not engage in any future talks with the Taliban as the administration seeks to end a stalemate in America’s longest war – comprising nearly 17 years. Afghanistan responded by saying that the Taliban would have to be defeated on the battlefield.
It is not merely a difference of opinion that has led two neighbouring Muslim countries in a confrontational situation.
The escalation in exchange of words by Afghanistan has led Pakistan in a precarious situation, which experts believe is threatening regional peace.
“Pakistan believes that Afghanistan is, unfortunately, participating in a blame game and whenever a terrorist activity takes place in Afghanistan, the accusations are hurled at Pakistan,” says General (r) Talat Masood, a defence analyst. “Pakistan should be more transparent about its internal policies, at least to the people of Pakistan but the international community should also be satisfied,” Gen Masood further suggests.
Pakistan’s safekeeping measures also remain in conflict with Afghanistan.
A deadline expired at the end of last month for Afghan refugees without legal status to return, while border barrier construction across the Durand Line – the porous international border between Pakistan and Afghanistan – is underway to be completed by the end of this year. The move has been strongly objected by Afghanistan, who are of the view that fencing would result in ‘the limitation of the freedom of movement of Pashtun tribespeople’.
Pakistan, on the other hand, sees the construction as inevitable.
“Pakistan cannot be at the mercy of Afghanistan’s situation,” says Gen Masood. “Border management is necessary for Pakistan, including fencing, otherwise, there will be a big fallout of Afghan instability in the adjoining areas. Hostile elements can enter Pakistan. India can use Afghan soil to plan attacks,” he adds.
While a landlocked and insecure Afghanistan increasingly turns to the US and India – Pakistan’s arch enemy– in hope of gaining assistance, Pakistan seeks solace from its ‘trusted friend’ China. With the multi-billion dollar CPEC project underway in Pakistan aimed to strengthen the country’s infrastructure, China has also offered mediation between Afghanistan and Pakistan.
“CPEC can only be achieved fully with better relations with Afghanistan,” says Gen Talat. “China has no history of conflict and a clean record in Afghanistan,” he adds.
Sartaj Aziz agreed, saying China has held many meetings with the Afghan government. “Pakistan and China have a joint economic forum and Pakistan has encouraged that the new Peshawar -Kabul road should have a railway connection,” added Aziz.
CPEC maybe a game changer for Pakistan’s economy, but regional peace remains an issue. While Pakistan makes efforts to placate severed bonds and prove its dedication towards a war of terror, its counterparts remain sceptic and demand more. A tense exchange of words, accusatory remarks and conflicts in strategies would do little help to improve the situation. Renewed trust-building measures and a joint approach by all stakeholders is what can promise progress and a shift in the mindsets.
“Pakistan is interested in peace in the entire region and for that peace in Afghanistan is vital,” Sartaj Aziz sums up.