Newspaper Article 22/08/2015
Taliban insurgents have killed scores of people in suicide and other bombings in Afghanistan during the past few days. The violence has picked up since the disclosure of the death of Mullah Omar, and is likely to continue till amicable resolution of leadership related irritants, which is indeed a tall order. Spike in deadly attacks across Afghanistan underscores the capacity and capability of insurgent elements, hence the need for peace talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban. A recent UN report indicates that civilian casualties in Afghanistan since January 2015 have reached record levels.
On August 07, the insurgents launched a flurry of attacks in Kabul; a truck bomb in residential blocks; a suicide bombing at the national police academy; and a ground assault on a coalition base. At least 40 people were killed, including 30 police and security contractors, besides an American soldier; and 248 others were injured. Then on August 10, a suicide bomber drove a vehicle packed with explosives to Kabul’s international airport, detonating it just outside a police checkpoint, killing five and wounding 16. Taliban spokesman, Zabiullah Mujahid, claimed responsibility for the bombing. He said the bomber had “targeted occupying foreigner forces” and that all of those killed were foreigners.
Reacting to the spike of violence, in an abrupt shift from his fence-mending outreach with Pakistan, a visibly angry Afghan President Ashraf Ghani lashed out at Pakistani leaders. He said on August 10, that the Afghan people are in urgent need of long-lasting peace in their country and closure of terrorist sanctuaries in neighbouring Pakistan. “The doors of government are open for peace, peace with those who are Afghans and believe in humanity and renounce terrorism,” “Pakistan is in a status of undeclared war with Afghanistan over the past 14 years,” Ghani said. “The training centre of suicide attackers are in Pakistan, the undeclared war should come to end and this is the basic demand of Afghanistan.” Taking the cues, CEO Dr Abdullah Abdullah has also started firing anti-Pakistan salvos; much of the difficulties in Pak-Afghan relationship owe their initiation to Dr Abdullah’s erratic foreign policy initiatives during the Karzai era.
Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif during his visit to Afghanistan months ago had categorically stated that “the enemy of Afghanistan is the enemy of Pakistan, “Ghani told the press conference, adding that it is the time to act upon word…We hoped for peace but we are receiving messages of war from Pakistan…In my telephone call with Pakistan prime minister (on August 09), I told Pakistan to see terrorism in Afghanistan the same way it sees terrorism in Pakistan,” he said. President said, “We know exactly who wants to hinder peace in Afghanistan and why”….”Pakistan still remains as venue and ground for gatherings from which mercenaries send us message of war”.
Since coming to power Ghani has courted Pakistan, expending substantial domestic political capital in the process, his comments on August 10 are the strongest yet against Pakistan. “Since I took office, Afghans have been waiting for Pakistan to show their tangible commitment” to peace, Ghani said. “But attacks in the past two months and now in Kabul have shown us that it is still the same as the past.”
Response by Pakistan’s foreign office was measured: “Having been the biggest victim of terrorism itself with human losses exceeding 60,000, the people and the government of Pakistan can feel the pain an “In the past 10 months we have showed a strong will on peace and discussed with Pakistan that both sides should fight terror,” “The reality is that Pakistan is busy holding gatherings to discuss its undeclared war in Afghanistan.” anguish of the people and the government of Afghanistan over the recent wave of terrorist attacks, which have resulted in the loss of many valuable lives and injuries to scores of people.”
Pakistan’s National Security Adviser, Sartaj Aziz, dismissed Ashraf Ghani’s charges, saying there are “all kinds of (militant) factions” operating in Afghanistan, making it difficult to ascertain who is behind the bloodshed. “We very much condemn all the terrorist attacks in Kabul and other parts of Afghanistan and we have constantly worked with the Afghan government to try to restrict movements across the borders so that no terrorist goes from here to commit any act there,” Aziz said. Pakistan can persuade the Taliban to re-engage in talks with the Afghan government only after the group resolves its leadership problem. Pakistan has been urging the Taliban to talk rather than fight because ultimately fighting is not a solution, “Aziz added.
Taliban have ceded phenomenal space and have come to negotiating table. Ashraf Ghani should reciprocate and start sharing political power with then, a fairly elaborate framework in this regard was agreed upon during Karzai era. Political incentives would broaden the constituency of moderate factions of Taliban, and they will be able to attract extremist splinters to join the dialogue process. President Ashraf Ghani should do a background homework and hint about his political intent at the earliest. Moreover, as long as Afghan leadership continues to mix-up militancy based political struggle—insurgency— with terrorism, no durable head-way is likely to come-by.
“US Secretary of State John Kerry spoke to Ghani about the tensions. “They talked about this, this issue of the safe havens and of the need for both countries [Afghanistan and Pakistan] to continue to work at this to try to eliminate those safe havens,” State Department spokesman John Kirby said in Washington. “Nobody said it was going to be easy.” Conflict between America backed government and the Taliban has intensified this year, with civilians and Afghan security forces taking the brunt after the NATO combat mission ended in 2014.
The silver-lining is that after the outburst by the Afghan President, a delegation led by Afghan foreign minister has visited Pakistan to discuss the contentious issues, especially the ‘non-paper’ earlier communicated by the Afghan side, demanding of Pakistan to take action against Afghan Taliban on its soil. During Afghan foreign minister’s visit, Afghan side conveyed its concerns over the spate of recent attacks in Kabul and sought cooperation. Pakistan pledged full cooperation against terrorism and emphasised that the two countries should have trust in each other and “discourage spoilers and detractors”. Premier Nawaz assured the Afghan delegation of all-out support but also suggested that implicating Pakistan’s security institutions in the attacks was regrettable. PM’s adviser informed the delegation that the Pakistani government had serious concerns about Afghan soil being used against Pakistan. “But we believe in using appropriate channels to convey our concerns instead of going public with allegations,” Aziz said.
President Ashraf Ghani’s frustration is understandable, but his approach to resolve the issues is unfortunately getting more and more erratic. More than a decade long Pakistan bashing neither helped Americans nor Ashraf’s predecessor; it is not likely to help him either. Americans have corrected their course, and it would serve Ashraf well, if he follows the suite. Afghan conflict needs a professional handling. President Ashraf Ghani should have done his calculations before signing the Bilateral Security Agreement with America that a very powerful component of Taliban is not likely to compromise on presence of foreign troops on American soil. Despite stern tone in his comments on Pakistan, Ghani failed to come up with something concrete to achieve the desires objectives.
Afghan leadership should comprehend that it is an exercise in futility to assume that Pakistan has compelling influence on Taliban. Bad experience of cobbling together a broad based Mujahedeen government in the wake of Soviet withdrawal from Kabul in the 1990s is not a distant memory; and ever since, Afghan insurgent leadership’s psyche has not changed much.
[A variant of this article was carried by The Nation on August 17, 2015].
Disclaimer: Views expressed are of the writer and are not necessarily reflective of IPRI policy