Afghan policy on Pakistan is fraught with mistrust

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Muhammad Jamil

The US and Afghanistan continue to blame Pakistan for providing safe havens to the Afghan Taliban, especially the Haqqani group, sometimes directly and at others using vicious insinuations. They say the Taliban fighters armed and funded by Pakistan operate from Pakistani soil. It is a continuation of the policy of the former president, Hamid Karzai, whose hatred against Pakistan is deep-rooted; he uses every opportunity to spew venom against Pakistan. Nevertheless, Afghan security officials and the governor of Helmand have recently stated that investigations are in progress against ANSF officials who deliberately left their weapons and vehicles behind for the Tehreek-e-Taliban Afghanistan (TTA) in Badakhshan, Helmand province. One can infer from such reports that NDS and military personnel are involved in high-level corruption in Afghanistan. In fact, they are playing with the sensitivities of US authorities while extracting billions of dollars in the name of fight against the Afghan Taliban. An American journal recently stated: “The Taliban have been increasingly seizing large amounts of military weapons and equipment and using them against the Afghan National Defence and Security Forces (ANDSF).”
TOLOnews quoted officials from Afghanistan’s northeastern Badakhshan province that the provincial governor, Faisal Bigzad, told the Afghan news channel that ANDSF equipment captured by the Taliban includes light and heavy weapons as well as armoured vehicles. And it has become a growing problem for the security forces. He urged the country’s security forces to destroy any military equipment left behind when they carry out tactical retreats from the districts. Perhaps, he is not aware that it is a well thought out plan to strengthen the Taliban so that peace efforts do not succeed. Taliban militants sometimes capture them from Afghan police or soldiers, and they also buy them from corrupt members of the Afghan security forces.
For some time now, Pak-Afghan relations are in a reverse gear. The initial two years of the presidency of Ashraf Ghani had witnessed a qualitative change in the fractured bilateral relations between Afghanistan and Pakistan. He had taken bold decisions to undo Hamid Karzai’s pro-India policies, had turned down the Indian offer to supply weapons to Afghanistan, and declared his intention to send military cadets for training to Pakistan. Despite domestic opposition, he secured an intelligence-sharing MOU between Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) and Afghanistan’s National Directorate of Security (NDS). His narrative prioritised reconciliation with the Taliban over defeating or eliminating them. More importantly, he accepted Pakistan’s central role in this strategy. President Ghani had lavishly praised Pakistan for efforts in paving the ground for peace and reconciliation in Afghanistan. But it was not acceptable to the Northern Alliance and loyalists of the former president Karzai.
The fundamental changes President Ghani introduced in Afghan foreign policy alarmed India. Earlier in 2011, India and Afghanistan had signed a strategic partnership agreement, which called for training of Afghan military personnel by India. Pakistan then showed its displeasure and offered a training facility to Afghan military cadets. The then president Karzai had persistently declined the offer, and reportedly used intemperate words against the Pakistani military establishment. India was bewildered by the changes introduced in Karzai’s policies by President Ghani. As the frequency of suicide attacks increased, the Afghan government came under severe pressure to revert to blame game. The situation became so bad that both the countries unnecessarily clashed over Pakistan’s renewed efforts to improve border management by constructing a gate at the Torkham border crossing. President Ashraf Ghani, like his predecessor, has started blaming Pakistan for whatever happens inside Afghanistan.
The reality is that the Taliban control large swathes of land in Afghanistan. According to the Pajhwok Afghan News, the Taliban are collecting land rents from growers in some areas including the Batikot district of the eastern Nangarhar province. Yet Afghanistan blames Pakistan for providing safe havens to Taliban leaders and fighters, as was done throughout the Karzai era. The former president has caused immense damage to the cause of peace in Afghanistan because of his close relations with India. Earlier, he was almost a non-entity, but when American and NATO forces invaded Afghanistan and toppled the Taliban, they dug out Karzai from some obscure niche, and perched him on the Kabul throne. He was to be a puppet of the US spy agency, CIA, which the Bush administration had anointed its satrap to rule Afghanistan. Karzai kept lashing at Pakistan, at CIA’s bidding, for every wrong in Afghanistan.
The CIA, which picked on Pakistan military and the ISI for particular pillory and demonisation, had found in Karzai an obliging disciple to carry out this task obediently. When American military commanders and their allies found the going increasingly tough with every passing day, on the prodding of the CIA Karzai kept crying that Pakistan was fuelling insurgency in his country by providing sanctuaries on its soil to fleeing Taliban and their allied al-Qaeda fighters. Yet none in Islamabad bothered to expose this deceit. If Americans and their NATO allies — the best war machine in the world — failed to corral the fleeing Taliban and al-Qaeda rumps in Afghanistan and to decimate them, it was they who had to be in the dock, not Pakistan. But so apathetic and inept was the hierarchy in Islamabad that instead of being on the offensive, it went timidly on the defensive.
Instead, Pakistan government apologetically stooped, sheepishly stating that because of the inadequate border security management, it could not stop the lethal influx. On 6th September, Chief of Army Staff Raheel Sharif said: “We know very well how to abide by the bonds of friendship.” However, Pakistan’s sincere efforts for peace were being blocked by unnamed self-serving quarters that were not sincere with Afghanistan.
Of course, reconciliation between the Afghan government and the Taliban is fundamental for the survival of both Afghanistan as a united country and the National Unity government that is unable to handle the internal strife and growing failures to forestall Taliban’s offensive moves. Having said so, the hardening of the Afghan and Indian policy on Pakistan will not help ease the situation for President Ghani. And to improve its image Pakistan should not allow leaders of the banned organisations to hold rallies.