Facilitating terrorism in Kabul

For the second time in nine months Afghanistan President Ashraf Ghani has lashed out at Pakistan in the aftermath of a Taliban orchestrated terror attack in Kabul. On August 7 last year, deadly bombings targeted an army complex, police academy and an American special forces’ base in Kabul, killing at least 51. On April 20, at least 64 were killed as Taliban militants targeted a security team protecting government VIPs in the Afghan capital – the deadliest terror attack in Kabul in at least five years.

While both Pakistan and Afghanistan have been targeted in the interim, by militants based in each other’s territorial jurisdiction, understandably it’s the attacks on the capital that have got President Ghani the most worked up.

Addressing the Afghan Parliament, President Ghani said that he “will no longer seek Pakistan’s help in peace talks,” since he does not expect Pakistan to bring the Taliban to the negotiating table. He went on an outburst against Pakistan for still differentiating between ‘good and bad terrorists’.

Even though Ghani’s critique of Pakistani security machinery holds water, but its timing and verbiage smacks of desperation and a clear intent to deflect criticism.

In March the Taliban gained control over the fifth of the 14 districts in Helmand. On April 12 – eight days before the Kabul attack – they had announced their annual spring offensive, to consolidate last year’s gains headlined by the capture of Kunduz.

In the last year alone more Afghan security officials were killed than NATO lost in over a decade. The Taliban control more territory in Afghanistan than they have controlled at any time since the fall of their government in 2001.

Not all of this can be blamed on Pakistan’s duplicitous security policy.

Furthermore, the negotiations’ failure despite Kabul’s rendezvous with the Taliban leadership in Murree last summer can’t be fixed on Islamabad either. In addition to the failure of the negotiating parties to gain any common ground, it was the announcement of Mullah Omar’s death that eventually ensured the collapse of the talks. No coincidence that the Taliban’s latest spring offensive is named ‘Operation Omari’.

The Taliban’s gains since last year are the result of a wide array of reasons including the ineffectiveness of Afghanistan’s own security policy, the ineptitude of its security machinery – which includes personnel abandoning the national forces – and most of all, the political support that the Taliban still garner in the country.

It is this political support that necessitates negotiations with a jihadist group with South Asian blood on its hands on either side of the Durand Line.

The failure of the negotiations has been primarily owing to the incompatibility of the Taliban’s demands and the state that Kabul and the Quadrilateral Coordination Group – featuring US, China and Pakistan – want Afghanistan to become.

How does, for instance, a modern democratic state base its Constitution on Sharia laws?

How can a power sharing dynamic be reached between Kabul and the Taliban, in which the latter are allowed an autonomous region – a state within a state?

How does Afghanistan agree to complete withdrawal of foreign troops, while its own forces suffer heavy losses and are struggling to defend the capital?

Most of all, how do the Taliban fit in as a political entity in a democratic state, having long deemed democracy ‘un-Islamic’?

Even so, while the Taliban’s political power and Kabul’s security failures might be overlapping to cause destruction in Afghanistan, this is not to suggest that Pakistan isn’t to blame at all for the mess in its immediate western neighbourhood.

Pakistan’s historical policy of treating Afghanistan as its backyard to cultivate strategic depth vis-à-vis India, even before the US-Soviet showdown there, is well known. While Zia’s mercenary mujahideen fought ‘infidel communists’ for money in the 80s, it was General Pervez Musharraf who remoulded the Afghan Taliban, by giving them safe sanctuaries in the northwest of Pakistan in the 2000s. They then blended into, and in turn bolstered, the Pakistani Taliban.

The Haqqani Network is still safely camped inside Pakistani territory adjacent to Afghanistan’s Khost province, over a year after it was formally banned by Islamabad. And the modus operandi of last week’s Kabul attack had the group’s indelible signature.

While Pakistan’s duplicity on east-bound jihadists is more evident, the double game on the west-bound militants is still unclear.

Is the failure of Islamabad – and Rawalpindi – to take action against the affiliates of Afghan Taliban a case of priorities, considering that Pakistan has its hands full in its fight against militancy? Or is it a continuation of the decades-long policy of using these jihadist factions to exercise control over Afghanistan?

Maybe there’s a hint in Islamabad’s handling of the Kabul-Taliban negotiation process.

If the Afghan Taliban affiliates were just a militant group not on Islamabad’s priority list right now, how exactly is Pakistan facilitating the talks?

If Pakistan does not exercise any control over the Afghan Taliban, why did it ‘volunteer’ to bring them to the negotiation table?

Whether it’s the military dictators’ use of the Taliban as strategic assets, or the Benazir led civilian government facilitating the Taliban in the 90s, the basic premise is the establishment of an Islamist government in Kabul to parry away Indian interests in Afghanistan.

Pakistan’s Afghan policy, much like its dealing of the Pashtun areas within its own borders, is founded upon ethnocentric bigotry against the Pashtun people, deeming them perpetually vulnerable to jihadism. This, in turn, has led to Islamabad constantly vending Pan-Islamism in Kabul.

Considering the DG ISPR Lt General Asim Bajwa’s long tirade against terror facilitators in the aftermath of the Bacha Khan University attack in January, one must ask why Pakistan is still – deliberately or inadvertently – facilitating terrorism in Kabul, just because it fears New Delhi’s influence in Afghanistan?

Having said that, terror facilitation in Afghanistan can’t be solely pinned on Pakistan’s paranoia with regards to India.

The US-led NATO forces have also facilitated it after failing to leave behind a security mechanism strong enough to counter the then depleted Taliban forces, after having opportunistically pulled strings of ideologically divergent proxies for decades.

But most of all, it’s Afghanistan that needs to accept its failures in the fight against the Taliban, on the ideological, political and security fronts.

Kabul needs to understand that while political accommodation of the Taliban might be necessitated by the support they enjoy right now, in the long run the Taliban ideology and a modern nation-state are precariously incompatible. Similarly, Pakistan should comprehend that Pan-Islamist diplomacy and progressive state building are simply irreconcilable.

Kunwar Khuldune Shahid is a former member of staffHe can be reached at khuldune.shahid@nation.com.pk. Follow him on Twitter

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