September Issue 2015
With a series of terrorist attack in the Afghan capital, Kabul, resulting in the death of more than a hundred people, the signals emanating from Afghanistan regarding relations with Pakistan are not heartening. The affability towards Pakistan demonstrated by President Ghani after he took charge of the National Unity government in Afghanistan has, it appears, entirely dissipated.
In a strongly-worded statement after the deadly attacks in Kabul President Ghani said, “Pakistan still remains a venue and ground for gatherings from which mercenaries send us messages of war.” And talking to the outgoing Swedish Ambassador to Afghanistan, Peter Semneby, Ghani reiterated that Pakistan should have an understanding of the situation in Afghanistan and use the same definition of terrorism with regard to Afghanistan as it does domestically — a statement that was quickly reported in the media.
Franz-Michael Mellibin, Special Envoy of the European Union for Afghanistan, termed President Ghani’s response to the attacks on home soil as a bid to fend off pressure from within, because his overtures to Pakistan have been harshly criticised by his adversaries against the backdrop of the Taliban-sponsored violence in his country.
Political analysts believe that the attacks by the Taliban started to escalate after the news of a split within their ranks was reported. The new Taliban chief, Mullah Akhtar Mansoor, who was earlier known for his relatively conciliatory approach and support of peace talks with the Afghan government, now apparently has to prove that the Taliban’s ability to plan and perpetrate attacks has not been affected by recent developments.
The news of Mullah Omar’s death and subsequent debate over his successor have created an impression of weakness. So Akhtar Mansoor, who was already looking after the Taliban’s political affairs since their supreme leader’s death, has to dispel such impressions, demonstrate his strength, and try to lure back into the Taliban fold those hardliners who are against the peace talks.
The United States government for its part, conveyed to Pakistan in no uncertain terms that the disbursement of the next tranche of the Coalition Support Fund (CSF) has been halted because it could not certify to the Congress that Pakistan’s counter-terrorism offensive has effectively damaged the Haqqani network, suspected of the deadly attacks in Kabul.
This stand by the United States has been damaging for Pakistan for many reasons, both political and financial. Such charges lend credence to the allegations by the Afghan government, making for murky prospects for future peace between the two countries. Furthermore, the withholding of sorely needed funds, especially in light of the country’s current account deficit, will inevitably sour US-Pakistan relations. And this when the Pakistani Prime Minister has a US visit scheduled for October.
Pakistan has responded to the charges levelled by the Afghan government with a strong statement condemning the recent attack. It said that the attack targeting civilians reflected the cowardice of the terrorists. “It strengthens our resolve to continue our struggle of countering terrorism in all of its forms. We reiterate our resolve to closely coordinate with the Government of Afghanistan in this fight against our common enemy.”
Meanwhile, Pakistan’s intelligence agencies have informed the government that the two suicide bombers responsible for the deadly terrorist attack on the Punjab home minister, Shuja Khanzada, which resulted in his death and that of a police officer and 18 others, came from Afghanistan and the attack was planned by an LeJ commander, Nadeem Inqilabi, who has taken sanctuary in the border region of Afghanistan.
As the stand-off between the two countries became more pronounced, the Afghan Ambassador to Islamabad, Janan Mosazai, came forward to state, “Given the nature of the reality we are facing, the role of our neighbours, primarily the role of our brothers and sisters here in the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, continues to be essential for our ultimate common success in this regard.”
He added, “There is a consensus between the two countries that if there is no peace in Afghanistan, there will neither be peace in Pakistan nor in much of the rest of the region.”
Certainly, there seems little chance of any warm fraternal sentiment in the near future as the tension between the two countries was further heightened recently on account of a cross-border exchange of fire between the forces deployed on the border and reports of deaths, and the usual summoning of envoys to the foreign offices on both sides of the Durand Line. After that, rockets were fired at a Pak army outpost, allegedly from Afghan territory, which resulted in the death of three Pakistani soldiers.
Given this situation, peace clearly seems a long way off, if ever. And to make matters worse, the distrust on both sides invariably spills over into trade ties between the nations. The transit trade under the Afghanistan-Pakistan Transit Trade Agreement has significantly declined in the last few years, as Iran has increasingly emerged as an alternative transit route and market for Afghan traders. And a planned meeting of the Afghanistan-Pakistan Joint Economic Commission (JEC) has been postponed at Kabul’s request. For Pakistan, with lukewarm ties with India on one side and colder ones with Afghanistan on the other, there can be no arguing with the fact that this is an increasingly rough neighbourhood.
This article was originally published in Newsline’s September 2015 issue.
Ali Arqam main domain is Karachi: Its politics, security and law and order