Fahad Ali looks at a tricky bilateral relationship
The Continual Pak-Afghan anxieties attack on the Pakistan embassy in Kabul is a dangerous twist in the fractured relationship between Pakistan and Afghanistan. It is more than obvious that Pakistan could not delink itself with Afghanistan as the pulls of geography make it impossible to let it happen. Moreover, the age-old historical links between the two countries along with the strong inter-cultural linkages ensure that both countries remain interlocked in some kind of relationship, whether cooperative or adversarial, depending on the nature of circumstances. Throughout their history after Pakistan gained nationhood has remained bitter but over the last four decades, Pakistan has played a central role in Afghan affairs, primarily after Pakistan became a more-than-willing partner in American-led war of terror in Afghanistan that lasted for good over two decades country enervating both the countries in the process. This situation has put pressure on Pakistani leadership to review the situation as Pakistan is also feeling the heat of the rising militancy in the border of Pakistan in which Afghan connection is supposed to be playing a significant role.
The attack on Pakistani embassy has badly complicated the bilateral situation though the Taliban regime in Kabul is trying to dissociate itself from this aggression and has stated that the attacker was a citizen of a foreign country and an IS-K member adding that some foreign malicious circles are behind the attack and the aim was to create distrust between the two brotherly countries. Though the nationality of the attacker has not been identified but it has been made clear that the attack was well planned with the attacker well armed and trained. In another incident the same day, unidentified militants detonated a car bomb and tried to storm the headquarters of Hezb-i-Islami, headed by Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, in Kabul in which the former Afghan prime minister was unhurt. It is not clear whether the two incidents were linked though the chances are that it may be because IS-K is a determined foe of the Afghan Taliban and may try to create difficult situation for the regime both internally and externally.
As stated earlier Pakistan is experiencing resurgence of the terrorism in the country and it is mentioned that the terrorist networks have the ideological linkages with the Afghan Taliban particularly with foreign militant groups like the TTP and IMU. It is widely known and recognised that the connection of Afghan regime with transnational terrorist outfits is evident and the regime is highly resistant to sever this relationship as it considers such groups as its ardent supporters during their struggle against foreign occupation of Afghanistan. Though the Taliban regime is trying to pay back the favours it received in the past and is decisively unwilling to go against them yet their support for such terrorist groups earmarked as a global danger by international agencies has cast huge doubts over their commitment to the international community to not allow any terrorist group to use Afghan soil for its activities. The pursuance of such defiant policy is against the public pronouncement of the UN that has stated that terrorist groups enjoy greater freedom in Afghanistan than at any time in recent history and that the TTP is certainly the most lethal of them with its close ties to Al Qaeda and IS-K.
The attack on Pakistani embassy in Kabul will certainly strain relations between Islamabad and Kabul that are already experiencing difficulties owing to the increasing number of incidents of cross-border attacks and the Afghan Taliban administration’s refusal to take action against the TTP has already affected relations between the two. The most worrying aspect is that the attack on Pakistani embassy took place within days of the visit to Kabul of Hina Rabbani Khar, Pakistan’s minister of state for foreign affairs that was rated to be the first official-level contact between the two countries in months. Besides other issues, the Taliban administration’s failure to act against the TTP operating from Afghan territory has also been taken up in meetings between the two sides. The visit of Ms Khar was the outcome of a recent consultative dialogue in Islamabad where many former generals, diplomats and other experts put their heads together to discuss the situation in wake of the situation arising out of the TTP’s declaration of ending ceasefire agreement with Pakistani authorities. In this huddle it was decided that a reorientation or reformulation of Pakistan’s Afghan policy was required and the first action taken was to send Ms Khar to Kabul.
The situation is quite complicated as all efforts to bring peace between Pakistan and the TTP have collapsed despite the Kabul Taliban regime facilitating them. Instead of arriving at a mutually acceptable formula, the TTP exhibited an intransigent attitude and insisted on acceptance of its conditions that virtually called for surrender of Pakistan’s control over the North West border areas before it ended its armed campaign against the Pakistani state. In the process what emerged was that the Kabul regime sought to use the TTP as leverage to put pressure on Pakistan for seeking other concessions from Pakistan particularly free border movement and unchecked transit trade that is considered a huge tool of smuggling causing considerable financial damage to Pakistani exchequer. Pakistani policy makers are also conscious that some factions of the TTP are part of the transnational militant group whose origins lie in the Middle East.
Though IS-K is a sworn enemy of the Kabul regime but it adamantly refuses to admit any linkage between it and the TTP despite the fact that many IS-K fighters have come from the ranks of the TTP. The Pakistani militant group formed the nucleus of the IS when it emerged on the scene in Afghanistan in 2015. The group has been operating mostly in eastern Afghanistan where the TTP has taken refuge. After having been driven out of North Waziristan, IMU fighters moved to northern Afghanistan expanding IS operations. The emergence of the IS-K presented a significant challenge to the Afghan Taliban then fighting the US-led forces. The problem for Pakistan is that it cannot afford to become the butt of internal rivalries of Afghanistan and has made this fact very clear. Pakistani policy makers are required to convey categorically that they no more see Afghanistan as part of Pakistan’s zone of influence and has no interest in carrying out any effort to influence Afghanistan in any way.
Pakistani policy makers should have learnt their lesson from the abject failure of the grandiose nation-building scheme pursued by the Western Alliance that badly failed after two decades of hectic efforts and should not emulate any part of such misplaced ambition. At best what Pakistani policy makers can do is to discreetly facilitate an intra-Afghan dialogue in conjunction with foreign powers but should not be seen to be acting overbearingly. Along with pursuing a disinterested policy towards Afghanistan Pakistan should emphatically make it clear to Kabul regime that it will not brook any anti-Pakistan terrorists or hostile foreign elements should finding refuge on Afghan soil. It should also make it obvious that it wants regional peace and would go to any extent to achieve this without compromising on its national interest. TW