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Why Pakistan Is A Roadblock In Afghanistan's Quest For Peace

20/05/2016 8:31 AM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:26 AM IST
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The national unity government of Afghanistan, created in September 2014 through a US-brokered deal, is flailing on all fronts, beset by a deteriorating security situation, political infighting, lack of coordination between security agencies, and rising unemployment and insecurity. A few weeks ago, a massive truck-bomb explosion in central Kabul claimed 68 lives and left 347 injured, marking the start of Operation Omari, the Taliban's spring offensive announced on 12 April, 2016.

Notwithstanding the unprecedented civilian casualties, the Taliban were swift to claim responsibility for the attack, warning that their prime targets, besides "foreign invaders", include Kabul's security apparatus, "especially its notoriously brutal intelligence agency".

Rahmatullah Nabil, the Chief of Intelligence, resigned in protest against President Ghani's peace overtures to Pakistan.

President Ashraf Ghani, who had earlier extended an olive branch to the Taliban and other armed opposition groups, vowed to "avenge every drop of blood". Meanwhile, Chief Executive Dr. Abdullah Abdullah cancelled his official visit to Pakistan after preliminary investigations suggested the involvement of groups based in the neighboring country. His spokesman even spoke about a shift in the government strategy from peace to war. Former intelligence chief Rahmatullah Nabil and President Ghani's close aide Ahmad Zia Massoud called for immediate execution of Taliban insurgents, including Anas Haqqani, brother of Haqqani Network chief Sirajuddin Haqqani, currently in Afghan government custody.

Afghan authorities have not directly accused Pakistan of involvement in the Kabul attack but many senior government and security officials have blamed the hostile neighbour for providing sanctuary to terror groups -- most notably the notorious Haqqani Network -- attacking Afghanistan. Kabul intelligence chief Omar Aziz, addressing a press conference, said the attack was orchestrated "outside the country", stopping short of mentioning Pakistan.

According to the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan, there were more than 11,000 civilian casualties in 2015, the highest of the past decade. The first three months of 2016 caused around 2,000 civilian casualties. The alarmingly deteriorating security situation across the country has raised questions on whether the government is really in control of things. The Taliban, which was considered a spent force not too long ago, is consolidating its presence in the south and east and carving a foothold in the north. Islamic State (IS), also known by their Arabic acronym 'Daesh', are upping the ante in eastern provinces like Nangarhar and Kunar. The fight for the control of northern Kunduz province, which briefly fell to the Taliban last year, continues with Taliban insurgents knocking on the city gates.

Pakistan categorically dismissed the demand for military action against Taliban leaders based in the country and emphasized the need to continue peace talks.

Even 18 months since the formation of the government, which some have called a "marriage of inconvenience", there is still no Defense Minister. Rahmatullah Nabil, the Chief of Intelligence, resigned in protest against President Ghani's peace overtures to Pakistan. According to his close aides, Nabil was not in favour of the intelligence-sharing pact between Kabul and Islamabad.

The reluctance of two former political rivals to keep their political differences and ethnic affiliations aside, according to observers, has resulted in poor governance and emboldened armed insurgents to negotiate from a position of strength. President Ghani, who has been a strong advocate of the government's peace strategy and has been hopelessly trying to appease Islamabad, has come under fire in recent months. After the Kabul attack, addressing a joint session of Afghan Parliament, the former banker said Kabul no longer expects Islamabad to bring the Afghan Taliban to peace talks and urged the leadership in Pakistan to launch a military operation "against those whose leaders are based in Pakistan and are known by Pakistan to be there", referring to Haqqani Network.

Pakistan categorically dismissed the demand for military action against Taliban leaders based in the country and emphasized the need to continue peace talks. Pakistan's national security advisor Sartaj Aziz said that military action at this stage would be "premature". Incongruously, a few days after the Kabul attack, a Taliban delegation from its political bureau in Qatar visited Pakistan and held talks with senior Pakistani security officials.

Kabul seems to be finally realizing that the price of "peace" is too high and they cannot chase an elusive mirage anymore.

Senior Afghan intelligence officials believe the complex urban attacks are carried out by the Haqqani Network, a militant organization that fought the Russians in Afghanistan in the 1980s and has been based in the tribal belt of Pakistan since 2001. Sirajuddin Haqqani, who took over from his father as the group chief last year, has been instrumental in the Taliban's resurgence this year. As Taliban chief Mullah Akhtar Mansour's trusted lieutenant, he now runs day-to-day military operations for the Taliban. The group is believed to use Pakistani military facilities to launch attacks against Afghanistan. Interestingly, Pakistan is one of the biggest beneficiaries of US military assistance. Since 2002, the country has been receiving about one billion USD a year under a US program, which according to The Wall Street Journal, was "meant to reimburse it for costs incurred fighting militants near the Afghan border."

Kabul seems to be finally realizing that the price of "peace" is too high and they cannot chase an elusive mirage anymore.

Writer is a Kashmiri journalist based in Kabul. He can be reached at armaan.journo@gmail.com

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