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- Thursday, January 19, 2012 - From Print Edition


LONDON: Prospects for lasting peace in Afghanistan will be severely “diminished” unless Pakistan cracks down on Taliban bases in its territory, a high-level international think-tank report has warned.


The joint paper by the Royal United Services Institute and the Indian Vivekananda International Foundation said it was essential Islamabad became “part of the solution, rather than part of the problem” in Afghanistan.


It called for the creation of an international mechanism to monitor state-sponsored terrorism or any other external interference in Afghan affairs — with powers to impose sanctions for any violations.


The report was drawn up by a working group including former MI6 chief Sir John Scarlett, former Indian Intelligence Bureau director Ajit Doval and the former director-general of Indian military intelligence, Lieutenant General Ravi Sawhney.


With the planned 2014 deadline for the withdrawal of Nato-led International Security Assistance Force (Isaf) approaching, it said there was “considerable, and justifiable, anxiety” for the future of Afghanistan.


It described the overall security situation as “tenuous” with a “military stalemate” and fears for the ability of the Kabul government of President Hamid Karzai to repel an onslaught by the Taliban who remained “active and potent”.


“The fear is that the withdrawal of Isaf will provide the Taliban with an opportunity to re-establish their influence over large swathes of territory in Afghanistan,” it said. While it said Afghanistan would continue to need “significant” international military assistance after 2014, it particularly highlighted the “crucial” importance of Pakistan.


It said the insurgency was underpinned by the continuing presence in Pakistan of bases operated by the Afghan Taliban, led by Mulla Omar, and the Haqqani organisation blamed for a number of recent attacks including the assassination last year of former president Burhanuddin Rabbani. “Without the ability to use bases in Pakistani territory, the Taliban insurgency in Afghanistan would find it hard to survive,” it said. “As such, greater commitment from the authorities in Pakistan will be vital in the pursuit of a sustainable Afghan peace.


“Without such commitment, the prospects for lasting peace will be diminished and the difficulties in providing security for Afghanistan will be much increased.” It added: “The UK, together with its allies in Isaf, should encourage Pakistan, in particular, to become part of the solution, rather than part of the problem.”


The Indian members of the working group were particularly critical, accusing the Pakistanis of “either providing bases for the Taliban or turning a blind eye to its activities”. The report warned the prospects for reconciliation with the Taliban leadership “do not look good” following the killing of Rabbani who headed the peace council responsible for trying to find a peace deal.


In order to succeed, the reconciliation process needed to achieve three “minimal outcomes” — the renunciation of terrorism by the Taliban and its associates, the disarming of armed groups in the country, and an acceptance of the Afghan constitution.


“The process of reconciliation still appears to be seen by the Taliban as equivalent to government surrender and it is on this point that the international community must speak loudly and clearly,” the report said.


“A dominant role for the Taliban in a Kabul government is not acceptable to the majority of Afghans or the international community.” The report also said it was “imperative” the international community agreed a 10-year plan to fund the Afghan National Army (ANA), and it called for commitments of support from both the UK and India.


It said Isaf would still have to remain in “substantial strength” after 2014 to support Afghan forces’ counter-insurgency efforts. The ANA was unlikely to able to confront the threat from the Taliban safe havens in the border areas with Pakistan without “significant assistance” from US intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance assets. US and Nato air cover would also be required for “some time to come”.