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National

July 10, 2016

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Nato, new Afghan commitment and us

The decision by Nato to continue its engagement in Afghanistan beyond 2016 and to commit $1 billion in overall funding for the 350,000-strong Afghan military and police force will be welcomed by Pakistan as a stabilising and necessary decision.

Contrary to the opinion in Kabul, the Pakistani security establishment has been apprehensive about what could happen in Afghanistan if the US and Nato troop and funding commitments are withdrawn immediately.  The concern in military and political circles here is that Afghanistan can in no way itself financially support the massive security forces, but that without those forces being in place, Afghanistan could be engulfed by chaos and civil war.

The bill for the Afghan security forces upkeep is an estimated $4.5b a year. The US has previously committed $3.5b a year until at least 2020, while the Afghan government’s contribution is $400-500m annually. The Nato announcement of $1bn over the next three years will now ensure that the Afghan security forces are fully funded.

In terms of troop commitments, it is likely that Nato will commit roughly 12,000 troops for Operation Resolute Support’s training and advisory mission in Afghanistan. Recently, President Obama announced that at least 8,4000 US troops will also remain in Afghanistan.

Though not officially admitted by Pakistan, officials have lobbied Nato and US governments and urged them to continue their financial and military support for Afghanistan.

The Pakistan military has also indicated that instead of coaxing the Afghan Taliban and the Haqqani network into peace talks, there will be a shift in policy towards reducing the space inside Pakistan for foreign militants.

The hope is that the Afghan Taliban will feel the heat as a result and themselves accept that peace talks must be re-started. In this regard, Army Chief Gen Raheel Sharif’s Eid address to troops in North and South Wazirstan agencies was especially relevant.

According to the ISPR, Gen Raheel said: “As consolidation goes on and operational dividends optimised for Pak-Afghan border region, Pakistan will not allow anyone to use its soil against Afghanistan and directed all commanders, int agencies and LEAs to take concrete measures against the violators.”

The explicit direction to commanders along the Pak-Afghan border to take action against militants crossing the border into Afghanistan is an indication of the seriousness with which Gen Raheel and the military high command have taken the recent nosedive in bilateral relations.  Yet, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani’s speech at the Warsaw summit was typically combative and confrontational. 

The Afghan president said Pakistan was the exception when it comes to his government’s regional initiatives and “despite clear commitments to a quadrilateral peace process, [Pakistan’s] dangerous distinction between good and bad terrorists is being maintained in practice.”

There is frustration inside Pakistan with the Afghan government’s comments and tone inside Afghanistan. Nonetheless, a decision appears to have been taken that new lines will be drawn, especially when it comes to attacks in Kabul that may be traced back to Pakistan.

The thinking is that every bombing in Kabul brings added pressure to Pakistan and therefore there is a limit to the space militants will find. The militants who do no toe the new line will be punished, while those who do will be judged at the negotiating table.

 

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