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Opinion

August 18, 2017

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Bleak prospects for peace

Bleak prospects for peace

Amidst reports of the Trump administration reviewing its Afghan policy and the likelihood of the number of US troops in that country being increased, as requested by the US commanders there, the Taliban through an open letter to the Trump administration sent to the media have warned against any such move: “Previous experiences have shown that sending more troops to Afghanistan will not result in anything other than further destruction of American military and economic might. Therefore, it would be wise if you adopt the strategy of a complete withdrawal from Afghanistan instead of troops increase”

The American move to re-opt for a military solution in Afghanistan does not augur well for prospects of peace in that country and its neighbourhood, particularly Pakistan which has mostly borne the brunt of the burgeoning terrorism. The US has failed during the last 16 years to achieve its military objectives in Afghanistan. The Taliban have throughout been demanding a complete withdrawal of US and Nato troops before any engagement in a dialogue with the Afghan government. Additional troops being sent to Afghanistan by the US is not acceptable to the Taliban at any cost as the letter indicates. The situation points towards increased hostilities in Afghanistan in the future.

It is needless to emphasise here that Pakistan and Afghanistan both are victims of terrorism and as such they need to cooperate with each other earnestly to effectively deal with the common threat. But it is regrettable to note that the persistent efforts by Pakistan to promote Afghan-owned and Afghan-led reconciliation in Afghanistan and to develop a common strategy to scuttle the ability of terrorists to carry out terrorist attacks on both sides of the border have not been fruitful because of the intransigent and non-cooperative attitude of the Afghan government.

The US and the Afghanistan government continue to raise an accusing finger towards Pakistan, questioning the veracity of the indiscriminate action against terrorist entities through military operations; Afghanistan also invariably holds Pakistan responsible for the terrorist attacks on its soil. The US has even withheld the release of funds under the Coalition Support Fund, maintaining that Pakistan had not taken decisive action against the Haqqani Network.

The Pakistani leadership – both civilian and military – has repeatedly tried through every available forum to clear the haze in this regard but there has been no change in their narrative. The fact is that the TTP operatives based in Afghanistan have been planning and executing terrorist attacks in Pakistan from Afghan soil with the covert support of RAW and NDS.

The Pakistani leadership has been providing irrefutable evidence to the Afghan government about the use of Afghan territory by terrorists to foment terrorism within Pakistan. But the desired cooperation never came forth and TTP operatives have continued to carry out terrorist attacks in Pakistan using Afghan soil.

Terrorist attacks in Quetta, Lahore and Sehwan Sharif left no choice for the security establishment of Pakistan other than taking retaliatory action against the terrorist training camps within Afghan territory besides closure of the entry points between the two countries (which put further strain on relations between the two countries). Pakistan also took a unilateral decision to fence the border and construct forts and observer points along the border to stop cross-border movement of terrorists and also to regulate the movement of the citizens of the two countries through the approved exit and entry points.

Subsequent efforts through diplomatic channels and trilateral talks between Afghanistan, Pakistan and China led to both countries expressing the resolve to coordinate their efforts in regard to action against terrorists.

In line with this understanding, the Pakistan military informed the Afghan government, the Resolute Support Mission and ODRP before starting Operation Khyber-IV in the Rajgal Valley of Khyber Agency to forestall the possibility of IS operatives entering Khyber Agency. The Afghan government, in its reaction to the operation, denied that it had been notified about the operation and said that the operations needed to be carried out in terrorist centres in Lahore, Karachi, Peshawar and Quetta, monitored by China and the US. Responding to the Afghan reaction, the ISPR said that the Pakistan Army looked forward to trust-based security coordination and cooperation for the fight against a common enemy, adding that the rhetoric of blames and suggestive allegations was the agenda of forces working against order and peace in the region and needed to be avoided.

Since the start of Operation Khyber IV, a number of terrorist attacks have occurred in Pakistan. Responsibility for these attacks has been accepted by the TTP. Similar attacks have also been carried out in Afghanistan. COAS General Qamar Javed Bajwa has said that both the countries have been victims of terrorism and that regional actors and hostile agencies are using terror as a policy tool. He said that both countries would continue to suffer if these actors are able to use Afghan territory with impunity. He also offered help to Afghanistan in eliminating terrorist safe havens in their border area.

The present government has also been trying to remove the ambience of mistrust between the two countries in an effort to develop a common strategy to tackle terrorism since it rightly feels convinced that peace in Afghanistan is inextricably linked to peace in Afghanistan. It has been pursuing a policy of ensuring a peaceful neighbourhood and building regional linkages. But unfortunately these efforts have not produced the desired results.

My considered view is that the Afghan government was actually not in a position to take an independent decision regarding the resolution of the Afghan conundrum, and eliminating terrorism through collaborative efforts with Pakistan. The key to the resolution of these issues lies with the US. Unfortunately, the US does not want a solution to these problems as continued instability in this region suits its strategic interests.

I have reiterated time and again that the US will not get out of Afghanistan and will keep a permanent presence in that country. The instability in this region also suits the objectives of the US-India nexus to thwart rising Chinese influence in the region and beyond as well as to sabotage CPEC. The portents are not very encouraging for Pakistan. The US is already reviewing its relations with Pakistan. Under the circumstances, Pakistan will have to recalibrate its relations with the Americans in line with the dictates of the emerging geo-strategic realities – without straining relations with the only superpower of the world.

Pakistan should continue with its unilateral action of securing the border with Afghanistan and focusing on eliminating the remaining support network of the terrorists. Building strategic, economic and defence partnerships with countries like Russia, China and the Central Asian states could also help mitigate the negative impact of the US-India nexus.

The writer is a freelance contributor.

Email: [email protected]

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