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October 28, 2018

The impasse over sanctuaries


October 28, 2018

It is really unfortunate to note that both US and Afghanistan continue to blame Pakistan for providing sanctuaries to terrorists on its soil and being responsible for all acts of terrorism in Afghanistan.

This is done despite the fact that Pakistan has participated in every bilateral and multilateral initiative to promote Afghan-led and Afghan-owned reconciliation in Afghanistan, and taken decisive and indiscriminate action against all the terrorists outfits based in North Waziristan. Pakistan has also initiated unilateral action to fence the Pak-Afghan border and made several overtures towards the Afghan government for cooperative efforts to deal with terrorism, and also recently concluded the Afghanistan-Pakistan Action Plan for Peace and stability (APAPPS),.

There has been re-engagement between US and Pakistan to remove the haze about the sanctuaries. Some new ground has been broken to find an amicable solution to the conflict in Afghanistan. This re-engagement started with the visit of US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to Pakistan in September followed by a visit to the region including Pakistan by US Special Representative on Afghan Reconciliation Zalmay Khalilzad. Despite all that, the impasse over the sanctuaries of terrorists on Pakistani soil continues to persist.

Reportedly the US secretary of state talked to the media on October 23 and said that Pakistan would be held accountable if it continued to provide safe havens to terrorists. He also expressed the hope that Pakistan would achieve the goal set out for it. He further emphasised that it had been made clear to Pakistan that the American policy on South Asia had not changed. The threatening tone of the US secretary of state belies the spirit of the resetting of relations between the two countries that germinated during his visit to Pakistan in September this year.

The Afghan government is also harping on the same tune and has not moved an inch from its blame-game rhetoric. Talking to the media regarding the recent attack in Kandahar in which General Abdul Raziq and police commander of Kandahar were killed, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani said: “I want to say that this conspiracy was plotted in Pakistan. Therefore Pakistan should give us the criminals so that we can bring them to justice”.

Pakistan rightly and justifiably rejected the allegation. The reality is that the attack was carried out by a guard deputed on security duty. Putting the blame on Pakistan without proper investigations into the incident actually reflects the frustration of the Afghan government in not being able to establish its writ in the country. Similarly, the US is also blaming Pakistan for providing sanctuaries to terrorists, particularly the Haqqani Network, to cover its own failures attributable to wrong policies and the impulsive propensity to achieve objectives through military strength. The same is also amply reflected in the new policy on Afghanistan and South Asia announced by President Trump.

This policy is a perfect recipe for disaster and for perpetuating the conflict rather than an earnest attempt to resolve it as is quite evident from the increased attacks by the Taliban. Expecting Pakistan to play a role in promoting an Afghan-led and Afghan-owned solution to the Afghan conundrum without crediting us for the efforts we have made in this regard and the sacrifices rendered as a front-line state against terror, and continuing to threaten and blame Pakistan for providing sanctuaries to terrorist without any solid proof, is not going to help.

The US needs to accept and recognise the ground realities and abandon the wolf and lamb story veneer. Pakistan is a sincere and honest partner in the war against terror and in the process of reconciliation in Afghanistan. Pakistan feels that peace in Afghanistan and the region is crucial to peace within its own territory and her national interests. Logically speaking, Pakistan cannot be expected to work against its own strategic and national interests by providing sanctuaries to terrorist on its own soil and prolonging its own ordeal. The Foreign Office spokesperson was correct in saying that “It is important to reiterate that Pakistan’s cooperation with Afghanistan and the international community to bring about lasting peace in Afghanistan is borne out of our firm belief that a stable Afghanistan is vital for eliminating terrorism inside Pakistan and the region in general”.

Pakistan has an abiding commitment to and interest in peace in Afghanistan and that is the reason why it is engaged with the US and other regional countries in promoting reconciliation in Afghanistan and bringing an end to a conflict that has not only devastated Afghanistan but has also adversely affected other regional countries due to its spill-over effect. Pakistan is on record to have asked the US to point out where the alleged sanctuaries are but there has been no positive response from the US in that regard. Instead, the superpower continues to raise an accusing finger towards Pakistan. That needs to change

Similarly, the Afghan government also must try to recognise the ground realities. The APAPPS provides an elaborate mechanism to address as well as investigate incidents of terrorism in both the countries. The Afghan president, instead of resorting to accusing Pakistan through the media, should have relied on the agreed arrangement. His action is a clear negation of the seven principles of cooperation agreed between the two countries.

The ambience of mistrust between US and Pakistan, and Pakistan and Afghanistan, needs to be addressed as a top priority for any positive headway towards reconciliation in Afghanistan and elimination of terrorism from the region. Afghanistan and the US need to do more instead of expecting that from Pakistan. The involvement of the regional countries including China, Russia and some of the Central Asian nations which have been affected by terrorism is also imperative in promoting reconciliation and providing guarantees for the agreed arrangement to hold.

The writer is a freelance contributor.

Email: [email protected]

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