Akbar Jan Marwat
THE blame game between Afghanistan and Pakistan is not new. But this blame culture has acquired a new sinister level in the last few months. Afghanistan has always accused Pakistan of differentiating between various factions of Taliban. Afghanistan believes that Pakistan has targeted only those groups of Taliban, like the TTP, which carry out attacks against Pakistani State and Citizens. The groups that are only inimical towards Afghanistan and NATO troops deployed there are not targeted. Pakistan on the other hand accuses Afghanistan of harbouring TTP militants near Pak-Afghan border, who have recently carried out some devastating terror attacks in Pakistan. There is of course more than a grain of truth in the accusations of both the countries.
In case of Pakistan, the general view is that most factions of TTP, Al Qaeda, Islamic State, Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU), were considered to be the ‘Bad Taliban’ because they were involved in operations against Pakistan. Pakistan thus freely used force against these factions and compelled them to take refugee in Afghanistan. The Afghan Taliban including the Haqani network were not inimical to Pakistani interests; hence it was largely left alone. The Afghan government it seems has followed suit, and has demarcated its own good and bad Taliban. For the Afghan regime, TTP, Jamaatul Ahrar (JA) and some other smaller factions are considered good militants, because till date, these groups have not attacked the Afghan State and the NATO forces. The main and existentialist threat to Afghan regime of course, comes from Afghan Taliban. One militant organization (IS), which has transnational ambitions, attacks both Afghan and Pakistan’s establishment, as and when, opportunity arises.
Pakistan has at times accepted its policy in ambiguous terms: as it claims, that its priority is to go after militants, which hurt Pakistan’s interests. This ambiguity in Pakistani policy has fierce critics both internationally as well as it home. Their main argument is that: militants can never be made friends. Militant groups, which do not act against national interest today, may start hurting national interest in future, if the state policy changes. This is exactly what happened after 9/11, when the Pakistani government was forced to change its track.
Afghanistan of late has started following a similar policy, and in fact some recent terrorist acts in Pakistan could be directly traced to militants living in refuge in Afghanistan. Some of the reasons why Afghanistan has not received the kind of opprobrium which has come Pakistan’s way could be: 1, Afghanistan Policy of good and bad militants came much later in time than Pakistan’s well established practice, as perceived by the international community; 2, The presence of NATO and UN forces in Afghanistan, made the international community sympathetic to Afghanistan, and thus less critical.
Till recently, Pakistan had made an issue of Afghanistan providing safe heavens to TTP and Baloch separatists, but it never blamed the Afghan government directly of patronizing these militants. This, however, changed after the December 16, 2014 bloody attack on Army Public School in Peshawar. The then Pakistan Army Chief Gen Raheel Sharif, and Director General ISI hurriedly flew to Kabul to provide evidence to President Ashraf Ghani, that the terrorist act was planned in Afghanistan. They also provided evidence about presence of mastermind of attack Khalifa Umar Mansoor and TTP head Maulana Fazlullah in Afghanistan.
Although in the beginning President Ghani seemed earnest to improve relationship with Pakistan, but soon it seems that he was overcome by his coalition partners. Instead of taking action against the Pakistani militants, he started highlighting his own set of grievances against Pakistan. This defensive trend of the Afghan government was in evidence again, when Pakistan extended a list of militants that it wanted to be handed over to Pakistan, after the recent terror attacks back home. The Afghan govt instead of being forthcoming on required militants gave a list of its own militants to Pakistan, to be handed over to Afghanistan.
The basic difference between the two sets of militants in Pakistan and Afghanistan are quite clear. The TTP and its allies have been completely uprooted from Pakistan, and they now conduct operations against Pakistan from Afghan soil. The Afghan Taliban on the other hand, may have some of its leader in Pakistan, but the rank and file of the organization is in Afghanistan and seems to be in the ascendance in its war against the Afghan national army and the rump US troops. The Afghan government has made it clear by its action, that it would not take action against anti-Pakistan militants, unless Pakistan took action against the Haqqani group. Pakistan dose not want to widen the conflict by taking action against the Haqqanis. Pakistan is also convinced that the only way to peace in Afghanistan would be through peace negotiations.
Another source of insecurity and blame game between the two countries in the domineering role that India has started playing in Afghanistan. Besides investing 2 billion in Infrastructure development, India has also developed very strong defense ties with Afghanistan, to Pakistan’s consternation. Pakistan feels that its nightmare of having to deal with both its hostile Eastern and Western fronts at the same time has come to be realized. To tackle this threat and to hedge its bets against cross border terrorism, Pakistan has temporarily closed its border with Afghanistan at Torkham, Chaman and Ghulam Khan. Pakistan has also shelled militant camps across the border with artillery.
Now both these measures entail risks. Closure of border is not only very inconvenient for the tribes living on both side of Durand line; but is very detrimental for trade between the two countries. The shelling of militant camps in Afghan territory is an infringement of another countries sovereignty, and can cause Pakistan further loss of international support. To show its displeasure with Pakistan, the Afghan government limited its participation in the ECO conference held in Pakistan recently, only to the level of its Ambassador. It seems that the neighbours have a two choices; 1, cooperate against terrorism and militancy; or 2, continue with its blame game and widening of trust deficit.
—The writer is author, citizen journalist and entrepreneur based in Islamabad.