The elusive peace in Afghanistan

News & Views

Mohammad Jamil

SPEAKING at a TV programme, Foreign Office Spokesperson Nafees Zakaria said: “Peace in Afghanistan is vital for regional stability. Pakistan firmly believes in peace and stability in Afghanistan. Therefore, Pakistan is going to participate in Heart of Asia Conference being held in India because it is related to Afghanistan.” Pakistan has been sincerely trying to bring the Taliban to the negotiating table, but Northern Alliance elements and National Directorate of Security (NDS) officials try to sabotage the talks. Leaking the news about the demise of Mullah Omer when the Taliban had decided to hold talks was a case in point. Secondly, they do not want any agreement with the Taliban who represent majority Pushtuns, as in case of agreement they will have to share power with them. Of course, some Taliban commanders are also against any talks with the government till the time foreign soldiers are on Afghan soil.
Of course, President Ashraf Ghani and Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah have been at loggerheads since formation of unity government, as both of them were trying to gain greater control over power. The Taliban benefited from unity government’s internal rifts over appointment of security chiefs, governors and key bureaucrats. Taking advantage of this divide, Taliban factions have been attacking in Kabul’s high security zones at will, sometimes taking over entire provinces without much resistance. A number of residents of southeastern Paktika province say Taliban militants search vehicles and passengers on highways. They look for government officials in vehicles on the Paktika-Ghazni and Paktika-Paktia highways. One resident told Pajhwok Afghan News that the highways in Paktika had become highly insecure, as Taliban militants daily searched vehicles on roads and pulled government officials from vehicles and killed them. This means there is no writ of the government.
To cover up their failures, the US and Afghanistan continued blaming Pakistan for providing safe havens to the Afghan Taliban especially Haqqani group, sometimes directly and at others making nasty insinuations. They allege that the Taliban fighters armed and funded by Pakistan operate from Pakistani soil. It is continuation of policy of former president Hamid Karzai, who used every opportunity to spew venom against Pakistan. But stories of corruption in security establishment abound. Afghan security officials and Governor of Helmand have admitted that investigations are in progress against ANSF officials who had deliberately left their weapons and vehicles behind for the Taliban in Badakhshan, Helmand province. One can infer from such reports that NDS and military personnel are involved in high level corruption in Afghanistan. In fact, they are playing with the sensitivities of US authorities while extracting billions of dollars in the name of fight against Afghan Taliban.
American journal recently stated that “the Taliban have been increasingly seizing large amounts of military weapons and equipment and using them against the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces (ANDSF).” TOLONews quoted officials from Afghanistan’s northeastern Badakhshan Province that provincial governor Faisal Bigzad told the Afghan news channel that the ANDSF equipment captured by the Taliban included light and heavy weapons as well as armored vehicles, which became a growing problem for the security forces. He urged the country’s security forces to destroy any military equipment left behind when they carry out tactical retreats from the districts. Perhaps, he is not aware that it is well thought out plan to strengthen the Taliban so that peace efforts do not succeed. Taliban militants sometimes capture them from Afghan police or soldiers, and they also buy them from corrupt members of the Afghan security forces.
For some time now, Pak-Afghan relations are in reverse gear. The initial two years of the presidency of Ashraf Ghani had witnessed a qualitative change in the fractured bilateral relations between Afghanistan and Pakistan. He had taken bold decisions to undo Karzai’s pro-India policy; had turned down the Indian offer to supply weapons to Afghanistan, and declared his intention to send military cadets for training to Pakistan. Despite domestic opposition, he secured an intelligence-sharing MoU between Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) and Afghanistan’s National Directorate of Security (NDS). His narrative prioritised reconciliation with the Taliban to reconciliation over defeating or eliminating them. More importantly, he accepted Pakistan’s central role in this pursuit. President Ghani had lavishly praised Pakistan for efforts in paving the ground for peace and reconciliation in Afghanistan. But it was not acceptable to the Northern Alliance and loyalists of former President Hamid Karzai.
In April 2016, the Afghan forces had bled profusely when terrorists attacked the NDS office, the country’s intelligence agency. It was a massive security breach claiming over 64 lives and leaving dozens injured. While Afghan Chief Executive Abdullah-Abdullah was absent from the Parliament’s joint session, President Ashraf Ghani’s rare address was directed at Islamabad, alleging Pakistan played a double game. “But we want Pakistan to fulfil its promises . . . and take military action against their sanctuaries and leadership based on its soil. If they can’t target them, they should hand them over to our judiciary. If we do not see a change, despite our sincere efforts for regional cooperation, we will be forced to turn to the UN Security Council and start serious diplomatic effort,” he stated. The White House joined the chorus emphasizing that Islamabad must translate its words into reality regarding the Taliban faction, Haqqani group.
But there is a redeeming feature. The Taliban have offered to protect major government projects such as the mining of a big copper deposit and an international natural gas pipeline project to assist the development and prosperity of war-torn Afghanistan. The insurgents have been behind much of the violence over the last 15 years that has frightened off investors, leaving Afghanistan unable to tap its vast natural resources and build the infrastructure necessary to wean itself off foreign aid. Secondly, the Taliban or armed group, which calls itself the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, maintains its fight is against foreign military forces and the foreign-backed government, not ordinary Afghans. “The Islamic Emirate not only backs all national projects which are in the interest of the people and result in the development and prosperity of the nation but are also committed to safeguarding them,” the Taliban said in a statement.
—The writer is a senior journalist based in Lahore.

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