US troops back to com­bat in Afghanistan

Pakistan Observer - - EDITORIAL & COMMENTS - Iqbal Khan Email:won­der­

EF­FORTS to en­gage the Afghan Tal­iban for ne­go­ti­a­tions are in dis­or­der since the United States last month killed their leader, Mul­lah Akhtar Man­sour. Another devel­op­ment has taken place, the US mil­i­tary has be­gun air at­tacks against Tal­iban tar­gets in Afghanistan un­der new rules, al­low­ing greater pow­ers for US forces to go af­ter the Tal­iban, mak­ing it eas­ier for Afghan security forces to strike the in­sur­gents. “There have been op­er­a­tions car­ried out with these new author­i­ties,” Pen­tagon press Sec­re­tary Peter Cook said. “It’s fair to say that these strikes did tar­get Tal­iban po­si­tions.” Ini­tial strikes oc­curred in south­ern Afghanistan.

Pakistan agreed to fa­cil­i­tate the first-ever di­rect peace talks be­tween the Afghan gov­ern­ment and the Afghan Tal­iban in Mur­ree in June 2015. These talks were a promis­ing start. But a day be­fore the sec­ond round in which the two sides were to con­sider a de-es­ca­la­tion mech­a­nism, the talks were de-railed. Sec­ond time the peace process was scut­tled when a drone at­tack on May 21, killed Tal­iban leader Akhtar Man­sour. It is cer­tainly not by an ac­ci­dent that the peace process was scut­tled twice in one year. The lat­ter ac­tion has dealt a blow to the Afghan peace process and added to in­ten­sity and com­plex­ity of Afghan con­flict. The UN Sec­re­tary Gen­eral Ban Ki­Moon’s re­cent re­port on Afghanistan re­in­forces the firm in­ter­na­tional con­sen­sus, duly shared by Pakistan that, ‘Only by a ne­go­ti­ated po­lit­i­cal agree­ment will Afghans achieve sus­tain­able peace’. How­ever there is gap be­tween the ar­tic­u­la­tions and ac­tions of some im­por­tant ac­tors; and for that it is dif­fi­cult to as­cer­tain the sin­cer­ity com­mit­ment of these ac­tors to­wards peace in Afghanistan. Ques­tion­ing America’s com­mit­ment to the Afghan peace process, Pakistan has warned that those seek­ing a re­newed re­course to mil­i­tary-ori­ented so­lu­tion need to think through its con­se­quences.” Is it (US) ready to in­vest in war rather than peace in Afghanistan?” asked Pakistan’s Am­bas­sador to United Na­tions Dr Maleeha Lodhi while speak­ing in the quar­terly de­bate on Afghanistan at the UNSC.

While ex­press­ing Pakistan’s readi­ness to sup­port a gen­uine Afghan peace process, Am­bas­sador Lodhi warned that Pakistan will not tol­er­ate vi­o­la­tions of its sovereignty and its ter­ri­to­rial in­tegrity, “from what­ever source”. Urg­ing the Afghan gov­ern­ment and the in­ter­na­tional coali­tion to take ac­tion against Pak­istani Tal­iban el­e­ments, which have sought refuge in Afghanistan, she em­pha­sised that the elim­i­na­tion of these sanc­tu­ar­ies was es­sen­tial to peace and security. The Wall Street Jour­nal has re­ported on June 21 that some peace­mak­ers viewed the drone strike that killed Mul­lah Man­sour as a set­back to their ef­forts to re­store peace in Afghanistan. “Strik­ing the lead­er­ship was a mis­take,” said Paolo Cotta-Ra­musino, sec­re­tary-gen­eral of The Pug­wash Con­fer­ences on Sci­ence and World Af­fairs. “We need to in­ter­act with the Tal­iban’s lead­er­ship, not take them out.” He added. May 21 US drone strike was an ‘un­ac­cept­able and bla­tant vi­o­la­tion of Pakistan’s sovereignty, the UN char­ter and in­ter­na­tional law’. Tal­iban have since stepped up at­tacks on gov­ern­ment tar­gets.

Pres­ence of large num­ber of Afghan refugees in Pak­ista­nis a big security risk, ter­ror­ists and mil­i­tants use the refugee camps as hide­outs for their ne­far­i­ous ac­tiv­i­ties. There is a gen­uine per­cep­tion that restora­tion of com­plete peace will re­main a far cry as long as ar­range­ments are not made for the early and vol­un­tary repa­tri­a­tion of the refugees. There is a rea­son­able ground for this per­cep­tion, along­side the vis­i­ble suc­cesses Zarb-e-Azb op­er­a­tion, there is a stream of counter ac­tiv­ity by some of the Afghans refugees who are not only in­volved in different crimes but are hand in glove with India to per­pe­trate acts of ter­ror­ism on Pak­istani soil. They have also been found in­volved in get­ting fake Pak­istani ID cards and pass­ports. UNHCR should help the Afghan gov­ern­ment in cre­at­ing nec­es­sary en­vi­ron­ment in­side Afghanistan so that these peo­ple could re­turn with dig­nity.

Ad­dress­ing a think tank, the At­lantic Coun­cil, in Wash­ing­ton on June 21, US spe­cial en­voy on Afghanistan Richard Ol­son said that Pakistan’s con­cerns over India’s role in Afghanistan were “over­es­ti­mated.”He dis­agreed with Pakistan’s con­cerns that India was us­ing its strong pres­ence in Afghanistan to stir trou­ble in Balochis­tan.He said: “India has been a sup­port­ive part­ner for Afghanistan. It has pro­vided a limited amount but im­por­tant mil­i­tary as­sis­tance (to Afghanistan).” He re­minded Pak­istani de­ci­sion mak­ers that they had their own security con­cerns and needed to fo­cus on them. “Pakistan will not be se­cure, un­til and un­less” it took ac­tion against ter­ror­ist or­gan­i­sa­tions, like the Afghan Tal­iban and the Haqqani net­work, he added. He, how­ever, ac­knowl­edged that the on­go­ing mil­i­tary op­er­a­tions in Waziris­tan had curbed ter­ror­ist at­tacks in­side Pakistan, which re­sulted in re­duc­ing vi­o­lence and sta­bil­is­ing the Pak­istani econ­omy. He ap­pre­ci­ated Pakistan’s com­mit­ment to the Afghan peace process and urged Is­lam­abad to use its in­flu­ence on the Tal­iban to per­suade them to join rec­on­cil­i­a­tion talks.

Pakistan’s for­eign of­fice has chal­lenged Ol­son’s the as­ser­tion, the spokesper­son said on June 23: “I think we need to re­alise that ‘feel­ing’ is one thing and the ‘re­al­ity’ on ground is another…The ground re­al­ity is that we have ar­rested Kulb­hushan Yadav, which is a solid proof of In­dian state in­volve­ment in ter­ror­ism in Pakistan as well as in ter­ror fi­nanc­ing”.Ear­lier for­mer US De­fence Sec­re­tary Chuck Hagel had stated that India fi­nances in­sta­bil­ity in Pakistan. Fur­ther back in 2009 Gen­eral Stan­ley McCrys­tal had also re­ferred to this fact that India was caus­ing and fi­nanc­ing in­sta­bil­ity in Pakistan. India’s goals in Afghanistan are to deny Pakistan strate­gic depth and the abil­ity to block India from trade and other con­nec­tions to Cen­tral Asia and be­yond, says a US con­gres­sional re­port. While India wants to pre­vent Pakistan from re­gain­ing “pre­pon­der­ant” in­flu­ence in present day Afghanistan, “it does not want to be sad­dled with the bur­den of help­ing se­cure Afghanistan” af­ter the US de­par­ture, re­port adds. The re­al­ity is that US sees India as a key part­ner in Afghanistan’s fu­ture.And India wants to carry-out this role for im­pos­ing two front dilemma on Pakistan.

There have been en­cour­ag­ing de­vel­op­ments too. Pres­i­dents of Pakistan and Afghanistan met on the side­lines of the SCO, hope­fully the two coun­tries would soon put be­hind the bad taste cre­ated by Afghan security forces’ at­tack on an un­der con­struc­tion gate close to Torkhum bor­der post, well in­side Pak­istani ter­ri­tory.Ear­lier on the same venue, Pakistan’s Ad­viser on For­eign Af­fairs and Afghan For­eign Min­is­ter agreed on con­sti­tut­ing a high level bi­lat­eral mech­a­nism for con­sul­ta­tion and co­or­di­na­tion on var­i­ous im­por­tant is­sues, in­clud­ing security, move­ment of peo­ple and ve­hi­cles be­tween two coun­tries and other rel­e­vant is­sues.

Op­er­a­tion Zarb-e-Azb is the largest and most ef­fec­tive anti-ter­ror­ism cam­paign any­where in the world through which Pakistan has achieved sub­stan­tial gains and is de­ter­mined to elim­i­nate all ter­ror­ist threats within the coun­try. Afghan gov­ern­ment and the in­ter­na­tional coali­tion need to take sup­ple­men­tary and com­ple­men­tary ac­tions to con­sol­i­date the gains of this op­er­a­tion.And the Afghan gov­ern­ment should launch sim­i­lar ef­fort against TTP in its ter­ri­tory; elim­i­na­tion of TTP sanc­tu­ar­ies is es­sen­tial to peace and security in both coun­tries. And fi­nally, America should make up its mind re­gard­ing leav­ing or stay­ing, be­cause peace ef­fort would take different tra­jec­to­ries for han­dling ei­ther of the options. — The writer is con­sul­tant to IPRI on pol­icy and strate­gic re­sponse.

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