Dou­ble diplo­matic col­lapse

The Pak Banker - - 4EDITORIAL - Mu­nir Akram

PAK­ISTAN'S diplo­matic ini­tia­tives with Afghanistan and In­dia have both col­lapsed. Afghanistan's Pres­i­dent Ghani and Pak­istan's prime min­is­ter and army chief were sin­cere in de­sir­ing nor­mal­i­sa­tion. The im­plicit bar­gain was that Pak­istan would de­liver the Afghan Tal­iban to the ne­go­ti­at­ing ta­ble while Afghanistan would act against Tehreek-i-Tal­iban Pak­istan (TTP) lead­ers and mil­i­tants hid­ing in Afghan ter­ri­tory. Suc­cess would have im­plied: en­hanced se­cu­rity within Pak­istan from TTP-en­gi­neered ter­ror­ism and at­tacks by the Baloch Lib­er­a­tion Army (BLA), and an end to In­dian pres­sure on Pak­istan on the western front; the re-emer­gence of the Afghan Tal­iban as a po­lit­i­cal force in Kabul; and the com­plete with­drawal of for­eign forces from Afghanistan.

It was ev­i­dent from the out­set that In­dia and hos­tile el­e­ments in Afghanistan would work overtime to sub­vert this peace ini­tia­tive. They ap­pear to have suc­ceeded.

The de­ba­cle on the west is in­ti­mately re­lated to the dis­turb­ing de­vel­op­ments in the east. The Is­lam­abad-Kabul un­der­stand­ing was based on over-op­ti­mistic ex­pec­ta­tions on both sides. Ghani's abil­ity to act against the TTP and the BLA was con­strained by his lack of con­trol of the Afghan se­cu­rity es­tab­lish­ment, es­pe­cially the Na­tional Di­rec­torate of Se­cu­rity (NDS) - Afghanistan's in­tel­li­gence agency - led by a Karzai holdover. Kabul proved un­able (or un­will­ing) to kill, cap­ture or ex­pel Mul­lah Fa­zlul­lah and other TTP el­e­ments holed up in Afghanistan.

Sim­i­larly, Pak­istan promised too much in of­fer­ing to bring the Afghan Tal­iban to the ne­go­ti­at­ing ta­ble. To do so, Is­lam­abad was obliged to re­vive or re­veal its con­tacts with them. If the Kab­ulTal­iban talks had suc­ceeded, few would have ob­jected to the pres­ence of Afghan Tal­iban lead­ers in Pak­istan. Un­for­tu­nately, the rev­e­la­tion of Mul­lah Omar's demise by the NDS up­ended the talks. (Pak­istan's fail­ure was in ei­ther not know­ing of Mul­lah Omar's death or not pre­vent­ing the NDS from gain­ing knowl­edge of this while se­nior Tal­iban com­man­ders re­mained un­aware.)

As no doubt an­tic­i­pated by the NDS and its In­dian pa­trons, a lead­er­ship strug­gle en­sued be­tween the 'fight' and the 'fight and talk' fac­tions within the Tal­iban. To sal­vage the talks, Pak­istan's agen­cies at­tempted to hastily gather the Tal­iban lead­ers to se­lect Omar's deputy as the new Amirul Mom­i­neen, fur­ther ex­pos­ing the re­la­tion- ship. But the Tal­iban's fight­ing fac­tion, freed of Mul­lah Omar's ghost edicts sup­port­ing talks, and fear­ful of los­ing ground to the self-styled 'Is­lamic State' (IS), es­ca­lated its at­tacks within Afghanistan, par­tic­u­larly against tar­gets in Kabul.

Un­der pres­sure to avoid blame for the se­cu­rity fail­ures in Kabul, and aware that Is­lam­abad was no longer able to de­liver the Tal­iban to the ne­go­ti­at­ing ta­ble, Pres­i­dent Ghani took the easy route of plac­ing all the blame on Pak­istan. His Aug 10 state­ment was in­dis­tin­guish­able from Karzai's fa­mil­iar di­a­tribes against Pak­istan. Chief Ex­ec­u­tive Ab­dul­lah and other fac­tions joined him in whip­ping up the anti-Pak­istan an­i­mus. The ' gath­er­ing' of Tal­iban lead­ers to choose Mul­lah Man­sour as Omar's suc­ces­sor was used as a ba­sis to ex­trap­o­late that Pak­istan main­tained Tal­iban sanc­tu­ar­ies and bomb­mak­ing fac­to­ries, and con­nived in the Tal­iban at­tacks. Ghani de­clared that he did not want Pak­istan to bring the Tal­iban to the ta­ble but to "pros­e­cute" them.

Kabul was the scene of or­ches­trated demon­stra­tions against Pak­istan, the burn­ing of Pak­istan's na­tional flag, calls for boy­cott of trade with and even 'ji­had' against Pak­istan. A de­mand was made that an Afghan del­e­ga­tion be im­me­di­ately re­ceived by Pak­istan's prime min­is­ter and army chief. In­stead of protest­ing Kabul's un­sub­stan­ti­ated charges and de­mand­ing an apol­ogy for the des­e­cra­tion of Pak­istan's na­tional flag, Pak­istan's lead­er­ship meekly re­ceived the an­gry Afghan del­e­ga­tion to clear the "misun­der­stand­ing" ( to quote Sar­taj Aziz).

Pak­istan will be able to evoke re­spect for its na­tional in­ter­ests only if it re­spects its own dig­nity and hon­our. Pak­istan should de­mand an apol­ogy from Kabul for the des­e­cra­tion of its na­tional flag and a re­trac­tion of the wild ac­cu­sa­tions voiced by Ghani and other Afghan lead­ers. If they de­sire a trade boy­cott, Pak­istan should ful­fil their wish and halt all trans­ship­ment and transit un­til they re­verse their hos­til­ity.

At the strate­gic level too, there is need for a care­ful pol­icy re­view to deal with an Afghanistan that is likely to be em­broiled in chaos and con­flict for some time. Pak­istan should: first, se­cure its bor­der against TTP and BLA in­fil­tra­tion from Afghan ter­ri­tory; sec­ond, de­vise strate­gies to elim­i­nate their safe havens in Afghanistan; third, pro­mote co­her­ence among the Afghan Tal­iban; and, fourth, work with China, Rus­sia, the US, Iran and Saudi Ara­bia to re­sume the Kab­ulTal­iban talks and in­su­late Afghanistan from in­fil­tra­tion by the IS.

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