Much of the terrorist activity in Pakistan has a direct or indirect linkage to Afghanistan
There was a brief interlude in the months following President Ashraf Ghani coming to power in Afghanistan in which relations between Pakistan and Afghanistan took on a rosier hue. There was talk of a more positive relationship, of jointly tackling the terrorism that blights both, of intelligence-sharing and trade links tied in to the development of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). This was not a climate that suited everybody. Parts of the Afghan intelligence apparatus were far from sanguine. India was less than enthusiastic as its own interests in Afghanistan were threatened. With the death of Mullah Omar and the collapse of the faltering peace process that involved Pakistan, Afghanistan and the Qatar franchise of the Taliban, the climate switched from sunny to overcast with storm clouds on the horizon.
The Taliban succession after the death of Mullah Omar may have been clumsily managed but is now an accomplished reality. The rise of Mullah Akhtar Mansoor was originally — and wrongly — thought to offer a peace-niche, but his colours were misread or had been deliberately misrepresented and he is currently leading the Afghan Taliban in their most successful fighting season for many years. The Taliban did not have to hold and administer Kunduz; they only had to raise their flag over the centre, make sure the image was quickly posted on social media and their point was made. The Afghan National Army (ANA) had been ousted (it returned because the Taliban chose not to fight to hold the city) and another crack appeared in the shaky administration in Kabul.
Events have moved swiftly and not necessarily in favour of Pakistan. The announcement by President Barack Obama that there was to be a delay in the drawdown of American troops from Afghanistan was the final nail in the coffin of the peace process and the Taliban were quick to tell the world that. Aside from whatever shambles US foreign policy has got itself into in Afghanistan, the announcement has considerable implications for Pakistan. Our internal security is closely tied to events in Afghanistan. Much of the terrorist activity in Pakistan has a direct or indirect linkage to Afghanistan. Our military in the last year launched Operation Zarb-e-Azb, which has had the effect of driving over the border many of the terrorists that had safe haven in Fata. The line that divided the Afghan and Pakistani Taliban was always blurred — now the more so. Those driven from our soil have friends across the border, who are more than happy to accommodate and work with them to destabilise the governments in Kabul and Islamabad. They are most unlikely to topple the gates of Islamabad — but Kabul is a glittering prize and not unattainable on recent form.
Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif is off to Washington for three days from October 20. He will have a weak hand to play. Whatever leverage that Pakistan had has been effectively neutralised by the Obama announcement regarding the delay in the drawdown. Our role as an emerging power broker has vanished with the American decision to ‘do more’. Recent improvements in relations with the US may go on hold if there is any truth to be found in the allegation of Pakistani involvement in the Kunduz hospital attack. It has been firmly denied by the Foreign Office but in the fevered world of Pakistan/Afghan/American relations, unlikely allegations gain easy currency and false legitimacy.
It will be for the prime minister to parlay whatever collateral we still have into America’s continued support for the Coalition Support Fund and much-needed defence equipment. Civil nuclear technology will be on the shopping list as will a presentation on the up-side of the CPEC — which really is on the credit rather than the debit side, a win-win for all players. What looked like emerging certainties a month ago have proved to be a mirage and the prime minister is going to have to navigate a difficult passage. We wish him well.
Published in The Express Tribune, October 19th, 2015.
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