It is an irrefutable reality that the security situation in Afghanistan is deteriorating, helped by the increasing influence of Islamic State (IS) in Afghanistan. Reportedly, representatives of China, Russia and Pakistan who met in Moscow on December 27 expressed grave concern over the increased activities of the extremist groups in Afghanistan, particularly IS and also discussed ways and means to check this phenomenon and promote. This was the third consultative meeting between the three countries and it was agreed to that Afghanistan would be invited to in such consultative meetings in the future. With a view to promoting process of reconciliation it was also agreed that to foster a peaceful dialogue between Kabul and Taliban, a flexible approach to remove certain figures from the sanctions list was required. It is pertinent to point out that the Afghan President Ashraf Ghani had asked the UN to add the new leader of the Taliban to its sanctions list, which is considered inimical to promoting dialogue.
The expression of concern by these countries stems from the fact that they were also affected by the spill-over effect of the activities of the terrorists based in Afghanistan and with the arrival of IS, there was a greater likelihood of resurgence of terrorism in these countries. Some of the Taliban elements have joined IS, and the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan based in Afghanistan also owes allegiance to the terrorist outfit.
The developing scenario in Afghanistan is indeed very alarming not only for Afghanistan but all its neighbours, especially Russia, China and Pakistan. It needs immediate attention and collaboration among these countries and Afghanistan to check the rising influence of IS by promoting reconciliation between Taliban and Afghan government. The involvement of Afghanistan in any initiative in this respect is absolutely imperative.
After the failure of the quadrilateral initiative, the US is now trying to promote trilateral dialogue involving itself, India and Afghanistan, keeping Pakistan out of the loop in view of the allegations of the Afghan President that Pakistan was supporting and abetting terrorism in Afghanistan by providing sanctuaries to the militant outfits on its soil. It has almost become visceral for him to raise an accusing finger towards Pakistan whenever an attack occurs in Afghanistan. Pakistan invariably has been denying any involvement citing its zero tolerance against terrorist outfits and indiscriminate action against them through operation Zarb-e-Azb. The US also keeps harping on the same tune, notwithstanding its acknowledgement of the step taken by Pakistan against the terrorist outfits.
The veracity of the Pakistan’s claims of indiscriminate action against terrorist outfits was acknowledged by none other than the top US commander in Afghanistan General John F Campbell in a written testimony to the Senate Armed Services Committee in October which said: “Senior Pakistan military officers have repeatedly declared that they can no long discriminate between ‘good and bad’ terrorists. They appear to be taking meaningful actions to back up their words“. His statement also strongly negated Afghanistan’s perception of Pakistan having to do anything with the escalation in military confrontation within Afghanistan. General Campbell also made a very pertinent point in regard to the indispensability of Pakistan for peace in Afghanistan. Noting that considerable obstacles existed between Pakistan and Afghanistan, which were likely to persist past 2016, he felt that the common threat of violent extremism could still serve as a catalyst to improve cooperation between the two countries. According to him before nudging reconciliation with Taliban, rapprochement between Pakistan and Afghanistan has to occur first and the fight against terrorism and terrorist outfits needed concerted Pak-Afghan efforts. What he said more or less conforms to the Pakistani view on resolving the conflict. Pakistan, it may be pertinent to mention, regards the Taliban offensive against the Afghan government as an act of terrorism and it was unequivocally stated by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif during his visit to Afghanistan when the Taliban had announced its launch.
Apart from operation Zarb-e-Azb, Pakistan in view of the prevailing situation and the aura of uncertainty has also taken the right step of strengthening border management to check cross-border movement. Pakistan and Afghanistan have 2500 kilometer long porous border, therefore Afghanistan would be well advised to take a similar action on its side of the border if it really was interested in checking the cross-border movement of the terrorists, rather than hurling unwarranted allegations against Pakistan.
As rightly observed by General Campbell, for any rapprochement in Afghanistan Pakistan was indispensable and it was essential to have the differences between the two countries resolved to ensure the success of the other initiatives aimed at bringing peace in Afghanistan. In my view that role can best be played by the US. The US and NATO need to put pressure on India to restrain RAW from sponsoring across the border attacks. The US must also help both the countries to evolve a common strategy to check cross-border attacks, backed by other regional countries like China and Russia. Involving India in promoting dialogue for reconciliation in Afghanistan and keeping Pakistan out if the equation will surely prove counter-productive. This arrangement will neither be acceptable to Pakistan nor the Taliban. They would be more amenable to listen to Pakistan China and Russia who not only have high stakes in peace in Afghanistan but are also in a much better position to guarantee that the peace negotiated between the Taliban and Afghan government holds good. They along with the help of the international community can also help in the reconstruction of the destroyed infrastructure in Afghanistan to revive its economy. The US must revisit its strategy about Afghanistan in view of the foregoing realities.
The Afghan President also needs to understand that Pakistan probably has the biggest stake in peace and stability in Afghanistan and would be the last country to even entertain the thought of destabilising Afghanistan at its own peril. Stability and peace in Afghanistan means peace and stability in Pakistan. Both the countries have suffered tremendously at the hands of the terrorists and do have a strong common cause in this regard. The scourge of terrorism and other lurking dangers make it absolutely imperative for the two countries to forge impregnable unity against these threats and not allow the forces inimical to this cooperation to sabotage the amity between them. That is the course dictated by historic and geographical realities and the centuries old religious and cultural bonds between the two countries. History and geographical realities cannot be reversed.