LAHORE - Security agencies have prepared dossiers on clandestine activities of Afghanistan’s security service on Pakistani soil and its nexus with Indian RAW which would be presented to new NDS chief when he meets with ISI chief in near future.

However, it is difficult to predict how Masoom Stanekzai, the newly appointed chief of Afghanistan’s National Directorate of Intelligence (NDS), would conduct himself with regard to his agency’s operations on Pakistani soil.

Background interviews by The Nation over Stanekzai appointment suggest the Inter Services Intelligence (ISI), Pakistan’s premier secret service which deals matters on this front, has prepared itself for all kinds of scenarios anticipating both good and bad vibes from the Afghan agency under its new boss.

Masoom Stanekzai was serving as acting defence minister before being appointed as head of the Kabul’s top intelligence agency by Afghan President Ashraf Ghani. Earlier in December 2015, Ghani appointed the deputy head of NDS, Massoud Andarabi, as acting chief of the spy agency.

Andarabi was appointed following the resignation of Rahmatullah Nabil who developed differences with Mr Ghani partly because Mr Nabil had bitterness against Pakistan and always suspected relations with Islamabad.

Mr Stanekzai, according to the security officials, is an important player in efforts of the peace talks with Afghan Taliban. He led an important Afghan delegation to China in Urumqi, the capital of China’s Xinjiang region, and met with three former senior Taliban officials – Mullah Abdul Jalil, Mullah Mohammad Hassan Rahmani and Mullah Abdul Razaq.

“We should hope for the best and prepare for the worst. Mr Stanekzai is now heading Afghanistan’s top spy agency which may have different priorities for Pakistan,” said the security officials.

“The Indian RAW with the assistance of NDS is acting upon a joint plan of encircling Pakistan from Chabahar up to Central Asian States. Pakistan would be keenly watching how the new NDS head would conduct regarding his agency’s operations on Pakistani soil,” they added.

“Country’s premier intelligence service (ISI) has blown operations of NDS in Balochistan, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and tribal regions. It has recently busted an officer of NDS in Balochistan at Chaman border. Sending a serving officer for subversion on neighbouring soil is an act of war,” they said.

Despite all the odds the security establishment hopes for the best, as a stable Afghanistan is the key to economic progress for all the major players in the region including Kabul, they added.

Rustam Shah Mohmand, an expert on Pak-Afghan affairs, sharing his knowledge with the paper said, “Masoom Stanekzai is a Pakhtoon, a reasonable man and above all close to the Americans who are one of the guarantors for advancing peace process in Afghanistan.”

“But I am not saying that he may act as reasonably as he did while he was the security adviser to Afghan president. Mr Stanekzai is now heading Kabul’s dreaded secret service known as NDS. His conduct as spy chief cannot be predicted, though all should hope for the best,” he added.

“Afghan parliament has been pressing the president for aggressive security measures. Mr Stanekzai, a loyalist of Ghani, follows what the president asks him to do,” said Mr Mohmand, who has served in the diplomatic corps and remained stationed in Kabul during chaotic times.

About a possible lull in NDS operations on Pakistani soil, he said, “I don’t think that change of guard at NDS top office will stop agency’s operations. We can expect halt of Afghan intelligence service operations only when the two neighbouring states achieve a breakthrough in peace efforts.”

He added, “It had been recorded during my time serving the state that the top level establishment was busy in talks and the operational command system continued their tasks on Pakistani soil until both sides reached an agreement.” Afghan intelligence is believed to be hosting Pakistan’s most-wanted men like TTP chief Mullah Fazalullah and arranging his contacts with Indian RAW as well as the splinters of the TTP.

A TTP group controlled by Umar Naray had carried out three major terror attacks in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, first of them being the most gruesome attack at Army Public School (APS) in Peshawar on December 16, 2014. The second attack came on Badaber Air Force Base in September 2015. The Naray gang attacked another educational institution, Bacha Khan University, on January 20, 2016.

Afghan provinces of Kandhar, Kunar, Nangarhar, Paktia, Pakhtika and Nooristan that fall along Pak-Afgahn border have proved to be the bases and launching pads for terror attacks on Pakistan and fuelling the Baloch militancy.

In May 2015, ISI and NDS signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) which has not been implemented in letter and spirit by Afghan security service.

Former NDS head Rahmatullah Nabil, who had also served under Karzai, was strongly opposed to the proposed agreement with the ISI. He had even refused to sign the MoU and subsequently a deputy director signed it on behalf of the NDS.

NEW AFGHAN SPY CHIEF APPOINTED

Reuters adds: Afghan President Ashraf Ghani has appointed a new acting defence minister to replace Masoom Stanekzai, a loyalist ally whom he has shifted to lead the main intelligence agency, the National Directorate of Security (NDS).

The changes, announced late on Thursday, underline the uncertainty at the top of Afghanistan’s security apparatus that has hindered the fight against the Taliban and other insurgents since Ghani’s National Unity Government came to power in 2014.

Stanekzai, who was well regarded by NATO commanders but never confirmed in office by parliament, moves to take over the NDS, whose director, Rahmatullah Nabil, resigned in December after disagreeing with Ghani’s moves towards rapprochement with Pakistan.

Stanekzai is replaced as caretaker defence minister by General Abdullah Khan, previously chief of staff at the ministry.

Both appointments will have to be approved by parliament, which failed to confirm Stanekzai as defence minister for well over a year amid wrangling in the government led by Ghani and Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah, the two rivals in a disputed 2014 election.

Last month, parliament approved former army general Taj Mohammad Jahid as interior minister after the previous incumbent, Noor-ul-Haq Olomi, resigned following heavy criticism over deteriorating security. At the time, the speaker of parliament asked the government to present nominees to lead the defence ministry and the NDS so that the caretaker arrangement could be ended.