Pakistan and Afghanistan are both victims of terrorism and as such, they need to cooperate with each other earnestly to effectively deal with the common threat. But it is regrettable to note that the persistent efforts by Pakistan to promote Afghan-owned and Afghan-led reconciliation in Afghanistan and to develop a common strategy in cooperation with her against the terrorists have not been fruitful because of the intransigent and non-cooperative attitude of the Afghan government.

The Afghan government and USA continue to raise accusing fingers towards Pakistan, questioning the veracity of indiscriminate action against the terrorist entities through operation Zarb-e-Azb, with the former invariably holding Pakistan responsible for the terrorist attacks in Afghanistan. The US has even withheld the release of funds under the Coalition Support Fund maintaining that Pakistan had not taken decisive action against the Haqqani network.

Pakistani leadership, both civilian and military, has repeatedly tried to clear the haze through every available forum but there has been no change in their narrative. The fact is that TTP operatives based in Afghanistan have been planning and executing terrorist attacks in Pakistan from Afghan soil with the covert support of RAW and Afghan intelligence, NDS.

The Pakistani leadership provided solid proof to the Afghan government about the use of Afghan territory by the terrorists to foment terrorism within Pakistan, particularly when the APS tragedy unfolded in Peshawar in December 2014. Earlier, when operation Zarb-e-Azb was launched in June the same year after the terrorist attack at Karachi airport, that was also the handiwork of terrorists based on Afghan territory. Pakistan security authorities and the government duly notified the Afghan government about the commencement of the operation, requesting it to make sure that terrorists did not escape into Afghanistan when military action was undertaken in North Waziristan. The desired cooperation never came forth, with the result that the leadership of the TTP and other terrorist groups crossed over to Afghanistan and set up their training camps along the border on the Afghan side.

Terrorist attacks in Quetta, Lahore and Sehwan Sharif left no choice for the security establishment of Pakistan to take retaliatory action against the terrorist training camps within Afghan territory, besides closure of the entry point between the two countries, which put further strain on the relations between two countries. Pakistan also took a unilateral decision to fence the border and construct forts and observer points along the border to stop cross border movement of the terrorists and also to regulate the movement of citizens of the two countries through the approved exit and entry points.

However, due to subsequent efforts through diplomatic channels and trilateral talks between Afghanistan, Pakistan and China, the ice started melting and both the countries expressed the resolve to coordinate their efforts with regards to action against the terrorists and keep each other in the loop.

In line with this understanding, the Pakistan military, before starting Operation Khyber-IV in the Rajgal Valley of Khyber Agency to forestall the possibility of IS operatives entering Khyber Agency, informed the Afghan government, the Resolute Support Mission and ODRP. However the Afghan government, in its reaction to the operation denied that it had been notified about the operation and said that these operations needed to be carried out in terrorist centres in Lahore, Karachi, Peshawar and Quetta, monitored by China and US. Responding to the Afghan reaction, the ISPR said that Pakistan army looked forward to trust-based security coordination and cooperation to fight against the common enemy, adding that the rhetoric of blame and suggestive allegations were the agenda of forces working against order and peace in the region.

Since the commencement of the operation Khyber IV, a spate of terrorist attacks have occurred in Pakistan including the one at Lahore. The responsibility of these attacks has been accepted by TTP. A similar attack has also occurred in Kabul. The COAS General Qamar Bajwa has said that the simultaneous terrorist acts in Lahore and Kabul proved that both the countries were victims of terrorism and the regional actors and hostile agencies were using terror as a policy tool. He said that both countries would continue to suffer if those actors were able to use Afghan territory with impunity. He also offered help to Afghanistan in eliminating terrorist safe havens in their border area.

General Bajwa was right on the money in pointing out a regional dimension to the phenomenon of terrorism and involvement of some regional powers and their agencies. It is hard to take exception to what General Bajwa has said. The present government, since its inception, has also been trying to remove the ambience of mistrust between the two countries in an effort to develop a common strategy to tackle terrorism as it rightly felt convinced that peace in Pakistan was inextricably linked to peace in Afghanistan. It has been pursuing a policy of looking for a peaceful neighbourhood and building regional linkages. But unfortunately, those efforts have not produced the desired results.

My considered view is that the Afghan government was actually not in a position to take an independent decision with regards to the resolution of the Afghan conundrum and eliminating terrorism through collaborative efforts with Pakistan. The key to the resolution of these issues lies with the US. Unfortunately, the US does not want a solution to these problems as continued instability in this region suits her strategic interests. I have in my columns maintained throughout that the US was not going to get out of Afghanistan and it would keep permanent presence in that country. It has already announced to reinforce its forces in Afghanistan, which will surely lead to the escalation of conflict in the country. The Taliban, who have been demanding complete withdrawal of US and NATO forces before they could even think of negotiating with the Afghan government, would not accept the new development at any cost.

The instability in this region also suits the objectives of US-India nexus to thwart rising Chinese influence in the region and beyond, as well as to sabotage CPEC. The portents are not very encouraging for Pakistan. The US is already reviewing its relations with Pakistan. Under the circumstances, Pakistan will have to recalibrate its relations with the US in line with the dictates of the emerging geo-strategic realities without straining its relations with the only super power of the world. It should continue with its unilateral action of securing the border with Afghanistan and focusing on eliminating the remaining support network of the terrorists. Building strategic, economic and defence partnership with countries like Russia, China and central Asian states could also help in mitigating the negative impact of US-India nexus, besides effective use of the forum of CSO.

The desired cooperation never came forth, with the result that the leadership of the TTP and other terrorist groups crossed over to Afghanistan and set up their training camps along the border on the Afghan side.