In little over two days after the spectacular attack on the Afghan parliament by the Taliban, the Afghan intelligence, NDS, has accused Pakistan’s ISI of masterminding the attack. Pakistan, of course, has angrily denied the accusation. Given the new military leadership in Pakistan and the hitherto uncharted direction it has visibly struck against militancy and extremism, the NDS accusation would appear baffling to any mind.
With the only hope of definitively defeating its own worst enemy, the Pakistani Taliban, even the idea of attacking the Afghan parliament appears suicidal. Yet, the Afghans maintain that that is what Pakistan is up to.

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For years, it has been clear that unless Pakistan and Afghanistan both use the hammer and anvil strategy against each others Taliban, neither will succeed against the enemies that threaten their very existence. And such cooperation was evident beginning late last year, with high level visits from civil and military leadership from both sides to contour a strategy to fight terrorism together and not differentiate between the Afghan or Pakistani Taliban, or between ISIS or Al Qaeda for that matter.
However, part of the explanation of the perplexing Afghan accusation lies in events that transpired about two weeks ago. An unprecedented memorandum of understanding (MoU) was signed between the intelligence agencies of the two countries to conduct joint operations, share intelligence and for Pakistan to help train and equip Afghan security and intelligence personnel. It was an unprecedented pact of cooperation, but caused an uproar in Afghanistan’s political circles. President Ashraf Ghani’s visionary initiative to partner with Pakistan to try and resolve the intractable Taliban problem was immediately unpopular with hawks and political factions opposed to him from the very start. The Karzai faction whipped up a storm and a senior member of the Afghan parliament asked the international relations committee to summon the NDS to seek explanation for the MoU signed with the ISI.


President Ghani’s dramatic turn towards Pakistan and away from India has earned him his opponents’ anger from the beginning. His refusal to accept the offer of weapons from India and instead accept training of Afghan officers by Pakistan earned him widespread hostility from opponents. President Ghani has also diverted precious police and military resources to Eastern provinces to help Pakistan battle the TTP. The obvious rationale of his strategy is that cooperation with Pakistan will gain him Pakistan’s aid in either reigning in the Afghan Taliban, whose leadership resides in Pakistan, or bringing it to the negotiating table. This much has been promised to him by the Pakistani leadership, both civil and military.
This olive branch has long been offered to Afghanistan by Pakistan, but President Karzai’s government remained suspicious and leaned towards India. Unfortunately, President Karzai’s thought process reflects the suspicion and hatred of the Pakistani establishment widespread in public and the Afghan intelligentsia. Hence the furious reaction to the unprecedented cooperation between the two countries, and the allegations levelled by the NDS against the ISI are entirely expected. Even the MoU was said to be signed by the deputy of the Director General of the NDS, as the Director General was reported to have refused to sign it. Many in the Afghan government and public consider the overtures a deep betrayal.
Now to understand why is it so. Pakistan has always insisted that it can deliver the Afghan Taliban if it is offered a seat at the negotiating table. Indeed, Pakistan has tried to help with negotiations between the Taliban and the Afghan government in Qatar and in China. However, it has been thwarted every time by the intransigent Afghan Taliban every time. Apart from the fact that Pakistan’s intent was doubted (that it was going to play a double game as it always has), its ability, too was under question. Clearly, the refusal by the Afghan Taliban to play ball has demonstrated that Pakistan promised far more than it could deliver.
But it does not end here with the matter of intent or ability. The Afghan hawks’ contention that if Pakistan cannot persuade the Afghan Taliban, then it must demonstrate will and sincerity by either taking them on militarily or pushing them out from their safe havens in the country is an entirely justified one. Thus, it is not enough to criticise the supposedly unreasonable Afghan opposition to President Ghani’s rapprochement efforts or the accusations against the ISI.


There are two distinct measures that Pakistan needs to take at this critical time to ensure President Ghani’s and its own efforts to secure the two countries are not overrun. First, it needs to either expel (hammer and anvil) all Taliban leadership including the Quetta Shura and the Haqqani network, or to take them on militarily to demonstrate its commitment to peace in the two countries. Second, it needs to thoroughly investigate the attack on the Afghan parliament and the accusation of operatives within the ISI having helped the Afghan Taliban. Though it is crystal clear that the military or intelligence leadership cannot have been involved in the attack, it would be hardly surprising if rogue elements were. It has happened too often in the past. Most importantly, if any such conspiracy to sabotage regional peace is found, not only must the actors be punished, but must also be exposed in the interests of transparency and efforts to assuage Afghan anger.