Kabul attacks

Published September 6, 2016

A TWIN suicide attack in the heart of Kabul and inside a high-security zone could further destabilise the Afghan government and cause fresh tensions in the already acrimonious Pak-Afghan relationship. If there has been a consistent red line for the Afghan state, it has been attacks by the Taliban in Kabul — the seat of power for the government and the biggest target for insurgents trying to overthrow the state. In his initial reaction at least, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani has focused on condemning the Taliban and avoiding directly blaming Pakistan. But with the national unity government riven by internal disputes and an Afghan intelligence apparatus that is overtly hostile to Pakistan, accusations will likely erupt and be difficult to contain. Meanwhile, there is already scepticism inside Pakistan about the true intentions of the Afghan government after the recent announcement of a rejuvenated trilateral dialogue between the US, India and Afghanistan. That latest peculiar diplomatic-cum-security manoeuvre comes at a time when the security establishment here has been openly accusing India and Afghanistan of facilitating militancy and terrorism inside Pakistan.

The twin priorities for Afghanistan ought to be the stabilisation of the political government and an expeditious path to dialogue with the Taliban. Yet, it may increasingly be the case that the former is undermining the latter: the non-Ghani factions of the national unity government are mostly strident in their criticism of Pakistan and do not believe that there can be political reconciliation with the Taliban, in the present circumstances or at all. Moreover, the trilateral dialogue between India, Afghanistan and the US may further erode the possibility of a revival of the Quadrilateral Coordination Group. While the Afghan government may be hoping that the trilateral dialogue will put pressure on Pakistan to curb Taliban sanctuaries inside Pakistan and nudge the Taliban to the negotiating table via the QCG or a similar group, in practice it may have the opposite effect given the hardening view of Indo-Afghan policy towards Pakistan in security circles here. The trilateral dialogue also adds to the diplomatic muddle by creating parallel tracks in which India and Pakistan are expected to engage with Afghanistan and other regional powers: China in the possibly defunct QCG; India in the trilateral; Pakistan squabbling with both India and Afghanistan and in tense relations with India — where is the harmony or even consistency in approach?

What ought to be kept in mind here, however, is that President Ghani came to office seeking to reverse his predecessor Hamid Karzai’s approach of seeking closer ties with India. Now Mr Ghani is enthusiastically seeking deeper economic, political and military ties with India. Whether a potential friend of Pakistan’s in Kabul has irreversibly become hostile towards Pakistan is not known. But the powers-that-be on either side of the Durand Line need to remember the Pak-Afghan relationship is symbiotic and must always be nudged in a constructive direction.

Published in Dawn September 6th, 2016

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