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US should persuade Pakistan to rethink Afghan policy: ICG

Published May 01, 2017 06:52am

WASHINGTON: The United States should condition its military aid to Pakistan to force Islamabad to rethink its alleged support to the Afghan insurgency, says a report released by the International Crisis Group (ICG) on Sunday.

The transnational think tank, which provides policy inputs to the World Bank, the United Nations and the European Union, emphasises the need for the international community to get more actively involved in resolving the Afghan conflict.

In a report released simultaneously in Europe and the United States, the group warns that “no internationally-led negotiations will work unless there is a consensus among Afghans, both those backing and opposing the government, to pursue a negotiated peace rather than continued conflict”.

The first condition for restoring peace to Afghanistan is to contain the insurgency, the ICG argues, and the second is to develop a consensus among Afghan groups. “A third essential element is for Pakistan to become convinced that its interests would be better served by a political settlement in Afghanistan than by continued Taliban insurgency,” it adds.

The report points out that after the transition to Afghan security forces in 2014, the thinly stretched official Afghan forces have been battling a growing insurgency on several fronts.

Quoting from the US Special Inspector General for Afghanis­tan Reconstruction’s observation, the ICG points out only 57.2 per cent of 375 districts were under government control or influence by Feb 1, 2017, an almost 15pc decline since end-2015.

According to the special inspector general, 6,785 Afghan personnel were killed and another 11,777 wounded from January to November 2016, significant losses at a time when security forces are struggling with personnel retention.

The UN Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) also reported a 3pc increase in civilian casualties (3,498 killed and 7,920 wounded) in 2016 over the previous year. The number of high-profile attacks in Kabul also was higher during the first three months of 2017 as compared to equivalent periods in previous years. On April 21, Taliban gunmen and suicide bombers attacked an Afghan army base in the northern Balkh province, killing over 100 military and other personnel and injuring scores more.

The army chief and defence minister both resigned the following day. Two attacks in March targeted police stations and a military hospital, killing 73 and wounding over 240 people.

To prevent the insurgency from spreading further, the report emphasises the need for limiting the scope of ungoverned spaces that could be exploited by regional extremists and transnational terrorist groups.

The report urges the United States and other international players in Afghanistan to address the widening internal disagreements and political partisanship in Afghanistan as these “permeate all levels of the security apparatus and have undermined the official Afghan forces command and control structures”.

The report points out that intra-governmental divisions in Afghanistan have also impeded the implementation of reforms necessary to mitigate the effects of corruption, nepotism and factionalism in the Afghan National Army and particularly the Afghan National Police.

The report claims that Afghanistan’s neighbours are more aggressively promoting what they perceive to be their own national security interests.

“This most notably is the case of Pakistan, whose relations with Afghanistan continue to be strained. Islamabad remains unwilling to facilitate talks between the Taliban and Kabul, and continues supporting its Afghan proxies, allowing them to recruit, fundraise, as well as plan and conduct operations from safe havens inside Pakistan,” the report alleges.

“Pakistan in turn accuses Kabul of at best turning a blind eye, if not actively supporting, Pakistani tribal militants conducting cross-border attacks from Afghan territory,” it adds.

The report notes that deteriorating relations between Pakistan and Afghanistan have had other consequences. In 2016, Islamabad forcibly repatriated more than 550,000 Afghans as relations with Kabul deteriorated.

The report also notes that a February 2017 major terror attack on a shrine in southern Pakistan was claimed by a Pakistani Taliban faction reportedly based in eastern Afghanistan.

In retaliation, Pakistan closed its two main border crossings with Afghanistan — Torkham and Chaman — for over a month and has begun to fence the border, “a move certain to aggravate tensions insofar as Kabul does not recognise the Durand Line as the international boundary”.

The report notes that Pakistan views closer ties between Kabul and New Delhi as provocative while Iran has long been suspected of providing military hardware to some Taliban factions.

The report quotes senior US military officials as saying that Russia recently has upped its involvement, reaching out to the Taliban and “providing them with some military support. Russia has also proposed to lead a new negotiation process which could further complicate Afghanistan’s security dynamics, the report adds.

To convince Pakistan that its interests would be better served by a political settlement in Afghanistan than by continued Taliban insurgency, the report urges the United States to condition its military support to Islamabad to working with Kabul to bring the insurgents to the negotiating table and rethinking its alleged support to the Taliban’s Quetta Shura and the Haqqani network.

“While the US is best placed to pressure Pakistan to reverse its support for Afghan proxies, the EU and member states should use trade and diplomatic ties with Pakistan and financial assistance to Afghanistan as leverage to persuade them to peacefully resolve their differences,” the report adds.

Published in Dawn, May 1st, 2017