Another attack in Kabul

Published January 22, 2018

ANOTHER shocking, devastating attack in Kabul has bloodily underlined a troubling security situation in Afghanistan.

And a verbal spat in the UN has suggested that the Pakistan-US relationship is set for a prolonged period of uncertainty.

Each time extreme violence and psychologically shocking events occur, there are attempts to move past them as aberrations or incidents that can be absorbed as part of a greater violent struggle.

But the attack on a landmark hotel in Kabul while there are attempts by the US to ramp up military action in Afghanistan and the Afghan government is attempting to prove it has continuing political legitimacy suggests that militant networks in the country continue to dominate the security landscape.

Ultimately, whatever the role that the US security presence, Kabul and other outside security forces have inside Afghanistan, there will have to be an intra-Afghan political settlement.

There are two aspects to a change in strategy: Pakistan and Afghanistan. The US may be a fundamental outside power, but the 17th year of a US-led war in Afghanistan has not changed the ability of the superpower to determine the ultimate political outcome in that country.

There are attempts by the US in recent days to put greater military pressure on the Afghan Taliban and such moves could possibly change political calculations in the US, but there are obvious questions about what a fraction of the US military can succeed at, even with loose rules of engagement, when a military force up to 10 times as large was unable to achieve its objective.

Whatever the configuration of military power, and whatever the US may claim, it is essential that a political solution be found inside Afghanistan that is acceptable, primarily, to the Afghan government and Pakistan.

Worryingly, neither the Afghan government nor the Pakistani state appears willing to acknowledge the obvious. The killing of the Afghan consul general in Karachi in the Kabul attack could sharpen tensions and cause fresh disagreements.

A possible solution has been apparent for a reasonable amount of time: Pakistan and the Afghan government step up intelligence cooperation to allow both states to target and capture or eliminate militant enemies. In truth, at this point in a seemingly never-ending war, both sides need to acknowledge that they may be attempting dangerous games.

There are no militants, on either side of the border, who ought to have a future in the region. It is absurd for Pakistan to allegedly seek an outcome in Afghanistan that causes swathes of the Afghan population to recoil in horror. It is similarly absurd for the Afghan and Indian states to seek outcomes that destabilise the Pakistani state. Let peace prevail in Pakistan, Afghanistan and India.

Published in Dawn, January 22nd, 2018

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