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Afghanistan rethink

Updated February 03, 2018


THE inherent, deep and continuing difficulties in the Pak-Afghan bilateral relationship are on display once again.

Despite what appeared to be a relatively positive set of meetings by a high-level Afghan delegation, led by the Afghan interior minister and NDS chief, to Pakistan and a reciprocal visit by Foreign Secretary Tehmina Janjua to Afghanistan scheduled for the weekend, the Afghan side has once again gone public with allegations against Pakistan.

This time the allegations centre on the recent devastating attacks in Kabul, with Afghan officials claiming that the attacks were planned and coordinated from alleged Afghan Taliban sanctuaries inside Pakistan.

Perhaps that is a political necessity for an Afghan government under fresh and intense pressure domestically following a series of troubling attacks by militants, but both Afghan and Pakistani authorities should focus on security and intelligence cooperation between the two countries and avoid blame games that can quickly spiral out of control.

Certainly, Pakistan should investigate claims made by Afghan officials. Pakistan needs Afghan government cooperation when it comes to eliminating anti-Pakistan militant sanctuaries in Afghanistan, and should recognise that the most recent series of attacks across the border, especially in Kabul, are deeply troubling and destabilising.

The Taliban’s ability to penetrate Kabul and launch deadly attacks during what previously was considered a winter lull in fighting has created fresh uncertainties, while the IS continues to demonstrate its staying power and strength.

Pakistan should help Kabul in this moment of great peril to the Afghan state. But both the Afghan and US governments need to recognise that they are wrong in either rejecting or not seriously seeking to restart a dialogue process with the Taliban.

President Donald Trump appears to have rejected the possibility of dialogue with the Taliban until the balance of power in Afghanistan tilts back towards the state there and away from the insurgents. However, the old formulation of talking only from a position of strength has consistently failed in Afghanistan, in part because it is not clear if the state can strengthen itself much beyond its current capabilities.

The Afghan government too has been inconsistent in the search for sustained dialogue with the Taliban. The Taliban’s insistence that they speak directly to the US is part of the problem, but so is Kabul’s reluctance to urgently seek talks.

As Afghanistan bleeds, it may be difficult for the Afghan government to discuss reconciliation and peace with the very enemy that is inflicting such damage on the country. But it has long been clear that a political settlement is the only realistic possibility of ending the war in Afghanistan.

Statesmanship requires hard decisions sometimes. The alternative is a messy, bloody, endless war in which all Afghans suffer. Afghanistan has suffered too much already; it is time to give peace a chance.

Published in Dawn, February 3rd, 2018