RECIPROCITY is at the heart of a solution to militant violence in the region and army chief Gen Qamar Bajwa has done the right thing by publicly urging the Afghan state to match Pakistan’s actions against militancy and terrorism. Certainly, Pakistan has pledged before to help curb cross-border militancy and act on intelligence provided by the Afghan state against militants who may have found sanctuary in Pakistan and have used it to plan and execute attacks inside Afghanistan. Similarly, Afghanistan has for long either denied that anti-Pakistan militant sanctuaries exist on Afghan soil or shown little interest in taking Pakistan’s concerns seriously. But in publicly calling for reciprocal action by Afghanistan, Gen Bajwa has staked out a position that could help put an end to the blame game and target militants who have rocked Afghanistan with violence in recent times and others that have continued to periodically attack Pakistan. The devastating violence inside Afghanistan and a stubborn rate of continuing attacks inside Pakistan are untenable for both states and it has long been understood by independent observers that without a significant degree of reciprocal action, militants would continue to have the space to plan and coordinate attacks. Indeed, the more tensions between Pakistan and Afghanistan spike, the more militants in the region benefit.
Ultimately, while evolution in militant tactics and operations may require both Afghanistan and Pakistan to adjust their tactics, the broader steps that need to be taken by both countries have long been apparent. Afghanistan and the US have long tried to shift blame for political and security failures of their own making inside Afghanistan, but it is also true that Pakistan has not always treated legitimate complaints seriously. The US also continues to err in strategy and is ambivalent about talking to the Afghan Taliban when it is apparent that only a political settlement can bring relative stability inside Afghanistan. Yet, the hideous attacks inside Afghanistan this year have made clear that no state absorbs such violence without dangerous repercussions for the region. A political settlement in Afghanistan does not mean simply tolerating the violence until then. Similarly, persistent attacks inside Pakistan that are coordinated from TTP sanctuaries inside Afghanistan have threatened to roll back significant gains in Fata, Swat and other parts of the country. If Gen Bajwa is willing to speak publicly of reciprocal action, Afghanistan should take him up on his pledge.
Published in Dawn, February 15th, 2018