Blame game only strengthens enemy

(Eschmall Sardar, Peshawar)

In a recent diplomatic move, Pakistan government has established active contacts with Kabul in wake of bombings that killed dozens across Afghanistan. Other than Sartaj Aziz, Advisor to the PM on Foreign Affairs, and from the Foreign Office levels, the new Chief of Staff of Pakistan Army also contacted first his Afghan counterpart and then the Afghan President, Ashraf Ghani. His phone calls have apparently helped lower the tensions as President Afghraf Ghani thanked Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa while the world has also appreciated the goodwill gesture extended to Afghanistan, yet again.

This came in wake of stepped up violence by the Taliban in Afghanistan. Up to 30 people were killed and 80 wounded in twin bombings near the Parliament in Kabul. Blasts at the Governor's guesthouse in Kandahar killed at least 11 and injured 14 including the UAE ambassador. Earlier, in Helmand province a Taliban suicide bomber targeted a guesthouse used by an intelligence official, killing at least seven people. The Taliban said they carried out the attack. Most of the victims in the attacks in the capital were said to be civilians, including the parliament staff. The target of the attack, also claimed by the Taliban, was a guesthouse used by a provincial intelligence official in Lashkar Gah, the provincial capital.

Afghanistan welcomed the Pentagon's decision to deploy some 300 US Marines to Helmand, where the American forces engaged in heated combat until they pulled out in 2014. The Marines will head to the poppy-growing province this spring to assist a NATO-led mission to train the Afghan forces, in the latest sign that foreign forces are increasingly being drawn back into the worsening conflict. NATO officially ended its combat mission in December 2014, but the US forces were granted greater powers in June to strike armed groups as President Barack Obama vowed a more aggressive campaign.

Police chief Gen Abdul Raziq said notorious Haqqani terrorist network, with the support of Pakistan’s Inter Services Intelligence (ISI), was behind the deadly attack on Governor’s compound. Speaking during a press conference, Gen. Raziq blamed Pakistan, Haqqani network and ISI for working since a long period of time to target the provincial leadership. However, the Taliban militant group has already denied any involvement in the attack and blamed the officials for having internal disputes, accused them of plotting and carrying out the explosion.

It is questionable however as to what was the UAE ambassador, along with five other UAE officials, doing there and how could the NDS official who took the ambassador there escape the blast unhurt? Observers believe that the inclusion of UAE officials was aimed at cashing in on the UAE Crown Prince’s upcoming Delhi visit while severing its ties with Pakistan. And there are elements in Afghanistan government who are playing in the hands of the Indians, including the NDS. Former NDS chief Amrullah Saleh is amongst the frontrunner anti-Pakistan campaigners who seem to be more antagonists than pragmatists. This seemingly gives impression that Afghanistan is closing the doors of regional cooperation and reconciliation, gradually though, which includes Pakistan.

Afghanistan is of the habit of holding the Pakistan military responsible for the continued Taliban violence in Afghanistan. Afghan officials also accuse Pakistan of controlling much of what the Afghan Taliban do, including ordering terror attacks inside Afghanistan. If Pakistan continues to deny any involvement with all this Afghanistan is threatening to take the matter to the UN and other international tribunals. The Taliban continue to target judges, senior politicians and army and police commanders. This is pure intimidation against prominent people who will not cooperate with, or at least stop opposing, the Taliban and the drug gangs.

The United States has turned down Afghan requests for more American troops and especially more air support. The US repeated that it will keep 10,000 troops in Afghanistan through the end of 2016 and 5,500 in 2017. The Americans also said they would continue funding the Afghan security forces through 2020. The Afghan government cannot support the current force of 320,000 soldiers and police with taxes. The Afghans point out that without continued aid for their security forces the drug gangs will continue to fund the Taliban and keep their heroin production going. Currently Afghanistan is the largest supplier of heroin in the world and the drug gangs want a government that cooperates with them, like the Taliban government did in the 1990s.

The United States has increased its use of UAVs in Afghanistan and supplied Afghanistan with more warplanes and helicopters. The US has also helped train more pilots and ground support personnel. As a result the Afghan Air Force is flying more combat missions. In mid-April the Afghans set a new record when their fixed wing aircraft and armed helicopters flew 83 combat missions in 24 hours. All this will change if the United States cuts all military and financial support by 2020.

Afghanistan has always tried to blame Pakistan somehow or the other. Afghan President Ashraf Ghani has also resorted to using allegations against Pakistan regarding its commitment and honesty to the Afghan peace process. While accusing Pakistan for the apparent stalemate in the talks, President Ghani even in the past said that it was largely because Pakistan has adopted a discriminatory approach and is keeping a distinction of good and bad Taliban and showing leniency towards them. According to him, such a policy by Pakistani leadership is reflective of its half hearted pledge to making the peace process successful. While President Ghani may have his reasons, right or wrong, to doubt Pakistan, one can’t help but wonder why Afghan leadership is so distrustful of Pakistan’s effort.
In a period less than two weeks the Pakistan authorities have contacted the Afghanistan administration; only the Chief of Army Staff, Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa has called twice – once his counterpart and on January 14 he phoned President Ashraf Ghani to not only condemn the attacks and condoled the deaths, but also to reiterate Pakistan’s commitment to Afghan peace. “Elements inimical to peace in the region are strengthened by blame game. No safe havens (for terrorists) in Pakistan,” an ISPR press release quoted the COAS as telling the Afghan president.

During the conversation the COAS suggested that blame game was not in favour of both the countries and emphasized that Pakistan has come a long way in its fight against terrorism of all hue and clolor, eliminating all safe havens in the process. General Qamar Bajwa suggested that both nations should focus on capitalizing upon the gains of successful Zarb-e-Azb operation carried out against terrorists in Pakistan. He also said a robust border management mechanism and intelligence cooperation will put a halt to-and-fro movement of terrorists across the border.

Hence Afghanistan needs to end its obsession with blaming and suspecting Pakistan every now and then for its efforts. It’s not just the RAW operating on the Afghan soil, working against the interest of both Pakistan and Afghanistan but there are several local Afghans who do not support any initiative taken by Pakistan. Doubting and distrusting Pakistan is not going to resolve the situation. No one can deny that Pakistan has its stakes in Afghanistan. The need to have a functional and progressing neighbor along its Western border is not only going to be of great benefit to Pakistan but will also add to the regional stability.

The need of the hour is to devise a trust building mechanism where such kind of statements should especially be avoided to be pronounced on the international platforms. Otherwise the recurring hurling of blames only emphasizes the fact that Afghanistan is itself more responsible for the hiccups in the peace process and for jeopardizing the future prospects of its success. Pakistani government should deal with such situations at two levels: , it should come up with a good verbal response and emphatically refute these unfound allegations.

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