In recent months, the Afghan government has extended unprecedented cooperation to neighboring Pakistan.
In a marked change of its foreign policy toward Islamabad, Kabul sent military officers for training in Pakistan and has arrested some terrorism suspects at Islamabad’s request. It has even allowed Pakistani intelligence officials to interrogate terrorism suspects being held in Afghan prisons.
In doing so, President Ashraf Ghani’s main motivation seems to be securing Islamabad’s backing in negotiating peace with the Taliban. This process has been ramped up in recent weeks, and the president has even sent a high-level Afghan delegation to Qatar in hopes of beginning peace negotiations soon.
Unfortunately, things on the ground in Afghanistan have not improved at the same pace. The security situation across our country has not improved. Our capital and cities across the nation still suffer from regular terrorist attacks.
On February 28, a suicide attack targeting a lawmaker near the eastern city of Jalalabad killed four civilians, including two children. Before that, on February 26, two people were killed in a suicide car-bomb attack in Kabul’s diplomatic quarter. The recent abduction of 30 civilians in southern Afghanistan is part of the same pattern of violence.
A majority of Afghans attribute such attacks to the presence of extremists and terrorists in neighboring Pakistan.
In another extremely damaging blow to bilateral relations, thousands of Afghan refugees were recently forced to return to their country after facing harassment in Pakistan. Appeals by the UN Refugee Agency, UNHCR and global rights watchdog Human Rights Watch to Islamabad to stop the harassment of Afghan refugees had little impact. Authorities in Islamabad even arrested and mistreated four Afghan diplomats, which prompted Kabul to summon the Pakistani envoy on March 1.
Unfortunately, such behavior is in line with Islamabad’s past policies. While sheltering the Taliban and allied violent extremists, Islamabad has long resisted cultivating a genuine friendship and true cooperation with Afghanistan.
The previous Afghan government, for whom I used to work, sought Pakistan’s help in restoring peace to Afghanistan for more than a decade. I can recall a visit to Pakistan three years back in February 2012 when President Hamid Karzai asked for Pakistan’s help in reaching out to fugitive Taliban leaders.
Based on credible information and strong arguments about peace and regional cooperation, Karzai pressed Pakistani officials for helping in bringing Taliban leaders such as Mullah Mohammad Omar to the negotiating table.
We were given the same standard answer we had heard so many times before: “We have some influence over the Taliban, but ultimately we do not control them.”
Karzai even offered the Pakistani leaders: “I arrived in Islamabad for an official two-day visit, but I am ready to stay here for a week if you would help pave the way for direct negotiations with the Taliban.”
Pakistani Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar, whose views reflected those of the country’s powerful military, flatly denied Islamabad is even capable of helping access the Taliban leadership for negotiations.
Our president, however, insisted, and this tense meeting continued for hours. Finally, senior Pakistani military officials agreed to pass on the Afghan government’s message to Mullah Omar and then share his response with Kabul. The officials also said that they would ask the Taliban to join the peace process.
Soon after the visit, the office of Pakistani Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani issued a statement calling on “the Taliban leadership as well as all other Afghan groups, including Hizb-e Islami, to participate in an intra-Afghan process for national reconciliation and peace.
But the Pakistani military again did nothing to materialize this understanding between the two countries.
Jumpstarting the peace process is still fundamental for Afghanistan, and President Ghani’s steps toward that end are laudable. But his administration should not allow Islamabad to gain concessions from Afghanistan in the name of facilitating peace talks with the Taliban in Qatar.
We should remember that the Taliban office in Qatar was a joint initiative of Pakistan and the United States. Islamabad had a central role in bringing the Taliban to Qatar and in shaping their views about peace negotiations. Even now, Islamabad is really motivated by securing its own interests and does not intend to cooperate with the Afghan government.
If Kabul really wants to test Islamabad’s resolve, it should ask Pakistan to immediately act to stop the production and transport of explosives to Afghanistan. We must ask how the suicide vests and other explosive devices ― which are produced in Pakistan ― are being transported to Afghanistan with such ease.
In addition, Islamabad needs to stop its ill treatment and harassment of Afghan refugees immediately.