The End of the Affair

New Delhi, Sept.8 (ANI): “Insecurity twists meanings and poisons trust,” wrote the famous novelist and ex-British Secret Intelligence Service (MI6) officer – Graham Greene, in his novel The End of the Affair. Something like this afflicts Pakistan in its relations with both its neighbours, Afghanistan and India and even with its main benefactor, the United States. No wonder that this has hampered its relations with all three. There are no signs of the insecurity disappearing mostly because it is an irrational feeling of successive regimes’ self-induced paranoia along with grandiose views of themselves.

The Afghan-Pakistan relations have been amongst the worst among neighbours for over six decades barring the short period when the Taliban were in control in Kabul. Relations between the two soured right from the beginning when Afghanistan became the only country to vote against Pakistan’s admission to the UN. At heart was the division of the Pashtuns by the British when they drew the Durand Line in 1854 and coerced a beleaguered Abdur Rehman through economic embargo, to accept this division as he was dependent on the British for supplies for his battles against the Hazaras. The imperial masters had divided the Pashtun, blocked Afghan access to the Arabian Sea and secured their colony against the Russian Czar. It is well known that the Afghans have never accepted the Durand Line.

Afghan-Pakistan animosity began in the early days and remains strong today. The beginning had Pashtun blood on the streets of Babrra in Charsadda when 600 to 1000 unarmed Khudai Khidmatgar Pashtuns were shot dead on August 12, 1948. They were violating Section 144 of the Penal code. The Afghans were adventurous in the early 1950s and into the next decade hoping to get the Pakistanis to agree to a greater Pashtunistan. It has been a tortuous history of the Afghan regime of Mohammed Daud Khan launching attacks into Pakistan and then reactions from Bhutto’s government. General Zia’s martial law, Bhutto’s hanging, the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, the launch of the Afghan jihad, the retreat of the Soviets and the rise of Al Qaeda and the Taliban in the 1990s were part of this unhappy Afghan-Pakistan history.

Besides, Pakistani leaders cannot reconcile to the fact that Afghanistan, a Muslim nation is friendly with India, a non-Muslim nation but they forget that being

Muslims themselves did not prevent them from splitting.

Pakistan became increasingly involved in the support to various jihadi groups active in Afghanistan from Pakistani soil and even the dire threats from the Americans post Nine-Eleven had limited effect on Pakistani policies. The whole thing just became more devious and complicated. By 2007, the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan, a FATA-based Islamist terrorist umbrella organisation covering 13 militant Islamist groupings with an anti-Pakistan agenda (for supporting the American war on terror) began to threaten the state. This has complicated Pakistan’s chances of establishing strategic depth in Afghanistan through the array of terrorist organisations operating there from Pakistani soil.

Nevertheless, Pakistan sees the likely US disinterest in Afghanistan as its best opportunity to establish itself as the paramount power in Afghanistan by involving China on its side and trying to force a Pakistan-led and Pakistan-owned peace talks between the Afghan Government and the Taliban. A Taliban-Afghanistan peace deal is also something that the Americans would want to encourage even if this happens with Chinese blessings. So long as Karzai was President, Afghan-Taliban talks could not take place; he just would not have them on the same table. The Doha office of the Taliban was downgraded. As a result he had to go and his replacement Abdul Ghani thought – or maybe was gently coaxed, into seeking reconciliation with Pakistan and the Taliban.

That is what he tried when he visited even the Chief of Pakistan Army in his nest, spoke glowingly of Pakistan-Afghan relations and visited Beijing. Preliminary discussions were held in China between the Taliban and Afghan government representatives. Despite these steps, Pakistani pressure on the Taliban to increase their activities continued. The memorandum of understanding between the Afghan and Pakistani intelligence services in May 2015 startled many Afghans apart from causing unease in India. The MOU was repudiated by the Afghans soon enough. The Murree talks (July 2015) monitored by the Americans and Chinese but choreographed by the Pakistanis were supposed to be followed by another round. These talks were destined to fail because the peace deal was being cobbled together through a party (Pakistan) that the other (Afghanistan) did not trust as it controls the combatant (Taliban) with whom the deal was being attempted. Moreover, one of the monitors (China) was a mentor of the Pakistanis and the other (US) was just anxious to quit and go home, despite all statements to the contrary. The deck was loaded against the Afghans from the start.

Pakistani double speak was exposed once again when it was revealed by the Afghans and intriguingly, the Americans in July 2015 that Mullah Omar had actually been dead for more than two years and the Pakistanis were keeping this under wraps as they manoeuvred for a favourable succession order. The Afghans postponed the second round of talks, and the Pakistanis reacted in the usual fashion. The Haqqani Networks were let lose with a series of violent terrorist attacks in Kabul in early August. Meanwhile, the Taliban continued their activity in Helmand and Kandahar provinces in the south and in Kunduz and Badakshan in the north. A spectre of instability haunts Afghanistan with ethnic leaders like Abdur Rashid Dostum and Atta Noor Mohammed wanting to use their own militia to restore law and order.

The anger in Afghanistan has been palpable. President Ghani himself was bitter when he said that Pakistan remained a venue and base from where mercenaries sent messages of war to Afghanistan. He was specific when he said, “The incidents of the past two months in general and the recent days in particular show that suicide training camps and bomb making facilities used to target and murder our innocent people still operate, as in the past, in Pakistan.” These are very strong unequivocal words coming from a head of state. Ghani also rejected claims by the Pakistani NSA Sartaj Aziz that Pakistan had rolled back the Haqqani Network. The Network remained intact inside Pakistan, Ghani asserted.

Knowledgeable circles in Afghanistan do not believe that Pakistan will ever stop terror in their country. They see Pakistan as a politically insecure state that seeks to control Afghanistan and pressure India with whom they seek parity. They insist that talks cannot be only to cater to the demands of the Taliban because that is tantamount to appeasement. (A stand that Indians should also learn to applaud).

Contrast this with the news that gentlemen cadets of the Indian Military Academy celebrated the passing out parade of their Afghan colleague. In a few days, Afghanistan’s Chief Executive Dr. Abdullah Abdullah will be in India. We should not treat this as a ceremonial visit but concrete mutually agreed steps to assist Afghanistan in the best way possible are needed. It is time to raise our profile in a country that has been our friend all these decades.

For a start, Prime Minister Modi should be visiting Kabul soon. Being there with friends in their hour of need is an important precept.

The views expressed in the above article are that of Mr. Vikram Sood, former Secretary R and AW, Government of India, and currently an adviser to the New Delhi-based Observer Research Foundation. By Vikram Sood (ANI)

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