The leadership of Afghanistan and Pakistan has demonstrated that both countries are poised to work in unison to formulate a strategy for bringing peace to both the countries. As a first step, the two countries have decided to effectively counter the propaganda against their countries aimed at stalling the recent intelligence-sharing agreement and sabotaging the evolving harmonious relations. After a visible thaw in bilateral relations between Kabul and Islamabad, Pakistan came down hard on Taliban by warning the militants’ group to immediately call off their ‘Spring Offensive’ in Afghanistan or face dire consequences.
The message was conveyed to Taliban leaders through ‘intermediaries’. The Afghan authorities were also kept in the information loop. Pakistan has made it clear to the senior Taliban cadres that they will face ‘serious consequences’ if the ongoing spring offensive was not called off. There is a possibility that Pakistan and Afghanistan may jointly deal with the Afghan Taliban if they refuse to respond to the peace overtures. New Afghan government has been steadily trying to engage with Pakistan seeking the country’s role for ending the long-lasting conflict in the country.
When Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif visited Kabul on May 12, he informed the Afghan leaders about the warning conveyed to the insurgents in Afghanistan. At a news briefing in Kabul, the Prime Minister strongly condemned the hype in Taliban violence and the group’s spring offensive. “Continuation of such offensive and attacks will be construed as terrorist acts and we condemn such attacks in the strongest terms,” Nawaz declared. This was a rare public condemnation of insurgents’ activities in the strongest terms.
There are reports of fierce fighting in different parts of Afghanistan, insurgents have intensified their attacks in the urban centres as well. This year’s spring offensive is considered a test season of the capabilities of Afghan National Security Forces and the National Unity Government. With the escalation of violence, hopes for resumption of peace talks with the Taliban have been declining and many Afghans are skeptical of Pakistan’s pledges for helping peace efforts.
Afghan Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MoFA) has said that the warning issued to the Taliban by Pakistan to end its spring offensive is part of Islamabad’s commitment to support Kabul in the war against terror and in the embryonic peace process. The ministry’s spokesman, Ahmad Shekib Mustaghn, in his weekly media briefing said that Pakistani officials during their trips to Afghanistan have assured that Islamabad supports the peace process of Afghanistan and is ready to cooperate.
Both countries understand that without combating terrorism jointly it is impossible to defeat it in both countries, as they share a lengthy and porous border. In words of President Ghani, “We are seeking a long-seated peace; peace between Afghanistan and Pakistan and peace among the government and armed opponents. There is an unexpected hostility between us, an issue which our friends in Pakistan have also accepted, but in reaching to a prosperous future, we need new efforts and joint cooperation, because militancy threats Afghanistan, Pakistan and the whole region.” He went on to say that, “In order to reach to our future goals, we have to overcome the past. But going forward requires a movement and joint cooperation against the threats.”
To carry the process further, the Adviser on Foreign Affairs met with Salahuddin Rabbani, Afghan foreign minister on 28th May, on the sidelines of the 42nd OIC Council of Ministers’ meeting in Kuwait. The two Ministers reviewed the implementation of the understandings reached during the recent visit to Kabul by the Prime Minister of Pakistan for intensifying bilateral cooperation between the two countries in diverse fields. Civil and military leaderships of Pakistan and Afghanistan have expressed their desire for their quest for permanent peace not only in Afghanistan but also in the region.
Recently, an intelligence sharing MoU was signed between the ISI of Pakistan and the NDS of Afghanistan, which outlined the terms of collaboration between the NDA and ISI counter-terrorism and counterinsurgency efforts in their respective territories. The signing of the agreement marks the revival of trust between Islamabad and Kabul, particularly between their security and intelligence establishments. This positive development has raised the alarm in New Delhi and their political assets in Afghanistan are trying their best to sabotage the current initiative.
Opinion is split in Afghanistan over this intelligence sharing agreement between the two countries. The head of the NDS, Rahmatullah Nabil, who had refused to sign the MoU, his predecessor, Amrullah Saleh, sitting parliamentarians and former president Hamid Karzai have joined the chorus against what they likened to a treasonous act. Their reaction has exposed their deep-rooted dislike, if not hatred, for Pakistan. Even the Indian National Security Adviser Ajit Doval jumped into the fray to run down the ISI-NDS agreement. Ajit Doval has said that MoU is based on faulty assumptions. “What Pakistan wanted was to get an assurance and put pressure on Afghanistan so that they will not allow their territory to be used for any security-related work by India. That is the crux of it. This is based on a faulty assumption that India probably uses Afghan soil or Afghan nationals for its security purposes”. However, Afghan Ministry of Interior has welcomed Islamabad’s warning to the Taliban and said that such moves can boost morale of Afghan security forces in fight against militants. A member of the internal security and defense affairs committee of the Wolesi Jirga (lower house of parliament), Khalid Pashtoon, told Azadi Radio that war is still going on in every hook and cranny of the country. “If Pakistan is willing to sincerely cooperate with Afghanistan in the fight against terror, then it should show it in action.”
While addressing the first senior officials’ meeting of the Heart of Asia-Istanbul Process, recently held in Islamabad, the Adviser on National Security and Foreign Affairs Sartaj Aziz declared that enemies of Afghanistan are enemies of Pakistan. “Afghanistan holds immense significance for us, not only because we share a common border or ethnic affinity, but also because together we can usher in a new era of regional connectivity and regional cooperation in line with the vision of transformation decade enunciated by President Ashraf Ghani,” Aziz said. The adviser assured Pakistan’s firm commitment towards ensuring that Afghanistan’s transformation phase becomes a harbinger of regional growth and prosperity, and expressed hope that with a combination of dedication and resourcefulness, the Heart of Asia-Istanbul Process would be driven along a productive path. During the meeting, there was convergence of views that peace, security and stability are essential for socio-economic development and prosperity in Afghanistan and the region.
Also, there have been contacts between the Taliban and Afghan government in China. On May 20, Secretary of the High Peace Council led a three-member delegation to China to meet three Taliban representatives; though both the national unity government and the Taliban have denied the news of this meeting. Taliban team comprised Mullah Abdul Razaq Akhond, who represented the Quetta Shura; former deputy minister of foreign affairs under the Taliban regime, Mullah Jalil; and a former governor of Kandahar during Taliban rule.
As of now Afghan peace process seems to have taken a right direction. However, it would need continuous nurturing and protective care. Time has come for the Taliban to go beyond their prohibitive preconditions for talks, and think of adding these preconditions to the list of end objectives of intra-Afghan peace process.