The days of hope that came with the election of President Ashraf Ghani in Afghanistan have faded, and been replaced by seemingly a return to the default position of mutual animosity and recrimination. Whatever veneer of trust had been built has worn away. Seven soldiers were killed by fire from the Afghan side of the border on October 27. The fire was directed at an area in the Shawal Valley where the Pakistan Army is conducting an anti-Taliban operation.
It is unclear whether the fire came from Afghan forces or militants seeking to support their comrades in the Shawal Valley, but the incident has been claimed by yet another splinter group, calling itself the Majlis-e-Askari. Matters are no better diplomatically with Afghan Chief Executive Dr Abdullah Abdullah as he has said that he has doubts and suspicions in respect of the Pakistan role in the currently-stalled peace process that encompasses the Taliban.
Complexities abound. The Afghan Taliban have had a very successful fighting season and their brief taking of Kunduz is a clear indicator that they remain a powerful force both militarily and politically. Simply, there is no way around the Taliban and any peace process is meaningless without them at the table — a reality of which they are well aware. Equally aware are the elected governments of Pakistan and Afghanistan, with the prime minister of the former pointing out to President Obama on his recent visit to the US the difficulties of getting the Taliban to the table whilst at the same time killing them in significant numbers. There are trust deficits everywhere — nobody trusts anybody else and there is a plentiful history of broken promises and abandonment to offer as evidence of duplicity and dissembling. All sides are guilty, there are no innocents. The Taliban hold and administer large parts of Afghanistan and have durability and resilience. Their strengths play to the weaknesses in the governments of Afghanistan and Pakistan, and the Taliban are content to assume a position of masterly inactivity as far as any peace process is concerned while the two governments lapse into recrimination and animosity. Peace remains a distant dream.
Pak-Afghan Relations — A Steady Decay
Published in The Express Tribune, October 29th, 2015.