April 30, 2017
The visit by a 15-member delegation of senior Pakistani lawmakers to Kabul was supposedly designed to assure Afghan leaders that Islamabad was committed to finding a peaceful solution to the conflict in Afghanistan. However, at the same time, in a meeting on April 30, the head of the delegation called on Afghanistan’s head of state to basically ignore one key source of instability: Pakistan’s support for the Taliban. This was not some nuanced misunderstanding but, according to a brief published by Radio Pakistan, appeared to be a direct demand.
“Pakistan has urged Afghanistan to avoid [the] blame game and work together [towards] a mutually beneficial future,” the brief noted. “This was stated by [the] Speaker [of the] National Assembly Ayaz Sadiq during a meeting with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani in Kabul on Sunday.”
Sadiq also said Pakistan believes in harnessing “good neighborly relations on equal footing,” but the readout did not indicate if the speaker uttered these words with a straight face. In addition, Sadiq proposed hosting a conference with counterparts in Iran and China to discuss a regional solution, despite the fact such a solution is unthinkable until Islamabad makes dramatic policy reversals.
Pakistan is showing contempt for the people of Afghanistan by suggesting that activities driving the “blame game” are on the same par. In fact, to suggest it is a blame game in the first place immediately obscures the reality of what Islamabad has been doing in the full light of day for years.
Islamabad closed its border recently with Afghanistan in response to a February 17 attack on a Sufi shrine that killed 90 worshipers. Pakistani officials claimed an ISIS affiliate had crossed into Pakistan from Afghanistan to carry out the attack. Afghanistan denied the allegation but said it would cooperate in any probe, and the border was reopened in March.
Pakistan citing a single terrorist act emanating from across the border pales in comparison to Islamabad’s use of the Taliban as an extended expeditionary force inside Afghanistan to maintain strategic depth in case of a war with India.
Here is the truth: if Pakistani leaders were truly interested in peace in Afghanistan they would drag the self-styled mullah who claims to lead the Taliban and his cohorts by their beards out of the caves, nooks, crannies, and safe havens where Islamabad is hiding them and hand them over to Kabul. If Pakistan wanted peace, bottom line, they would finally end all military and intelligence support for the Taliban.
This would not solve Afghanistan’s political crisis, but it would at least make conditions more conducive and provide more space for the Afghans to attempt to find a solution. Afghanistan will never see true stability until a legitimate, broadly supported government is put in place, this is true, yet it is difficult to focus on these efforts while fending off incessant Taliban onslaughts.
This is also not to suggest that cutting off all support to the Taliban at once will be technically easy for Islamabad, considering rogue elements within Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) will resist. Consider that Pakistani leaders cannot even prevent their own spy agency from backing terrorists that are targeting their own country, evidenced by a plea to U.S. lawmakers made by a refugee group, according to a letter obtained by India Today.
“Nowadays Pakistan has become a safe haven for extremist groups with [the] full support of [the] Pakistani intelligence agency ISI,” the World Muhajir Congress said in a letter to members of the U.S. House Foreign Affairs Committee on April 28. “We are afraid as jihadi outfits are getting stronger with the support of ISI, [the] important port city of Karachi which is the supply line of U.S. and NATO could fall into the hands of these terror groups.”
The United States, for its part, does not appear to have any strategy for addressing Pakistan’s harboring of the Taliban as it contemplates deploying up to 5,000 more troops to Afghanistan, as the Military Times reported on April 29. NATO could send some 13,000 troops in all, the report added, citing a senior Afghan defense official. Deploying more NATO troops, by the way, while practically ignoring the ISI’s support of terrorists threatening NATO supply lines is cognitive dissonance of the highest order.
It is not the “blame game” that must end, it is Pakistan’s support for the bloody Taliban – especially as it launches its spring offensive – that must end. Pakistan’s double game is prolonging the war in Afghanistan and enabling ISIS to infiltrate the country, thereby supplying the United States with excuses to take military actions, including dropping more “Mother of All Bombs.”
The last thing Afghans want to hear is Pakistani politicians telling them to ignore the elephant in the room. In the future, Afghan officials should politely ask Pakistani lawmakers to save themselves a trip unless their agenda includes discussing legitimate ways to cut off the Taliban’s sources of funding, weapons, and hospitality.