The timing of the Kandahar attacks

By Shamil Shams 

“The color of the red carpet in Islamabad actually represented the blood of innocent Afghans,” Rahmatullan Nabil, the former head of Afghanistan’s National Directorate of Security (NDS), wrote in Pashtu on his Facebook account.

“While Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif was claiming in Islamabad that the enemies of Afghanistan were also Pakistan’s foes, the innocent men and women were being murdered in Kandahar, the Khanshin district of Helmand, and the Badakhshan province,” Nabil added.

Nabil, who resigned from his post on December 10 over disagreements with President Ghani, said: “While this was happening, Taliban leader Mullah Akhter Mansoor, who is being protected by Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) in the Quetta area, was planning more attacks in Afghanistan.”

While some analysts say that the Heart of Asia conference, hosted by Pakistan in Islamabad on December 8 and 9, was a modest diplomatic success, as Afghanistan and its neighbors agreed on the framework to fight terrorism in the region, the former Afghan intelligence chief’s statement says the contrary.

“It is not the first time that Pakistan played a ‘double-game.’ Forget about what happened at the Heart of Asia meeting, the more important thing is the timing and the message of the Kandahar attacks. The message to the Afghan leader from Islamabad was clear: you have to agree to our demands, or there will be no peace in your country,” Islamabad-based analyst Abdul Agha told DW.

Accusations and counter-accusations

Afghanistan’s high-ranking officials have repeatedly accused Islamabad of backing Islamist insurgents in the hope of destabilizing President Ashraf Ghani’s government and paving the way for a Taliban comeback.

Most experts agree that Pakistan, particularly its powerful military, has a considerable amount of influence on the Taliban and their chief, Mullah Mansoor. Despite repeated requests from Kabul and Washington, Islamabad has thus far not used this leverage to initiate a sustainable peace process in its war-torn neighborhood. On the contrary, the jihadists are getting deadlier by the day.

After the brief capture of the Afghan city of Kunduz in July, the Taliban once again showed their strength on Wednesday, December 9, when they attacked the highly-protected Kandahar airport in the country’s south and held it for nearly 27 hours. At least 50 people died in the assault.

“Fifty of our innocent countrymen, including 10 soldiers, two policemen and 38 civilians, were martyred in the attack,” the defense ministry said in a statement.

The Afghans, quite obviously, are unhappy with the situation.

“These killings are not good. We need peace, security and stability. We cannot live like this,” Abdul Razq, a Kandhar resident told DW.

Another resident, Acha Khan, urges the government to secure the lives of the people in all parts of the country.

Is Islamabad cooperating?

Islamabad denies claims of interference in Afghanistan and says it wants to facilitate the peace process. Despite a round of successful peace talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban hosted by Pakistan, there hasn’t been a breakthrough on this front.

President Ghani expressed his anger with Pakistan after a series of bomb attacks that killed dozens of people in August, blaming Islamabad for failing to stop the militants from planning and executing terror strikes from its side of the border.

“We hoped for peace, but war is declared against us from Pakistani territory,” Ghani said at a news conference on August 10.

But Afghanistan’s anger is unlikely to change Pakistan’s policies. Pakistan’s military and civil establishments still consider the Taliban an important strategic ally, analysts say. Islamabad believes that the group should be part of the Afghan government. Observers are of the view that the Pakistani military hopes to regain the influence it enjoyed in Kabul before the United States and its allies toppled the Taliban government in 2001.

Siegfried Wolf, a political science expert at Heidelberg University in Germany, holds a similar view. He told DW that he was convinced that several elements within Pakistan’s security apparatus still believe that the Taliban could be used as a strategic tool to counter India’s influence in Afghanistan.

Some sections in the Afghan government urged Ghani not to visit Pakistan

History of mistrust

“History has proven that Pakistan wants a weak government in Afghanistan so it can remain as the only mediator for the crisis in its neighborhood for the international community,” Ahmad Zia Ferozpur, a lecturer at the Balkh University, told DW, adding that the only time Pakistan was happy with Afghanistan was during the Taliban regime.

“In 2001, Islamabad agreed to join the campaign against the Taliban due to the international pressure but started a double game of supporting the Islamist insurgency and the international effort in Afghanistan simultaneously,” Ferozpur underlined.

However, the Afghans’ anger is directed against the military and the ISI, not its people, emphasized Ferozpur.

According to Sadaf Gheyasi, an Afghan journalist and activist, the social media has played a big role in how the Afghans see Pakistan now. “The Afghan government has provided ample proof of Pakistani interference in Afghanistan through social media,” she said.

But things can change now under the new Afghan government, believes Shukria Barakzai, an Afghan parliamentarian. “What we ask from Pakistan is not impossible: We want Islamabad to sign a transit agreement with Afghanistan and stop interfering in Afghanistan’s security,” she told DW’s Pashtu and Dari service. “Afghanistan has tried all options with Pakistan. If Pakistan does not change its policies, our last option will be to consult the United Nation’s Security Council,” she warned.

Pakistan, a scapegoat?

The Pakistani government says it is easy for Afghan officials to put the blame of their country’s failure on Pakistan. The Afghan politicians have failed to deliver to their people, and the narrative that Islamabad is responsible for all their problems is a political tactic for them, say some analysts.
An Afghan policeman stands guard as smoke and flames rise from the site of a huge blast struck near the entrance of Kabul’s international airport, in Kabul on August 10, 2015 (Photo: SHAH MARAI/AFP/Getty Images)

Many Afghans are wary of Pakistan’s lack of committment towards Afghan peace

Majid Siddiqui, an editor at Pakistan’s Dawn newspaper, says the “blame game” between Afghanistan and Pakistan must end. “Whenever there is a hope for something good, something bad happens, which jeopardizes the peace process. The allegation against Pakistan that it is protecting Mullah Mansoor is part of same narrative,” Siddiqui told DW.

But Barakzai says there is no truth in these claims: “I don’t think that we are using Pakistan as a scapegoat. Our problems with Pakistan are not only restricted to politics; we have economic issues with them too,” she said.

“Afghanistan is not the only country blaming the Pakistani establishment for interfering in its affairs. Look at India, Bangladesh and China. These countries have a similar problem with Islamabad.”

Additional reporting from Mohammad Arif Farahmand.

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