The almost-simultaneous recent terrorist attacks in Lahore and Kabul clearly remind us of the cross-border mobility, capacity and advantages terrorists exploit due to the ongoing hostility between Afghanistan and Pakistan. What multiplies the terrorists’ resourcefulness and effectiveness is the intended and unintended support they get from the two countries which blame each other for otherwise mutually destructive facilitation.
Chief of Army Staff Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa has rightly observed that: “Concurrent blasts in Kabul and Lahore are testimony to the fact of our stance that both Pakistan and Afghanistan are victims of terrorism”. Indeed, “both countries will continue to suffer if these actors are able to use Afghanistan’s territory with impunity”, he said. Similarly, the Afghan government directly blames Pakistan for facilitating Afghan Taliban in their attacks on Kabul and elsewhere. And the US and its Nato allies are losing their patience with Rawalpindi for “allowing safe havens to the Afghan Taliban and the Haqqani Network in particular. Independent observers, however, find that the one-sided accusations of both, ironically allied, sides are more or less true, and caution against the duplicity of the major actors in the Af-Pak theatre.
Gen Bajwa has also rightly blamed “regional actors and hostile agencies (RAW and DNS) using terror as a policy tool” against Pakistan. Other countries of the region also accuse Pakistan of “using terror as an instrument of policy”. This seems to be now an all-out norm for all regional actors without any exception. The fact is that multi-pronged proxy wars are being fought across the region, and they continue to fuel bloodshed across borders and inter-state conflicts. While all call terrorism – though selectively and self-servingly – a principal threat to their and the region’s security, their greater obsession is how to bleed the other side and vice-versa. Consequently, their hapless diplomats end up telling half-truths and half-lies to the world to isolate each other. Such is the insanity of this war of attrition by other means that leaves diplomacy without its logical teeth.
It is a vicious circus: both Kabul and Islamabad accuse each other of providing sanctuaries and logistics to hostile terrorist outfits while making each other vulnerable to the greater terrorist designs. Feeling threatened from Pakistan, a besieged Kabul seeks India’s and other’s support to use the TTP and others as a countervailing tactic to put pressure on Islamabad, which in turn is in a far better place to use its ‘strategic assets’ to persuade Afghanistan to not allow use of its territory either by renegade terrorists or their use by both RAW and/or DNS. And this atrocious low-intensity warfare goes on to bleed each other to the advantage of the terrorism they have been swearing to defeat together (sic!).
Similarly, in a regional and bilateral context, Islamabad accuses India of using Afghan and Iranian territories to launch both renegade terrorists and ethnic militants against Pakistan, including fuelling the ongoing insurgency of the alienated people of Baluchistan. India, on the other hand, puts the whole burden on Pakistan for the violence in Jammu and Kashmir and the indigenous resistance of the Kashmiri people against neo-colonial subjugation.
Interestingly, the historic Indo-Pak animosity both helps and distorts the insurgencies of the people in the two countries for their rights. But what is expeditiously forgotten by the respective hostile nationalisms is that they are reinforcing communal and religious extremism while viciously undermining the plurality of their civil societies. If in India the rise of the soft and hard Hindutva diminishes its own secular and democratic premises, it reinforces Islamic extremism in Pakistan, which in turn reinforces Hindu jingoism in India.
The bilateral disputes between Pakistan and India, and Afghanistan and Pakistan, also become instrumental in fomenting trouble in a most troubled region that can least afford the militarist shenanigans of all sides. The extra-regional dimensions of the local conflicts further exacerbate an already volatile situation. If Pakistan sees the world from the prism of a hostile India, New Delhi perceives the world from the prism of China and Pakistan – even though they have both joined the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO). Pakistan looks towards China not only to counter-balance India, but also to compensate for its economic underdevelopment and sees the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor as a game-changer. India, on the other hand, is seeking US tutelage to expand its influence in the Indian Ocean and impose its hegemony in South Asia.
The trouble across the Af-Pak region is of great concern to all the world players who are also vying for their own strategic objectives. Since 9/11, Pak-US relations are essentially transactional and entirely focused on the war on terror and the stability of Afghanistan. Despite being a non-Nato strategic US ally, Pakistan is being accused of providing safe-havens to the Afghan Taliban. Conflicting signals are coming from the ongoing review of the Af-Pak (and beyond) policy of the Trump administration which is being finalised in the Pentagon. However, US Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen Dunford stated last week that “We cannot be successful in Afghanistan… unless we have a higher degree of cooperation from Pakistan”. The ‘higher degree of cooperation’ can be discerned from what the leading US military critics are saying. One of those critics, Gen (r) McInerney, has said that until the US “take care of Pakistan”, there is no use of sending more troops to Afghanistan. That includes direct bombing of sanctuaries and other punitive measures.
In the given geo-strategic environment, Pakistan has to follow the spirit of its policy not to spare any terrorist and not to allow use of its territory by terrorists against other countries. Nothing less than the actual implementation of this national consensus will save us from possibly harsh retaliation by the Trump administration which is inclined to put greater pressure on Pakistan rather than the kind of surge in troops that we witnessed during the Obama administration. What Pakistan, in turn, should expect is that Afghan soil is not used by India against Pakistan and the Afghan government should recognise the Durand Line and agree to joint border management and joint-operations across the border. Gen Bajwa has offered to undertake operations against terrorists on Afghan soil who are wanted by Pakistan. The Afghan government will, in turn, demand for reciprocal joint action against terrorists wanted by it.
It is time Pakistan either asked the Afghan Taliban to accept the ceasefire or asked them to leave Pakistan. Indeed, pressure on the Afghan Taliban should help the revival of reconciliation talks that can guarantee peace in Afghanistan. Moreover, both India and Pakistan must opt for reciprocal cessation of backing elements hostile to each other. The Kashmiris’ struggle for their fundamental rights has entered a higher stage and ‘guest militants’ only de-legitimise their indigenous struggle. We must completely and truly ban banned outfits and sort out all those non-state actors who have become a most dangerous liability. Times are changing, and so should our strategy. It is time parliament took charge of our foreign and security policies.
The writer is a senior journalist.