There two things which have become clear from the Taliban’s ambulance bombing in Kabul at the end of January 2018, in which over 100 people killed. A massacre is what it was and there are no two opinions about it. The world has rightly condemned it and surprisingly, China has also done so. What China has not done is to condemn the Taliban and its obvious Pakistani links. Let us face it, Beijing knows as well as anyone else that the Haqqani Network, whose commander Sirajuddin Haqqani is a number 2 of the Taliban, is a creation of Pakistan’s ISI. It is thus clear that there is a China-Pakistan perfidy to ensure that peace and stability do not return to Afghanistan.
The first thing of note is that Afghanistan’s reaction to the Kabul hotel attack was to immediately blame it on Pakistan. The Afghan government sent its Interior Minister and Intelligence chief across the Durand Line to present the proof to the Pakistani side. The second thing which is not so apparent, but is certainly present in the streets of Kabul is the anger of the people against the government for its complete failure in protecting the lives of the ordinary people in Afghanistan. This aspect is at this point latent and one may well see a reaction in the Parliamentary elections scheduled later this year and Presidential elections in 2019.
The diplomatic offensive by Afghanistan is in one way justified for its clear that Taliban’s actions in Afghanistan have the complete backing of the Pakistan military and intelligence agency, ISI. What Pakistan’s strategy at this point in time is becomes clear from a perusal of recent developments. On the one hand, they continue to back the Taliban to the hilt and are ensuring that their military capacity is at a high, especially to carry out terrorist attacks in Afghanistan’s major cities.
On the other hand, Pakistan is promoting what they call a direct dialogue between the Taliban and countries like China, Russia and the US through various mechanisms. The aim is very simple; to get the Afghan government to agree to talks from a position of strength. The question of why Pakistan does not want direct talks between the Ghani government and the Taliban can be answered by the simple fact that Islamabad wants the Afghan government to make concessions, some involving territorial concessions, to the Taliban, which at this point in time seem difficult for the Afghan government to accept. However, the reality on the ground as uncovered by the BBC in a recent study is that the Taliban controls approximately 70 per cent of Afghan territory. Of course, to legitimize this occupation would be suicidal for President Ghani and the NUG.
Afghan officials are said to have handed “undeniable” evidence to Pakistan that a recent spate of deadly attacks were planned on Pakistani soil. They have provided a list of Pakistani attackers who came from Pakistan and some of whom were trained in a madrassa in Chaman in Balochistan. One is sure that Pakistan denied the existence of any terrorist camps in the FATA or in Balochistan. That the second round of Afghan-Pak foreign secretary level talks in Kabul did not make any headway as expected and following on that is the visit of Pak Army Chief Gen. Bajwa to Kabul for a Defence Conference which will definitely witness a dialogue between the US CENTCOM Chief General Votel and Gen. Bajwa. That by itself is no guarantee that things on the Durand Line will improve. This is because, US interests in Afghanistan require Pakistan to get all Haqqani Network and TTP fighters and leaders into Afghanistan, so that they can be taken care of. This, the Pak Army is currently unwilling to do and is unlikely to change course in the mid-term.
Mohammad Stanekzai, the head of Afghanistan’s NDS, said at a press conference in Islamabad that it was clear that the attacks were “planned from across the border”. He added that “We (had) asked Pakistan to hand over the culprits of the attacks in Afghanistan and we shared undeniable evidence that the attacks were planned there.” Afghan interior minister Wais Barmak submitted a list of Taliban leaders and their training centres in Pakistan and asked what action Pakistan will take against them.
In a sense, Afghanistan’s actions appear to be acting in concert with the US, the latter in recent weeks having increased pressure on Pakistan, by suspending aid and even carrying out drone strikes on terrorist camps in the tribal areas. Pakistan in response has informed the US that in November 2017 Pakistan had handed over 27 suspected Afghan Taliban or Haqqani Network militants to Washington. Pakistan’s troubles in this regard appear to be just starting as reports indicate that the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) Plenary in Paris may add Pakistan to the ‘Grey List’ of nations that continue to be a major terrorist financier.
The constant pressure from FATF appears to be paying off as Pak President Mamnoon Hussain on 9 February 2018 passed an ordinance to amend Section 11 A of the 1997 Pak anti-terrorism act to include all those entities and individuals proscribed by the UNSCR 1267. This is a significant step and one wonders what the reaction of the Pak Army is going to be? At this point though, there is little choice before Pakistan and it cannot be seen to be disagreeing with the international community. Therefore, it appears that Pakistan will do what needs doing on the surface while allowing organizations like JuD and LeT to function under other names.
The other player in this game is China who till now has resisted naming Pakistan. Even in the recent Kabul hotel attack, China only condemned the attack but did n not blame Pakistan. Recall, it is China which has been blocking India’s efforts at the UN to get Jaish head Masood Azhar listed as a terrorist entity! China also ensures that in multilateral forums that it participates in, joint statements issued do not refer to the Taliban or any other organization by name. China’s argument in this regard is ingenious.
China says that since efforts are being made to bring the Taliban to the negotiating table, any naming and shaming would prejudice that effort. In other words, it would not do anything that would harm Pakistan’s interests. In a sense, there is a China-Pakistan concert on protecting the perpetrators of terror that needs to be exposed to the world. Can China in international law be labeled as as a harbourer of terrorists, for it has effectively protected Pakistan and its deep state which is the mothership of most global terrorist organizations? Is the United States listening?