Both the countries on the either side of the Durand line are desperate to put a stop to terrorism in their respective territories. The arrival of the chief of Afghanistan’s National Directorate of Security (NDS)in Islamabad after a period of deadlock to resurrect the bilateral dialogue was a momentous occasion, considering a mutual rocky history fuelled with distrust and incrimination.
The Afghan spymaster Mr. Masud Andrabi met his Pakistani counterpart Lt-Gen Rizwan Akhtar, the Director General of the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) for a two-hour meeting at the ISI Aabpara HQ. This discussion which was facilitated by the United States of America and observed by Chinese officials revolved around intelligence sharing and cross border terrorism.
A number of accusations were leveled from both sides. Pakistan is bothered about the activities of Tehreek e Taliban Pakistan (TTP) operatives who fled Pakistan during the military operation Zarb e Azab and have settled in Afghanistan. These militants continue to orchestrate attacks in the Pakistani territory, an ugly reminder of terrorism in the Bacha Khan University, Charsadda, is their latest attempt to derail the success of Zarb-e-Azb. On the other end, the Afghans allege that Pakistan is providing sanctuaries to Taliban, who are maligning the interests of the Afghan Govt. It has been anticipated that the revival of the talks on intelligence sharing is on the cards. Afghanistan believes that Pakistani authority has substantial influence over Taliban and can bring them to the negotiating table.
Apart from this, the Director General Military Operations (DGMO) of ANA, Major General Habib Hisari met his Pakistan Army counterpart Major General Sahir Shamshad Mirza to talk on the issues of security and border management. Owing to the porous nature of the border, militant infiltration has remained a colossal problem since the beginning.
When Mr. Ashraf Ghani, the President of Afghanistan ascended to the highest political office, a better Pak-Afghan future appeared possible and when he visited Pakistan last year for the Fifth Ministerial Conference of the Heart of Asia, the restoration of Afghan reconciliation process seemed very likely to initiate. Just a day before the participation of Mr. Ghani in the conference, Mr. Rahmatullah Nabeel, the former chief of NDS resigned because of Mr. Ghani’s policy on Pakistan. Well-known for his anti-Pakistan stance, Mr. Nabeel didn’t like the gesture of goodwill towards Pakistan.
The Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) which was signed May 2015 between ISI and NDS to jointly combat the menace of terrorism was denounced by the Afghani parliamentarians because they did not find it fit to serve Afghanistan’s interests. When Kabul bombings occurred last year, Pakistan was straight away accused for this heinous crime.
Adding to the bitterness of Afghan people, when the news that Mullah Omar had died two years ago and ISI knew about it came out; it resulted in the fallout of negotiations with Taliban. The horrendous attacks on a school in Peshawar, on Badaber Base in Peshawar, and on a university in Charsadda were all planned in Afghan territory. All this mayhem happened in a time span of 12 months. Other than this, a hostile history of these two states can be traced back to the creation of Pakistan.
Keeping this bad blood between the two neighbours in view, this visit appeared to be a step forward in the positive direction. Mr. Imtiaz Gul, the head of Centre for Research and Security Studies has echoed this opinion by writing in an article, “The NDS Director-General Masud Andrabi’s presence in Islamabad means the Afghan security establishment has ended the self-imposed ban on coming over. This is indeed a big step forward, given the acrimonious context prevailing since July last year.” This interaction, which took place two days before the third Meeting of the Quadrilateral Coordination Group (QCG) was observed as a good omen by some. In order to mend ties, dialogue is the first step.
However, Mr. Musa Khan Jalalzai, a security and intelligence analyst is skeptical about the positive outcomes of this meeting. He voiced his opinion by writing in Daily Times that “The question is: how can the NDS, whose chief resigned in protest when President Ghani approached Pakistan for a joint fight against the Taliban, share information with the ISI? The answer is deeply complicated as the agency has various political and sectarian groups within its infrastructure that have embroiled it in a crisis of incompetence, corruption and multifaceted loyalties.” Similarly, even though Mr. Ashraf Ghani reached out to Pakistan for the betterment of both the countries, some of the Afghan parliamentarians are not as receptive towards the betterment of relationship as their President.
The initiation of dialogue is definitely a good sign. But then we have had dialogue in the past too which did not prove to be fruitful. Words, no matter how promising, do not carry anyweight. It all comes down to action. Unless sincerity and the strong will to make things right do not prevail on both sides of the Durand line, things will not change and continue deteriorating with the frequency of terrorist attacks. Pakistan really wants things to improve, the visits of Army Chief and the Prime Minister last year to Kabul is a testament to this assertion. Further dialogue will determine the direction in which Pak-Afghan relation will go. Till then, it is good progress.