The US Government has again blamed Pakistan for providing safe havens to the Afghan Taliban and Haqqani Network and suspended financial assistance to Pakistan till Pakistan takes what the US considers decisive action against the militant groups. The Afghan authorities also voiced their suspicions that Haqqanis are hiding in Pakistan.
After the recent bombings in Kabul by the Afghan Taliban which killed 130 people, the NDS Chief Mohammad Masoom Stanekzai visited Pakistan. In a statement he said that he had handed over evidence of these attacks having been planned on Pakistani soil along with list of questions to Pakistani authorities. More credible information emanating from authentic sources however, contradict US and Afghan authorities’ statements blaming bombings in Afghanistan on the Taliban hiding on the Pakistan side of the border. The report presented to the US Congress by US Special Inspector General Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) General John Sopko warned that the Afghan government is gradually losing control over its territory. The report said that the number of districts controlled or influenced by the Afghan government is on decline, and the control and influence by militants is rising. Similarly, BBC in a recent study claimed that Taliban are controlling over 70 percent areas in Afghanistan or 457,004 km² out of total of 652,864 km², four percent or 18,280 km² of these areas are entirely held by Taliban whereas in 66 percent areas they have partial influence and control. This area has increased from where foreign combat troops left in 2014. It is noteworthy that out of fourteen districts entirely controlled by Taliban only two share border with Pakistan. The other twelve districts are deep inside Afghanistan.
These findings show that Taliban have safe havens within Afghanistan. Holding significantly large territory in Afghanistan, Taliban don’t need Pakistan to provide them safe havens. To carry out bombings in Kabul and other areas in north and west of Afghanistan they would need to travel long distance through areas with substantive Afghan and NATO security forces presence. If they operated from outside Afghanistan Taliban would be exposing themselves to interdiction by Afghan and US forces equipped with state of the art surveillance equipment and lethal arms which can kill Taliban on the move. The ability of Taliban to carry out bombings with increasing frequency means they have safe areas near or inside Kabul itself which is about 230 km away from the Pak-Afghan border. This state of affairs is indicative of glaring failure of Afghan and NATO forces. NATO and US had taken the responsibility to train and equip Afghan forces enabling them to effectively improve security situation in Afghanistan. They have failed in achieving this objective.
Pakistan has genuine security concerns regarding instability in Afghanistan. Stability in Afghanistan is in Pakistan’s interest for a number of reasons. Firstly, Pakistan has hostile relations with its eastern neighbor India since its creation. Rationally, it can’t afford a hostile relationship with its western neighbor. Pakistan therefore would naturally desire stability in Afghanistan. The spillover of the Afghan War to Pakistani western region has created serious security challenges for Pakistan. According to Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee (CJCSC) General Zubair Hayat more than two hundred thousand Pakistani soldiers are engaged in War on Terror in the western region. This makes it vulnerable on the eastern border. The resources which are being used to fight against terrorists can be diverted to other defense needs of Pakistan to maintain strategic stability in the region.
Secondly, Pakistan maintains that TTP and Indian Intelligence agency, RAW are using Afghanistan as a base for terrorist activities in Pakistan. India uses Afghanistan for providing training and military support to Pakistani TTP and Baloch insurgents to carry out subversive activities. Pakistan also accuses India of harming the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) comprising a number of energy and infrastructure projects. These subversive activities have resulted in 123 billion US Dollars loss to Pakistani economy beside loss of 50,000 civilians and 6,000 military personals according to Pakistani government figures. A stable and friendly Afghanistan can help eliminate support to TTP and Baloch insurgents from Afghanistan resulting in improving security in Balochistan province.
Thirdly, Pakistan wants to reach out to Central Asian Republics (CARs) for trade. Pakistan does not share direct borders with CARs and is separated by Afghanistan. For Pakistan, a stable Afghanistan is most feasible route to Central Asia.
Lastly, Pakistan is currently host to about 1.4 million registered and 1.1 million unregistered Afghan refugees. It does not have enough resources to host them indefinitely. Pakistan plans to repatriate these refugees butthe US does not favor this move. US Deputy Assistant Secretary in the Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration Situation, Nancy Izzo Jackson has termed Afghan situation not conducive for their return right now. But It is clearly the US and Afghan Government’s combined responsibility to make conducive environment for refugees to return to their homes.
With all these concerns Pakistan prefers diplomatic approach to peace and stability in Afghanistan. The direct bilateral and trilateral talks between Quadrilateral Coordination Group (QCG) would be positive step. Afghan Taliban can be persuaded to join the discussion by accepting some of their demands initially. Working together would be the key to peace and stability in the region which will be to mutual benefit of all parties.
A version of this article appeared in The Nation, newspaper.
Samran Ali is working as a Research Assistant at the Center for International Strategic Studies (CISS). He holds a masters degree in Defense and Strategic Studies from Quaid-i-Azam University, Islamabad. His areas of interest include the geo-political and strategic issues of South Asia, with special reference to nuclear politics and relations between India and Pakistan, and foreign policy issues of Pakistan.