Kabul Attacks: Pakistan- Afghanistan

Spearhead Analysis – 07.06.2017

By Hira A. Shafi
Research Analyst, Spearhead Research

A frightening shadow of terror loomed over Afghanistan last week, as a massive explosion hit Kabul’s diplomatic enclave area– in close proximity to the area of the blast stands the presidential palace, defense ministry building, national security headquarters and a string of foreign embassies.

This attack, which is claimed by IS-K has been dubbed as one of the deadliest– it consumed several dozen lives while leaving many more injured.

In the following days, hundreds of locals took part in protests to voice their grievances over the uncontrolled security and governance issues. The protesters put forth demands asking for the NUG leaders to step down and called for the prosecution of the NDS chief, Interior minister and the National Security Advisor.

The clashes between the security forces and the protesters- that erupted amidst these protests, only exacerbated the security situation. Amnesty international paints a dismal picture of the excessive use of force by Afghan forces against the protesters that led to many deaths and injuries. The protests clearly indicated that the people could no longer be distracted by unsubstantiated blame on Pakistan—they held the Afghan government responsible.

One of the slain civilians was Salem Esadyar- the son of the Afghan deputy speaker of Senate. The next day, as mourners gathered at his funeral, another series of blasts occurred in the graveyard. Three blasts happened simultaneously with the suicide bombers merged in with the mourners recalls one witness to the incident. The CEO Mr Abdullah Abdullah and several other key Afghan leaders were amongst the mourners.

Amidst tensions brewing locally- the NDS chief in a rather messianic revelation tried to divert attention by shifting the blame on ‘Pakistani links’ while issuing a warning to people to refrain from protests due to high threat levels. President Ghani, in a seemingly knee jerk reaction also called for the execution of some insurgent prisoners as a ‘retaliation’. Several Afghans including Ambassador Tayyab Jawad and US Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad also blamed Pakistan on international media. All this before any investigation had been conducted and before even a shred of evidence linking Pakistan to the blast was discovered. Pakistan’s Advisor to the PM rightly asked the Afghans to provide proof.

Unfortunately, the consequential question of what is actually to be done, — keeping in view, the capabilities of these terror groups to not only carry out attacks in close proximity to high profile places but also people– still remains to be addressed.

Observing the unsettling trend IS-K has been crafting this year in Afghanistan, one notes their inclination to hit high value targets. Some examples of their recent atrocities include: the Sardar Daud Khan military hospital attack, bombing near the Defense Ministry complex, bombings outside the US embassy, and an attack on Afghan state TV channels building.

The recent tragic incidents should prompt the Afghan leadership to categorically resolve the multifaceted challenges it faces instead of blaming others for their own failings. This was the message from the Special Corps Commanders Conference at General Headquarters.

The expanding space of such transnational terror groups creates a serious regional and global security issue, therefore a coherent resolve to end this menace needs to be worked out by the Afghan leadership, as scapegoating the problem will only exacerbate situations. As the scale and dimensions of the attacks increase there is increasing focus on serious issues of security lapses and negligence.

Presently, the civil agitations continue despite blocking roads to the Presidential Palace with demonstrators camped outside the Emergency Hospital. The already divided and fragile political landscape finds itself in more uncertainty, for example:  Zia Massoud—-who a while back warned of adverse consequences post his firing— is seen as a prominent organizer of the protests. And then lastly, there is the issue of Afghan government trying to subdue insurgencies and finding itself incapable of doing so.

Pakistan on its part understands the critical importance of a stable and secure Afghanistan despite bilateral tensions. Pakistan’s leaders paid three key civil and military visits to Afghanistan last month in hopes of improving the relationship. On the first of Ramadan the Chaman border was opened by Pakistan.

Even now, the Foreign Office and other officials have asked Afghanistan to share intelligence, if any, and work closely with Pakistan to bring about regional stability. However, it seems that divided views on forging ties with Pakistan linger within Afghanistan. This results in a one step forward two step backward approach towards Pakistan. There is naturally also concern over the Delhi -Kabul nexus against Pakistan in the wake of Mr Modis declared policy of destabilizing Pakistan—starkly outlined by the busted spy network in Baluchistan. The Ajit Doval and Hanif Atmar meeting on the sidelines of a conference in Moscow is also significant in this context. Afghanistan as a sovereign country has the right to set the direction in its foreign policies and intelligence collaboration but it needs to view its policies in a regional framework of which Pakistan is a significant part. Bilateral dialogues are the only option as coercion will not work. President Ghani’s latest offer of dialogue needs to be taken up by Pakistan by answering his rhetorical question— ‘what is it that Pakistan wants” and his declaration that ‘he wants to trust Pakistan’. Obviously the first step has to be high level governmental contact to work out the contours of a sustainable dialogue, sharing of information, a joint investigative mechanism and an end to the endless blame game that may suit others but does not suit Afghanistan and Pakistan.