A burgeoning trust deficit

Spearhead Analysis – 03.06.2015

By Abdulla Wasti
Research Analyst, Spearhead Research

Pak-Afghan-RelationshipsIn the aftermath of the recent visit of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, Gen Raheel Sharif and the DG ISI to Kabul, it was revealed that the ISI and NDS signed a landmark intelligence-sharing deal. Though the details of the agreement haven’t been disclosed, many are optimistic that the deal will send an unambiguous message to the militants that attacks in the two countries will no longer be condoned. More importantly, taking into consideration the deep level of mistrust that has existed between the two agencies, the deal is a welcome indication of a shared determination to repair a frayed relationship. However, the backlash in response to the signing of the agreement, especially on the Afghan side of the border, has put the Pak-Afghan cooperation to fight terrorism into question.

Ex-President Hamid Karzai called for the scrapping of the agreement stating that it hurt Afghanistan’s national security interests. More interestingly, the lawmakers have asked the parliamentary panel on international relations to summon the NDS top leadership to brief the MP’s on the recently signed accord. Amarullah Saleh, who was the head of the agency between 2004-2010, said in an interview that the pact is tantamount to betrayal of the sacrifices rendered by Afghan security forces. Judging from the hostile reception the agreement has received, it is evident that President Ghani is striving to strike a delicate balance between promoting reconciliation and sustaining public support.

The nature of the reaction also points to the fact that there is still deep seated suspicion in Afghanistan with regards to the motives of the Pakistani intelligence and state. However, not all of it is unfounded. Former President General Pervez Musharraf’s recent spree of damaging interviews continues as in February 2015, he admitted that his government and the ISI were behind the suicide attacks in Afghanistan in which thousands of innocent civilians lost their lives. He added, “In President Karzai’s times, yes, indeed, he was damaging Pakistan and, therefore, we were working against his interests.” In light of such statements, it comes as no surprise that the interview was taken seriously by the Afghan national army, the intelligence institutions, parliament and civil society. Taking into account that Pakistan has made a concerted effort over the past year to assure Afghanistan that it has discarded its strategic depth policy, such disparaging statements by a former president and army general are only going to further arouse the suspicions of the Afghan government. Not one to let go of an opportunity to exploit the situation in India’s favor while casting doubts over Pakistan’s intentions, Indian National Security Advisor Ajit Doval, also jumped on the bandwagon as he stated that the only reason Pakistan signed this agreement was to ensure that Afghanistan does not allow its territory to be used for any security related work by India.

Reports reveal that as a result of increasing criticism, Ashraf Ghani has written a letter to Pakistani leaders this week, asking them to prove their sincerity in backing the Afghan peace process by taking several steps in the next three weeks. He has demanded the following: Islamabad should issue an official declaration condemning the launch of the Taliban spring offensive, Pakistan should extend counter-terrorism operations to the Haqqani network and arrest those responsible for the recent terrorist activities inside Afghanistan, the military leadership should issue a directive to deny sanctuary for the Afghan Taliban, the Quetta and Peshawar shura members should be placed under house arrest and legal proceedings must be initiated against them for threatening security of friendly states, and he also asked Islamabad to agree to an exchange of prisoners, deny Taliban combatants medical treatment inside Pakistan, and limit the sale of fertilizers and electrical switches that can be used in detonating improvised explosive devices (IEDs).

While it remains to be seen what the response will be from the Pakistani administration, however, both the civilian and military leaders have made pragmatic statements so far. Back in February, General Raheel declared that the enemies of Afghanistan are enemies of Pakistan. More recently, PM Nawaz Sharif stated, “We strongly condemn the increase in violence and the Operation Azm offensive by the Afghan Taliban.” He further added, “the continuation of such attacks and the offensive will be construed as terrorist acts, and we condemn such attacks in the strongest terms,” he added. While these circumspect and carefully worded statements are all well and good, Ashraf Ghani has requested Pakistan to deliver more tangible results in light of the criticism he is receiving. And while one can sympathize with the situation Ghani is in, he needs to realize that it is impossible for Pakistan to eliminate all non-state actors and snap their social support with the wave of a wand. In addition, his proposal also underestimates the likely internal blowback in case Pakistan goes all out after the Afghan Taliban by using their businesses and families residing in the country to pressure them into talks. To add to this toxic atmosphere of suspicion, an editorial featured in DAWN reported that a meeting was held last week in the ISI headquarters between the PM and COAS; it is being said that the two discussed the possibility of NDS and RAW coming together in order to instigate further unrest in the country.

All in all, both, Ashraf Ghani and Nawaz Sharif need to realize that the fate of the countries and its people remains intertwined. Instead of groveling in decades-old suspicions and hostilities, they need to refocus on the immediate goal of improving the security situation in their respective countries. The public bickering needs to end and they should perhaps consider less public and quieter channels of communication.