Pakistan and Afghanistan: Where to go from here?

Spearhead Analysis – 06.01.2015

By Halima Islam
Research Analyst, Spearhead Research

Ashraf Ghani Raheel Sharif

With the Peshawar attack rattling the ground which every Pakistani walks on, the need for a step up in security policies has become more dire than ever. Even though all eyes are on the government on how strategically it should tread, a regional support network is what Pakistan needs to turn towards. On the day of the horrific incident, the Chief of Army staff set off to visit Kabul to push the incident to the forefront as a matter of urgency. The army chief of Pakistan and the Afghan army chief agreed that their commanders will begin meeting immediately to further coordinate border area security operations. Sharif also demanded that the Afghan government should seek decisive action against TTP sanctuaries including its fugitive commander Mullah Fazlullah in Afghanistan.

The visit concluded in both Afghanistan and ISAF assuring the army chief that they would eliminate militant hideouts after General Raheel proceeded to share ‘vital intelligence’ linking the Peshawar massacre with the TTP sanctuaries. Many are now in the position to question where these two countries are headed with their security agendas and whether they can both converge on security policies without the interference of historical grudges.

It is reported that the United States, Pakistan, and Afghanistan are working more collaboratively than ever to deal with the TTP on both sides of the Durand line. With the Peshawar incident grabbing worldwide attention, even militant organizations such as the Afghan Taliban were quick to condemn the heinous act. Has that act then hailed them as a force that is a notch down from the TTP on the militant scales? The Pakistani military leaders and the government have now repeatedly asserted that they cannot afford to be differentiating between “good” jihadis and “bad” jihadis and that both need to be wiped out from its roots. It will be crucial to judge where Afghanistan’s loyalties on the war on terror lie as extremism infiltrates into Pakistan and has embedded itself well for incidents such as Peshawar to rise. By working together, will Afghanistan have to envision an Afghanistan free of any sort of Taliban or would it have to break away from Pakistan’s agenda and let the “good” Taliban resort to its own course, in the hope that it will at some point de-radicalize?

The Afghan Security policy:

In order to gain perspective of where Afghanistan and Pakistan both plan to go from here, it is vital to examine the Afghan security agenda. Since the inauguration of Ashraf Ghani, he has made visits to Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, and China in order to gain support for Afghanistan to invigorate dialogues on a political settlement with the Taliban. The top most priority on the list was given to persuading the neighbours of Afghanistan particularly Pakistan to support the reconciliation process. It began to show some modest success but the Afghan insurgent groups continued to operate from the Pakistani territory.

Afghanistan, at the meeting also known as the “Heart of Asia” ministerial conference hosted 14 other countries from the region as well as 14 supporting countries and 11 regional countries. The title of discussion was the Post-Taliban Governance, security and the U.S. Policy. All members present as well as the international organizations agreed to jointly fight terrorism and drug trafficking. Many leadership circles in Pakistan apparently believe that instability in Afghanistan would rebound to Pakistan’s detriment as Pakistan then becomes the safe haven for Afghan militant groups. Thus even though Pakistan supports the promotion of a political settlement within Afghanistan, it is in the position to urge world leaders to build a counter insurgency strategy to be able to deal with the backlash Pakistan would face.

The strategy on counterterrorism in Afghanistan has seen that the US and Afghanistan have a fractured relationship and therefore there have always been holes in the plan of action taken against militancy. At the time when operation Zarb-e-Azb took charge, the Afghans and the Americans were asked to take corresponding action on the other side of the border so as to curb the overspill of militancy into Pakistan. Briefings given by the DG ISPR, confirmed the unfortunate fact that Pakistan did not receive the cooperation they expected; an anecdote that would’ve worked in favour of both Afghanistan and Pakistan. The cracks in Afghanistan’s counter-terrorism policy also reveal that the Peshawar attack could have been prevented if regional security had been given more attention.

The cracks in Pakistan’s security policy:

But of course, placing the blame on neighbourly lack of counter-terrorism policy is not going to work in the favor of Pakistan as its own policy has been weak on the counter-extremism front. Pakistan is yet to figure that the counter-insurgency policy and counter-terrorism policy are two phenomena that go hand in hand. The application of the counter-insurgency policy only instates a short term solution to militancy. The long-run needs to be curbed by the counter-terrorism policy which is to look towards preventing further incidents by stepping up security measures and maintaining them over a longer period of time.

Pakistan has been rather ambiguous and what some may say modest even, on its policy towards Afghanistan. The foreign office representative has iterated on many accounts that we do not object to any country’s presence in Afghanistan per se, we have very clearly articulated our policy that we want all countries close and far to contribute to reconstruction, economic development, and stability in Afghanistan. Pakistan has further commented that it pursues a policy of non-interference and strict neutrality in Afghanistan and that it believes it is for Afghans to decide how they want to proceed on reconciliation and other matters.  This attitude of indifference sways away from the issues that are to be given pertinent consideration—especially in the light of the Peshawar incident.

Pakistan’s counterterrorism strategy in Afghanistan is rife with inherent contradictions, caught between dilemmas to fight militant forces and yet having to partner with some to strengthen its future bargaining position. The policy flows out of Pakistan’s multiple strategic requirements: its need to remain engaged with the United States, to save itself from the Taliban attacking the Pakistani state, and to fight India’s growing presence in Afghanistan. Coming in between the cross fire of these three issues, Islamabad’s counterterrorism policy and objectives continue to lack clarity. At best, the policy illustrates the tension between Islamabad’s need to protect itself against an internal enemy and its sensitivity toward the external threat from India. Pakistan needs a shift in its security paradigm now more than ever and even though the army and the government colluding has raised eye brows on whether a soft coup has taken place, desperate measures are to be sought and Pakistan’s internal politics and criticisms on democratic governance has taken a backseat. Since Peshawar, the Afghan president Ashraf Ghani said Afghanistan stands with the people of Pakistan in their hour of grief; but is that to be penned down on paper? And if so, how?

Pakistan devises a strategy in urgency:

The 20-point National Action Plan that envisages establishment of special courts for speedy trial of terror suspects and a crackdown on jihadi and sectarian outfits was announced by the prime minister in a televised address to the nation late Wednesday night following a daylong meeting of the heads of all parliamentary parties at the Prime Minister House. The plan on paper seems to be fitting but to be able to efficiently execute it will be a challenge. With a polarized nation, some even vocal about their hate speech against other sects it will be vital to examine how far this plan can go in terms of its implementation, over the next few months.

Afghanistan and Pakistan’s convergence on policies:

General Raheel after having met the International Security Assistance Force commander General Joseph Dunford, received Afghanistan’s inclination towards complete cooperation in countering terrorism and showing full support in any security related matters. Pakistan has already been called upon to help train the Afghan National Army, which if completed smoothly, will only show strength against the already weakening Taliban on both sides. The only grey part that will be of concern is whether Pakistan and Afghanistan can agree upon what treatment is to be given to the “good Taliban” as opposed to the “bad ones.” With Pakistan adamant on not differentiating between the two and going for full scale execution, the two countries may again reach another stalemate. A state such as that is something that both sides cannot afford to incur.