Gen John Nicholson, the top US general in Afghanistan, has once more reiterated his country’s displeasure over Pakistan’s alleged support for the Afghan Taliban and said there have been no signs of any change in Islamabad’s policy towards the militants across the border.
“We have been very direct and very clear with the Pakistanis… we have not seen those changes implemented yet,” he told reporters. “We are hoping to see those changes, we are hoping to work together with the Pakistanis going forward to eliminate terrorists who are crossing” the border, Nicholson said in Kabul.
He responded affirmatively when asked if Taliban leaders still reside in Pakistan or that the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) maintains contacts with the Haqqani network.
Nothing new or surprising elements in the press talk, but Gen Nicholson’s statement in a geo-politically loaded environment not only ignores some fundamentals but also comes across as ironic, reflective of impatience with a country that has only suffered as a consequence of US partnership in two Afghan wars.
Nicholson routinely issues such statements to the disregard of a fundamentals reality that peace in Afghanistan neither depended on the Afghan Taliban leaders allegedly sheltering in Pakistan nor is peace in the hands of Pakistan alone.
Old relationships with mujahideen, Hamid Karzai, Professor Rabbani (late) Prof Sayyaf, Mulla Omar, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar and several Taliban/Haqqani leaders notwithstanding, its leverage with most Afghan stakeholders has shrunken considerably in past decade or so.
Secondly, the US position lack strategy on the convergence among both Russia and Iran as well as former president Hamid Karzai, who all concur that Daesh as an external proxy presents a bigger threat to the integrity and stability of Afghanistan and the region than do the Taliban.
And mind you – Daesh factions are ensconced in the mountainous eastern Afghanistan and are only one of the 20 major insurgent/terrorist groups that, according to Afghan officials, are operating out of Afghanistan.
Thirdly, recent reports by the US Special Inspector General for Afghan Reconstruction (SIGAR) on record poppy production this year in Afghanistan clearly point to how the narco trade is enriching various stakeholders, including the organised crime and the Taliban militants. This represents a huge disincentive for most of them to work for peace.
Narcotics, it seems, is oiling the war economy in a big way.
Nicholson’s statement on Tuesday does contain some silver lining too; the Pakistanis have many concerns about the border from their side ( reference to Pakistan’s complaints on Daesh and TTP sanctuaries in Ningarhar, Paktiam Nuristan and Laghman), said the general. We also share those concerns. So, there are some common equities we have, obviously counterterrorism, border control, refugees’ return.
While the Russo-Chinese-Iran-Pakistan quartet concur on counter-terrorism and would like a regional approach on this, the last two ( border control and refugees) do synch with Pakistan’s desire as well. In fact the latter is forging ahead with various border management mechanisms including fencing and trenching of the border. It does not want to talk about the Durand Line any more. It is an internationally recognized Pakistani border with Afghanistan and hence be treated as such, officials in Islamabad insist.
Lastly, Pakistan will in no way go after the Afghan Taliban on its own soil. It already has plenty of its own non-state actors to take care of. For turning the back on all Afghan factions, it needs political space within the country. That has clearly shrunken after the new Indo-US handshake for CT cooperation in Afghanistan.
As long as the US remains disinclined to demonstrably leverage its relations with India for a matter-of-fact dialogue between the two south Asian neighbours, peace in Afghanistan will also remain a distant dream – no matter how much pressure Nicholson or his political bosses in Washington ratchet up on Pakistan.
The author Imtiaz Gul is the Executive Director of the Center for Research and Security Studies (CRSS), Islamabad.
© Center for Research and Security Studies (CRSS) and Afghan Studies Center (ASC), Islamabad.