In a latest development the United States has ruled out quick talks with the Afghan Taliban following a wave of bloody large-scale attacks in Kabul on a military academy, on an Afghan army battalion and on the Hotel Pearl Continental which killed over 200 people. Though the Afghan Taliban and Daesh have claimed the responsibility for the bloody attacks, yet the Afghan government is, directly and indirectly, blaming Pakistan “for providing sanctuaries and safe havens” to the terrorists who are conducting attacks in Kabul.
Andre Vitchek, a war correspondent who was in Kabul, painted in his recent article “Is Kabul falling?” a gory picture of the Afghan capital, saying “Afghanistan is now facing mortal danger. It has to survive but it is not clear how it can manage.” Afghan President Ashraf Ghani recently gave an interview to a foreign journalist and in utter dismay said the Afghan capital can fall in three days and the Afghan National Army might collapse in six months’ time if the USA left Afghanistan. Former President Hamid Karzai in a tweet accused “a foreign country” of harbouring the terrorists who are attacking in Kabul. He asked for immediate action against “that country.”
In the most blatant and glaring accusation, the Afghanistan’s Ambassador and Permanent Representative to the United Nations, Mahmoud Saikal said that the Pakistan Army is supplying military equipment to the Taliban and the terrorists involved in the Kabul hotel attack were trained in Balochistan. Pakistan has vehemently denied the allegation and observers believe that Pakistan is not capable of doing so, particularly at a time when Islamabad is striving to convince Washington to desist from opting for a military solution, but to find a negotiated settlement in Afghanistan.
Afghanistan Times in an editorial urges the US administration to take direct action and eliminate safe havens of the terrorists enjoying sanctuaries in Pakistan. “Despite pressures on Pakistan asserted by the US President Donald Trump’s administration, NATO and regional community, Pakistan-based terrorist groups including the Taliban and the notorious Haqqani network continue as instruments for terrorist and destructive activities across Afghanistan. These terrorist groups have been enjoying safe sanctuaries, training and fundraising centers in big cities of Pakistan including the Tribal Region, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan.”
Most of the news analyses and reports appearing in the international press aim their criticism at Pakistan suggesting “punitive” action against the country. Back in Washington, US Senator Rand Paul was all set to introduce legislation seeking a permanent ban of $2 billion civilian assistance to Pakistan. The bill recommends redirecting the said funds, amounting to $1.28bn from the State Department and $852 million from the United States Agency for International Development to the Highway Trust Fund. Earlier, following President Trump’s January 1 tweet, the United States has already stopped the Coalition Support Fund, military aid and civilian assistance to Pakistan.
The international community, intelligentsia and defence observers see a method of “madness” behind the series of attacks in Kabul. Smelling a well thought out “plot” to implicate Pakistan and find a reason to launch incursions against Pakistan, they observe, “it is next to impossible that Daesh or Taliban would carry out attack after attack and that too on sensitive targets as well without any worthwhile resistence. How is it possible that the United States that has massive intelligence presence, both land and aerial, is unable to get information on such well-planned attacks?” Rex Tillerson has warned that those who support terrorists or offer sanctuaries to them will no longer be tolerated. “The statement is understandably aimed at Pakistan and should leave no doubt about what plans the United States has for the region.”
Saner elements, however, advise the Trump administration to eschew the path of resorting to the use of force as this has miserably been failed to produce any results in the past. Laurel Miller in a recent article under the caption “The United States and Pakistan: Best Frenemies Forever?”, says “the United States needs a strategy in Afghanistan and policy towards Pakistan based on the best Pakistani behaviour it can have, not the Pakistani behavior it wants to have.” The United States, it says, is once again ratcheting up the pressure on Pakistan to fall in line with the US policy in Afghanistan by ending the Afghan Taliban’s enjoyment of safe haven. Unsurprisingly, Pakistan is once again pushing back. Amid the mistrust, mutual recrimination, and stale narratives that have increasingly characterized the US-Pakistan relationship in recent years, there is one Pakistani talking point I have heard routinely from officials that should be taken at face value: Pakistan does not intend to fight the Afghan war on Pakistani soil. “New political tensions and demands will create opportunities for Pakistan to build up other relationships in the region at US expense.”
That’s why Pakistan’s Defence Minister Khurram Dastagir Khan underscored recently when he spoke of a regional recalibration of the country’s foreign and security policy, including looking towards Moscow and Beijing for military supplies.
Daily Times in its January 30 editorial said “many in Pakistan fear that there may be method behind the American ‘madness’; with some arguing that aid cuts represent the first step towards this end.” It argues that the latest American cash manoeuvrings are widely being seen by some as sowing the seeds of economic chaos; that preferred first step in the path to overseas regime change. “We are seeing possible and interlinked edeavours to destabilize this country to the point of Afghanistan.”
President Trump’s announcement of “No Talks” with the Taliban came despite the ongoing sincere efforts by China and Pakistan to bring the Taliban to the negotiating table and reach a reconciliation. Recently China hosted the talks with the presence of Pakistan and Afghanistan’s foreign ministers. The Chinese leadership managed to bring warmness in the ties of both the countries. Earlier this month, a meeting of the Taliban’s Qatar delegation has already taken place in Islamabad with the Pakistani officials, in which the Taliban had agreed to come to the table to initiate talks with the US; however, they had refused to hold talks with the Afghan government.
It obviously means that President Trump’s abrupt decision, in the backdrop of series of attacks in Kabul, has buried the hopes of seeking the solution through parleys. This also aims at frustrating the honest efforts being made by Pakistan. The five-member Qatar-Taliban delegation that included Shahabuddin Dilawar and Malawi Rasool, showed its willingness to hold the dialogue and find ways for political settlement to end the ongoing violence in the country. Apparently, peace efforts are being scuttled. The situation is being deliberately taken to a point of no return.
The question is, what would happen if the US, in collaboration with India, resorts to taking what it terms “punitive” military action against Pakistan? This is likely to be catastrophic and the magnitude of it is not being realized. The Afghan imbroglio is reaching a boiling point and the region will be on the verge of a volcano if this “madness” is not stopped now.