Of late two deadly terrorist attacks in Kurram Agency and Swat killed several civilians and security forces personnel raising fears of a terrorist comeback in both these regions of north-west Pakistan. In the first terrorist attack terrorists through a roadside bomb targeted the vehicle of members of a Shiite family in Maqbal area of Kurram tribal district. Resultantly, eight people including three women and a child lost their lives. In the second incident on February 3, 11 security forces personnel lost their lives in the Kabal area of Swat in Khyber Pakhtunhwa province, when a suicide bomber ran into a army sports area, killing several servicemen.
The two incidents are extremely important within the unfolding regional context. It is important to note that the first terrorist attack in Kurram was not owned by either the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) or the Islamic State (IS). The Swat attack was claimed by the TTP. Last year too in Kurram a suicide attack in a vegetable market which had killed more than 20 people was owned by the TTP.
The terrorist attacks in Pakistan occurred almost at the same time when the terrorist spree continued in Afghanistan which killed more than 150 people in at least three major attacks. Forty people were killed after Taliban fighters attacked Intercontinental Hotel in Kabul on January 21. On January 25, another attack on Save the Children office in Jalalabad left at least six people dead. In the deadliest of recent terrorist attacks in Afghanistan more than a 100 people were killed in a suicide attack in Kabul city centre. The attack left at least 191 people wounded. The attack was claimed by the Afghan Taliban. Furthermore on January 29, at least 11 soldiers were killed and 16 others wounded in a pre-dawn attack on a military compound in Kabul. The attack was claimed by IS. Afghanistan blamed Pakistan for all these terrorist attacks.
The IS does not have any strong presence in Pakistan and has not carried out any strikes here. The group has also not been able to stage large-scale terrorist attacks in Pakistan. This means that the attacks in Pakistan, of which one was claimed by the TTP, are backed by Kabul. Afghanistan intelligence operatives may like to settle scores with Pakistan and, thus, apparently have facilitated the terrorists. Pakistan’s Foreign Office spokesman also stated that the Afghan connection was there in the Kurram terrorist attack. Kabul since long has had alleged that its Taliban have been getting official support from within Pakistan. However, Kabul could never substantiate the claim sans only one incident when the Taliban head, Mullah Akhtar Mansour was killed in a US drone attack in Balochistan, Pakistan. It is quite well-known that the TTP commanders including Fazlullah is living in safe havens inside Afghanistan and there have been strong indications that he and other anti-Pakistan terrorist groups have received official patronage from Kabul. Apparently, the Kurram attack was conducted by Afghanistan-based IS, which has a strong anti-Shiite agenda and by killing members of the sect it wants to pit them against the Sunnis. There have been reports in the international media that the Afghan National Directorate of Intelligence (NDS) has been nurturing IS as its bigwigs consider it a counterpoise to the Afghan Taliban and also wants the group to foment trouble inside Pakistan. But this strategy is akin to playing with fire.
On its part US President Trump’s administration has also been blaming Pakistan for supporting the Afghan Taliban, who have been behind instability in the war-ravaged country. If it is accepted, for argument’s sake that Pakistan is behind the Afghan Taliban, then the question arises what of the US and its NATO allies, plus 300,000 Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF). Is the US going to spend the next 100 years sitting in Kabul, blaming Pakistan? If it is believed that Pakistan has been the source of succor and sustenance for the Afghan Taliban than the recent statement of Pakistan Home Minister, Ahsan Iqbal, is a historic opportunity for Washington and Kabul to seize the moment. In his statement Mr. Iqbal said that there are more than three million Afghans living as refugees in Pakistan and in this situation it is impossible to ensure that certain anti-Afghan elements might not have used Pakistani soil. Therefore, he suggested that if there was still any wrongdoing in which Pakistan-based Afghans have been involved, it is important to repatriate three million Afghan refugees to their homeland after which Pakistan could guarantee there would be no Taliban and Haqqani Network elements operating from inside Pakistan. Ahsan’s suggestion is, indeed, a cogent stand on the part of Pakistan, regarding the allegations against Pakistan by Afghanistan and the US. However, the US has reportedly refused to assist Pakistan in repatriating millions of Afghan refugees to their country. In the meanwhile, Pakistan has given yet another extension in stay to registered Afghan refugees in Pakistan till the end March this year. The earlier deadline of January 31, 2018 expired. It is good that in Pakistan’s policy circles there is clarity of mind that Afghan refugees not only are a great burden on our national resources but elements among them have been used by anti-Pakistan groups to create trouble inside Pakistan. Whereas, the same refugees’ presence has been made use of by Kabul to blame Pakistan for nourishing Afghan Taliban.
So, Pakistan has made a very sound offer to the US and Kabul for putting an end to any presence of Afghan miscreants on its soil. However, it remains to be seen what would be the response of Washington and Afghanistan to it. Kabul has already requested Pakistan to grant extensive permission of stay to millions of Afghan refugees on its soil. On its part, as mentioned earlier, Washington is not interested in repatriation of Afghan refugees. Whether Kabul likes it or not and Washington is supportive of the move or not, Pakistan in its national interest must send all Afghans back to their country without any further delay.
Insofar as the relations between Pakistan and Afghanistan, especially within the context of war against terrorism are concerned, at least the two countries have made a new beginning by holding secretary-level talks under the Afghanistan-Pakistan Action Plan for Peace and Solidarity (APAPPS). Islamabad made an astute diplomatic gesture by holding the first meeting of the APAPPS in Kabul. The plan had been proposed by Pakistan, and Afghanistan reluctantly accepted to become part of it. However, keeping in view Kabul’s harsh and delusional anti-Pakistan policy, one is not very optimistic about the success of this initiative.