A myriad accidents impinges on already tenuous bilateral ties between Pakistan and Afghanistan – two neighbours tied to each other geographically. History might be a shared account between them but the present overwhelms the past and deprecates the shared geography fraught with carnage. Pakistan is considered the source of ills of Afghanistan and vice versa. The recriminating trend designates that Pak-Afghan bilateral ties are neither static nor stable: the ties are roving in want of stability and strength.
Certain recent developments indicate a worsening of Pak-Afghan relations. On 18 October, 2018, Zabihullah Abu Dajana, an Afghan Taliban implanted as the Kandahar governor’s bodyguard, shot at and assassinated the provincial Police Chief General Abdul Raziq Achakzai and the Intelligence Chief Abdul Momin in the governor’s compound. Raziq was notorious for inflicting brutal torture on the interned Afghan Taliban in Kandahar, a southern province of Afghanistan, bordering Pakistan. Last year, Human Rights Watch had declared him Kandahar’s “torturer-in-chief”, the nomination falling on deaf ears of the US authorities. Certainly, brutality reigned over Afghanistan: the police’s barbarism matching the savagery of the Afghan Taliban. There stood no difference in savagery between a Taliban and an anti-Taliban, under the nose of the US-NATO forces championing the cause of democracy in Afghanistan.
Raziq also ran private detention centers and dungeons to torture the captured Afghan Taliban prisoners into revealing information in the hope of restoring peace and order in Kandahar. US-NATO officers knew fully well the way Raziq was policing the province. The paradox in the pro-democratic and human rights claims of the US-NATO forces and the plight of the captives on the ground – blatantly abusing the same democratic ideals and human rights’ beliefs – belied the efforts US and European governments were investing in Afghanistan. The US-Europe duo forgot the lessons distilled from the Abu Ghraib Jail in Iraq: torture in custody begets torture in the streets, though the actors may be different. Torture on captives is counterproductive and it engenders its own target-victim equation. Iraqi’s jail plight in 2004 played a key role, subsequently, in the creation of the militant organization known today as Daesh. One can visualize the replication of Daesh in Afghanistan.
An Afghan was torturing fellow Afghans unto disability and death. The practice blurred the difference between a Taliban and an anti-Taliban. The torture was not the only affliction the accompanying humiliation, for example engendered by smashing testicles was worse than other torment. Ostensibly, Abu Dajana took Raziq as his prime target, whether or not the assassination was to sabotage the ongoing election process. Nevertheless, in the murder spree, on the visit and accompanying Raziq, US General Scott Miller (the commander of US-NATO command in Afghanistan) escaped unhurt owing to his body armor. Miller could have been the victim but he escaped the reprisal for the crimes committed by Raziq. The overall scenario in Afghanistan demonstrates that the internecine war has cancelled the virtue of compassion, even as an option to win over the hearts and minds of prisoners to their side.
Reportedly, Abu Dajana, an Afghan Taliban in disguise of a bodyguard, was in touch telephonically with the Taliban residing in Chaman, Pakistan. This is how, inadvertently though, Pakistan got linked to the occurrences in Afghanistan. According to Kabul, the linkage bears the mark of a conspiracy hatched on Pakistan’s soil to sabotage the Kabul regime. Immediately after the incident, US Secretary of State Michael Pompeo threatened Pakistan with dire consequences if it did not take action against the Afghan Taliban residing in its land. Pakistan is demonized as the perpetrator of troubles in Afghanistan overlooking the fact that the “torturer in chief” was not the label ascribed to the late Raziq by Pakistan.
That Pakistan should take action against the Afghan Taliban who have taken refuge on its soil, is a long-standing American demand. Nevertheless, the US authorities should also explain the reasons for giving Raziq a licence to torment and debase Afghan Taliban in the name of restoring order in Kandahar. The US authorities were guilty of looking the other way and consequently perpetuating atrocities against the captured. The swift ascent of Raziq from a mere border security soldier around 2001 to the post of a provincial police chief because of his sheer brutality spoke volumes for the criterion employed in Afghanistan to ingratiate oneself with the ruling regime, whether native or foreign. The same benchmark is the bane of peace in Afghanistan. The US should not blame Pakistan for its own blunders in Afghanistan.
In the Middle East, Qatar has been playing an important role in helping the warring parties to bridge the gap. Qatar permitted the opening of an Afghan Taliban’s political office on its land to facilitate talks between US authorities and Afghan Taliban. In May 2014, Qatar brokered a deal helping the US successfully end the five-year detention of US Army Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl captured by the Afghan Taliban in 2009, in exchange for five Afghan detainees languishing in Guantanamo Bay. These detainees were transferred to Qatar, a guarantor. Similarly, on the entreaty of Qatar, on 24 October, 2018, Pakistan released Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar from its custody where he had been confined since his capture on 8 February, 2010. Baradar was the co-founder of the Taliban movement in 1994 and a deputy to the late Taliban commander Mullah Omar from 1996 to 2001. His was a prized detention at the behest of the CIA. Later on, Pakistan cashed in on the prize in multiple ways.
In Doha, the efforts are underway to get a negotiated settlement of the Afghanistan question. Afghan Taliban have nominated the five ex-Guantanamo detainees their representative to negotiate some settlement with US authorities. Their appointment means that Afghan Taliban are inflexible in giving any space to their counterparts and the formula of negotiations is fraught with the seeds of miscarriage right from the start. Pakistan did not advise the Afghan Taliban to nominate them and consequently frustrate the prospects of any successful settlement.
The point is simple: both US authorities and Afghan Taliban have been committing their share of mistakes and both should be ready to face the consequences without laying the blame of any failure on Pakistan.