Recently, a United Nations (UN) report has divulged that more than 6,000 Pakistani insurgents and militants have built their hideouts in Afghanistan where from they attack Pakistani civilians and security forces personnel. It substantiates the long-standing position of Islamabad that Pakistani insurgents are harboured by elements in Afghanistan.
The important report has been prepared by the UN analytical and sanctions monitoring team, which tracks terrorist groups around the world. According to the report, of late more than 6,000 Pakistani insurgents, most belonging to the outlawed Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) group attacking Pakistani military and civilian targets, are hiding in Afghanistan. “The total number of Pakistani foreign terrorist fighters in Afghanistan, posing a threat to both countries, is estimated at between 6,000 and 6,500,” the report said.
The most disturbing reality for Pakistan is the presence of the militants in Afghanistan, particularly those linked to the TTP, Jamaat-al Ahrar or Lashkar-e-Islam, as well as the Balochistan Liberation Army. The latter took responsibility for high profile attacks in July in Sindh as well as in Balochistan, killing several Pakistan military and police personnel.
A very dangerous revelation of the UN report is that the TTP has linked up with the Afghan-based Daesh affiliate and some of its members have even joined the Daesh group, which has its headquarters in eastern Afghanistan. Noticeably, when the international media highlighted the report and tried to take comments from Afghan officials, they turned down their government’s version. It clearly shows that on the one hand, the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF), swallowing billions and billions of dollars of the US and other Western states’ taxpayers, could not fight meaningfully with the insurgents and, on the other, many Afghan officials have been hand in glove with Pakistani militants and Daesh.
The report estimated the membership of Daesh affiliates in Afghanistan at 2,200 and while its leadership has been depleted, it still counts among its leaders a Syrian national, Abu Said Mohammad al Khorasani. The report also said the monitoring team had received information that two senior Daesh commanders, Abu Qutaibah and Abu Hajar al Iraqi, had recently arrived in Afghanistan from the Middle East. This is yet another dangerous development.
“In territorial retreat, Daesh remains capable of carrying out high-profile attacks in various parts of the country (Afghanistan), including Kabul. It also aims to attract the Taliban fighters, who oppose the agreement with the United States,” said the report referring to a US peace deal signed with the Taliban in February. This is natural for the intransigent Taliban fighters.
Against the UN report, the Afghan government has been consistently blaming Pakistan for harbouring terrorists on its territory. Ironically, in the last many years Daesh has launched several deadly terrorist attacks in Afghanistan but the latter blamed Pakistan for all of them. It is despite the fact that Daesh does not have any strong presence in Pakistan. The group has also not been able to stage large-scale terrorist attacks in Pakistan. It means that the attacks in Pakistan, of which many have been 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. Kabul has long alleged that the Taliban have been getting official support from Pakistan. However, Kabul could never substantiate the claim except only one incident when the Taliban head, Mullah Akhtar Mansour, was killed in a US drone attack in Balochistan. It is a well-known fact that TTP commanders, including Fazlullah, have been living in safe havens in Afghanistan and there have been strong indications that he and other anti-Pakistan terrorist groups have official patronage from Kabul. There have been reports in the international media that the Afghan National Directorate of Intelligence (NDS) has been nurturing Daesh, considering it a counterpoise to the Afghan Taliban and also wants the group to foment trouble inside Pakistan. But the strategy is akin to playing with fire. The recent UN report testifies the fact.
On its part, the United States President Trump 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 that Pakistan is behind the Afghan Taliban, then the question arises: why the US, its NATO allies and 300,000 Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) could not trounce a few thousand Afghan Taliban in the last 19 years? Whether the US would wait for years to see Pakistan itself stop supporting the Taliban? Before that it won’t do anything to defeat the Taliban in the battlefield? The contradiction in the US policy has been quite obvious.
If it is believed that Pakistan has been the source of succor and sustenance for the Afghan Taliban, several opportunities arose in the past so that Washington and Kabul could rectify the situation from their standpoint but they failed. For instance, when the present key opposition leader Ahsan Iqbal was Interior Minister, he had made a statement that there were more than three million Afghans living as refugees in Pakistan and in the situation it was impossible to ensure that certain anti-Afghan elements might not have used Pakistani soil. Additionally, he had suggested that if there was still any wrongdoing in which Pakistan-based Afghans had been involved, it was important to repatriate three million Afghan refugees to their homeland after which Pakistan could guarantee that there would be no Taliban and Haqqani Network elements operating from Pakistan. His suggestion was indeed sensible regarding blames on Pakistan from 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 till the end of this year whereas the refugees’ presence has been used by Kabul to blame Pakistan for nourishing the Afghan Taliban. Moreover, Pakistan has successfully installed a fence on most of its 2640 kilometer-long and porous border with Afghanistan to check the inflow and outflow of insurgents and terrorists, but ironically Kabul has also been against the fencing. It is really strange. If Pakistan and Afghanistan are two states, then there must be a border with regulated entry and exit points as no sensible country could allow a free flow of people and goods across its borders.
The recent UN report must compel Afghan authorities to put their own house in order, otherwise harbouring Pakistani militants and terrorists on its soil to inflict damage on Pakistan, including Pashtuns, would be disastrous for peace in the region.