The Pakistani army chief is to visit to Kabul to help restart peace talks with the Taliban. The trip comes at a time when Islamists are gaining power, which analysts say is a result of Islamabad’s covert support.
The Afghan government is desperate to revive peace negotiations with the Islamist insurgents, who ruled the country from 1996 to 2001. After the brief capture of the war-torn country’s fifth-largest city, Kunduz, in September, the Taliban’s latest assault on the Sangin district of the southern Helmand province has again demonstrated the jihadists’ growing strength.
Asim Saleem Bajwa, spokesman of the Pakistan Army, said that army chief General Raheel Sharif had left for Kabul on Sunday to discuss the Afghan peace process with President Ashraf Ghani and other officials.
Sharif’s visit comes just two weeks after Islamabad hosted a regional conference to facilitate the peace process in Afghanistan.
The previous rounds of the Heart of Asia conference failed to achieve any of the objectives that it had set for itself. The Afghan peace process never really took off, amid accusations that the Taliban was not cooperating with the government in Kabul.
With the death of the militant group’s former leader, Mullah Omar, and the subsequent appointment of Mullah Akhter Mansoor as the new commander, the Islamist organization has experienced serious infighting. Mullah Dadullah has formed a breakaway faction, challenging the authority of Mansoor as the legitimate Taliban leader. The Dadullah group has pledged allegiance to the “Islamic State” (IS).
Is Islamabad cooperating?
Islamabad says it is willing to cooperate. It denies claims of interference in Afghanistan and says it wants to facilitate the peace process, but despite a round of successful peace talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban hosted by Pakistan, there hasn’t been a breakthrough. President Ghani slammed Islamabad for its apparent unwillingness to help in the negotiations.
Experts say that one should not expect much from the Pakistani army chief’s Kabul visit. They argue that the deadly militant attacks in Kandahar earlier this month and the Taliban’s offensive in Helmand and other parts of the country prove that the Pakistani military and its agencies continue to back the insurgents.
“It is not the first time that Pakistan is playing a ‘double-game’,” Islamabad-based analyst Abdul Agha told DW. “Forget about what happened at the Heart of Asia meeting, the more important thing is the timing and the message of the Kandahar attacks. The message to the Afghan leader from Islamabad is clear: you have to agree to our demands, or there will be no peace in your country.”
History of mistrust
“History has proven that Pakistan wants a weak government in Afghanistan so it can remain as the only mediator for the crisis in its neighborhood for the international community,” Ahmad Zia Ferozpur, a lecturer at Balkh University, told DW. He argued that the only time Pakistan was happy with Afghanistan was during the Taliban’s rule.
“In 2001, Islamabad agreed to join the [NATO-led] campaign against the Taliban due to international pressure but started a double game of supporting the Islamist insurgency and the international effort in Afghanistan simultaneously,” Ferozpur underlined.
But things can change now under the new Afghan government, believes Shukria Barakzai, an Afghan parliamentarian. “What we ask from Pakistan is not impossible: We want Islamabad to sign a transit agreement with Afghanistan and stop interfering in Afghanistan’s security,” she told DW.
“Afghanistan has tried all options with Pakistan,” she warned. “If Pakistan does not change its policies, our last option will be to consult the United Nations Security Council.”
For its part, the Pakistani government says it is easy for Afghan officials to put the blame for their country’s failure on Pakistan. Some analysts say that Afghan politicians have failed to deliver to their people, and the narrative that Islamabad is responsible for all their problems is no more than a political tactic.