By Syeda Mamoona Rubab-
Back to back attacks in Kabul underscore the need to reach a political settlement in the conflict in Afghanistan.
The Afghan capital has lately witnessed a series of high-profile terrorist attacks, some perpetrated by the Taliban and its affiliate Haqqani Network, while others were carried out by the savage Islamic State or Da’ish. The strikes on the Intercontinental Hotel, a police check point near EU offices and the military academy are, however, repeated reminders of all that is ailing Afghanistan from its security woes to endemic corruption and persistent political instability, and lest we forget that Trump’s strategy for Afghanistan is not working.
As always, a finger is again and again pointed towards Pakistan that the attacks originate from its soil. Afghanistan’s intelligence agency National Security Directorate, in a media statement on InterContinental Hotel, said that the explosives were made in Pakistan and it went on to name an Islamabad-based manufacturer. But, without going into the debate over the merits of the claim or its credibility, it should be remembered that the onus of answering questions about the attack is on the Ghani government and his security apparatus, which cannot be brushed aside by just blaming the neighbour.
With regard to hotel attack there are lots of questions. Why was the security of the hotel changed and given to a private firm weeks before the attack; how were the six attackers able to bypass the security; why was the vehicle carrying the attackers and the explosives not searched; why was the security lax on the day of the attack; why were the scanners not working; and how did the attackers have information about activities inside? The questions come to mind after reading accounts in the Afghan press.
Undoubtedly, there was insider help. The attackers were Taliban, as claimed by spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid, but someone else was collaborating and facilitating. Kabul needs a bit of introspection too.
Similarly in case of the attack on police post near EU offices, the ambulance was allowed to pass one post before exploding at the second, where it was stopped for inspection, even though there was general alert in Kabul that day about an impending ambulance attack.
Insecurity in Afghanistan is growing; terrorist groups are extending their networks and can hit anywhere and anyone. The security response has been ineffective. The components of the coalition government don’t see eye to eye on the security strategy. And above all, the corruption factor is complicating the situation. That’s not just analysis, it is corroborated by figures reported in US and UN reports.
For instance, the US Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction points out that the Taliban’s territorial control is growing and it has inflicted significant casualties on Afghan security forces. Approximately 56.8% of Afghanistan’s 407 districts are under government control or influence (74 districts under control and another 157 under influence). That’s the lowest level since the US agency started collecting such data. Multiple on civilian targets undermined public confidence in the government’s ability to protect the people.
The UN Secretary General’s report for the General Assembly notes that at the end of the last year, “the security situation remained highly volatile, as conflict between the government and anti-government forces continued throughout most of the country”. Over 21,000 incidents were reported till November 2017 and “attrition within Afghan National Police remained a major concern”.
An editorial in Daily Outlook Afghanistan states: “The members of NUG see the issue with different perspectives and are not ready to cooperate with each other in developing and applying a comprehensive and unanimous (security) policy to tackle the situation”.
The way forward?
There is virtually a consensus that there has to be a political settlement. The UN Secretary General’s report emphasizes that “there is no military solution to the conflict in Afghanistan” and “only a negotiated settlement can bring lasting peace and stability” there.
However, the problem is that the stakeholders do not agree on the strategy. This is why initiatives, including the Quadrilateral Coordination Group of Pakistan, Afghanistan, China and US, failed to bear fruit.
Earlier this month, a delegation from the Taliban’s political office in Doha visited Pakistan for consultations. It included Maulvi Shahabud Din Dilawar, Syed Rasool Haleem, Muhammad Suhail Shaheen, Jan Muhammad Madnai and Qari Deen Muhammad. Other countries, including China and Turkey, are undertaking similar efforts. It isn’t clear as yet if something substantive has been discussed during the delegation’s trip or if it was just limited to an exchange of views.
The Taliban have, particularly since they opened the Doha office in 2013, toyed with the idea of talks, but also carried on fighting. The hotel attack is one such example as it happened shortly after the delegation from the Taliban office toured Pakistan to explore prospects of talks with the Afghan government.
However, people in Islamabad must realize that the stakes for Pakistan in the peace process have never been higher. It is not just that deteriorating Pak-US ties can only be salvaged if some progress is made on negotiations, but it is also the only way to protect Pakistan from the fallout of chaos in the neighbourhood.
A version of this article was originally published in The Friday Times. The author is a researcher at IPI.