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Afghanistan Asks Pakistan to Take 'Practical Steps' Against Taliban Ahead of US Pullout

By Nafisa Hoodbhoy, Roshan Noorzai May 28, 2021

The Afghan government's media spokesperson has said his country wants Pakistan to take "practical steps" to close the Taliban bases and end its support for the insurgent group in the wake of the U.S. troop withdrawal from Afghanistan.

"Afghanistan's demands are very clear," Dawa Khan Menapal, director of Afghanistan's Government Media and Information Center, told VOA. "We all believe that the terrorists have bases and support in Pakistan."

Menapal reiterated Afghan President Ashraf Ghani's claim of May 14 when he told Der Spiegel magazine that the Taliban had received logistics, finances and recruitment from Pakistan, and that their consultative bodies were named after Pakistani cities such as "Peshawar Shura, Quetta Shura and Miranshah Shura."

The verbal battle between the two countries seemed to enter a new level in mid-May when the Afghan national security adviser, Hamdullah Mohib, during a rally in eastern Nangarhar province, warned the Taliban that Pakistan's intelligence agencies would "sacrifice" the Taliban for their own objectives.

"They neither want you nor will they help [you] to take power," he said. "All they have told you are a lie. The only thing they want from you is that they are sacrificing you for themselves and for their own war."

'Baseless accusations'

Pakistan Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesperson Zahid Hafeez Chaudhri, in a WhatsApp message to VOA, sharply rebutted those allegations, calling them "irresponsible statements" and "baseless accusations."

"Pakistan has conveyed its serious concerns to the Afghan side by making a strong demarche with the ambassador of Afghanistan in Islamabad," he said.

On May 17, Pakistan's Foreign Ministry, in a statement, warned that the Afghan leadership's accusations could "erode trust and vitiate the environment between the two brotherly countries and disregard the constructive role being played by Pakistan in facilitating the Afghan peace process."

Taliban bases

Relations between the two Muslim neighbors have over the years been characterized by mutual mistrust over allegations that Pakistan has been providing safe haven for the Afghan Taliban.

The Afghan government now claims that Pakistan's failure to live up to its promises of containing the Taliban has contributed to the unending cycle of violence in Afghanistan.

Afghan media spokesperson Menapal said Pakistan had promised to close the bases and "end the support system for the Taliban."

Haris Nawaz, a retired Pakistani brigadier, rebutted the charge, saying, "All their [Taliban] hideouts and safe places inside Pakistan have been dismantled."

"Even we have asked the Americans, if you feel there is any place you've pointed out and you have any information, we will immediately go and destroy them," Nawaz told VOA.

Promoted negotiations

Former Pakistani Ambassador to Afghanistan Ayaz Wazir, however, said Pakistan has strong ties to and influence over the Taliban.

"It is our long-standing relationship with the Taliban which helped us bring them to the negotiating table with the Americans," he told VOA.

Wazir said Pakistan is opposed to a Taliban takeover in Afghanistan because "we don't want an ideologically extremist government in Kabul that could also encourage Talibanization in Pakistan."

He said a Taliban government could not survive global opposition, including U.N.-imposed sanctions.

"It is wrong to assume that Pakistan would support a Taliban government that could be sustained by our financial support, because we ourselves are in an economically weak position," he added.

Pakistan surprised

Analysts say Afghanistan's recent accusations took Pakistan by surprise, coming only days after Pakistan army chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa and Inter-Services Intelligence chief Lieutenant General Faiz Hameed met government officials in Afghanistan.

Subsequently, Pakistan's foreign minister, Shah Mahmood Qureshi, gave an emotional speech addressed to the Afghan leadership inside Pakistan's National Assembly.

"I want to ask Afghanistan's president, Ashraf Ghani: On the one hand you are asking Pakistan to help, but, on the other hand, your employee levels allegations against Pakistan and criticizes the Pakistani institutions. For God's sake, what do you want?"

Pakistan's media quoted Qureshi as saying, "We want economic cooperation, we want bilateral trade, we want to shift geopolitics to geoeconomics. But what do you want?"

China's role

Some analysts say that when Pakistan's foreign minister urged Afghan leaders to work with Pakistan for stability and "regional connectivity," he took the phrase from China's playbook.

China seeks Afghan peace because of the region's natural resources and its economic projects in Pakistan and is concerned they will be hurt by militant attacks, they say.

On May 17, China's foreign minister, Wang Yi, spoke to the Afghan national security adviser and assured him that China endorsed the "Afghan-led, Afghan-owned principle" in finding a broad and inclusive political solution to Afghanistan.

Islamabad-based political analyst Mateen Haider said Pakistan, too, seeks a peaceful transfer of power that could balance the needs of competing groups in Afghanistan.

"Pakistan has made it a priority to complete the China-Pakistan Economic Project, bring energy lines from Central Asia and support road connectivity that goes through Afghanistan," he told VOA.

US role

While the U.S. troop withdrawal from Afghanistan has begun, Washington seems to be increasing its diplomatic push to bring Islamabad and Kabul closer.

U.S. national security adviser Jake Sullivan and his Pakistani counterpart, Moeed Yusuf, held their first meeting in Geneva on Sunday. The White House, in a statement, said both sides discussed how to advance "practical cooperation."

Michael Kugelman, a South Asia analyst at the Wilson Center, a global issues think tank in Washington, believes that U.S. efforts are afoot for a security accord to prevent Pakistani and Afghan soil from being used for cross-border terrorism.

Such an accord could bring "much needed relief, certainly to suffering of the Afghan people but Pakistanis as well," Kugelman said.

Diplomacy urged

Wazir, the former Pakistani diplomat, said Islamabad would support any U.S. initiative to foster a peaceful resolution with Kabul.

"Both sides need to control their verbal outbursts and work behind the scenes rather than take their disagreements into public," Wazir said, adding that differences between Afghanistan and Pakistan were not unresolvable.

The Pakistan Foreign Office, in its statement on May 17, suggested that henceforth Pakistan and Afghanistan iron out their disagreements through a previously set up mechanism called the Afghanistan-Pakistan Action Plan for Peace and Solidarity.

The mechanism, in which officials of both countries worked together to resolve border issues, may be revived to "address all bilateral issues," it recommended.

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