Diplomacy

Afghanistan, India Blame Pakistan for Supporting Terror Networks

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and prime minister Narendra Modi at the Heart of Asia conference in Amritsar. Credit: PTI

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and prime minister Narendra Modi at the Heart of Asia conference in Amritsar. Credit: PTI

New Delhi: In a strongly worded speech, Afghanistan president Ashraf Ghani on Sunday took Pakistan to task at the ‘Heart of Asia’ ministerial summit in Amritsar and called for an international regime to “verify” cross-border terror operations, even as he quoted a Taliban leader as saying that the terror group would not last without support from Islamabad.

While Ghani had no compunction in naming Pakistan, Indian prime minister Narendra Modi was relatively a bit more circumspect, though he did take pot-shots at Islamabad. After listening to the two co-hosts berating his country, Pakistan PM’s foreign affair adviser Sartaj Aziz pointed out that it was “too simplistic” to blame just one country for the increase in violence in Afghanistan.

“Despite our intense engagement with Pakistan on bilateral and multilateral basis, the undeclared war – the name that I gave to the phenomenon in the winter 2014 – not only has not abated but also intensified during 2016, with special intensity right after the Brussels Conference,” complained Ghani in his inaugural speech.

He pointed out that the “highest rate of use of force and organised defence of our country took place between October 4th and November 20th this year.” “The response of the states has been fragmented and some still provide sanctuary and support or tolerate these networks,” he added.

Ghani then quoted a Taliban leader to buttress his point that Pakistani support networks were crucial for the survival and thriving of the Islamist terror group. “As (Mullah Rahamatullah) Kakazada, one of the key figures in the Taliban movement recently said, if they did not have sanctuary in Pakistan, they would not last a month. We need intense dialogue and engagement,” he said.

The original statement by Kakazda to The Guardian was sharper. “If we left Pakistan we would not survive one week,” the former Taliban diplomat had said, dismissing his colleague Syed Mohammad Tayyab Agha’s demand that the Taliban should cut all ties with Islamabad and leave its Pakistani sanctuaries.

The upsurge in violence and the mention of continuing tolerance of terror sanctuaries by states was part of “five interrelated phenomena” which characterise the “fifth wave of violence”, as per Ghani. The other three were the rise of criminal economic networks, an attempt by 30 terror groups to establish a base in Afghanistan, “major but selective displacement” of terrorists from Pakistan to Afghanistan due to Pakistani military operations.

Ghani made three proposals, beginning with the need for an international effort to document “without any blame game” those who benefit from drug trafficking. The other two were squarely directed at Pakistan. “Second, we propose an Asian and international regime. Whatever is accepted, particularly, to our neighbour Pakistan to verify cross-frontier activities. We do not want blame game. We want verification,” he said. “Thirdly, there is a need for a fund to combat extremism. Pakistan has generously pledged 500 million dollars for reconstruction of Afghanistan. This fund, Mr Aziz, could very well be used for containing extremism because without peace any amount of assistance will not meet the needs of our people,” he said.

While he was tough with Pakistan, Ghani was generous with his praise for India. “India’s support is impressive, both in its scale and its system of delivery.  India’s assistance is state-to-state, aimed at improving people’s lives and wellbeing,” he said.

Ghani had begun his presidential tenure with an outreach to Pakistan, but with no reduction in the level of violence, the mood in Kabul is now distinctly hostile towards Islamabad. Ghani’s remarks were greeted by a spiky response from Pakistan. The Pakistani defence minister Khwaja Asif accused Ghani of trying to divert attention from his domestic failures by pointing fingers across the border.

In his statement at the ‘Heart of Asia’ meeting, Aziz pointedly said that “security situation in Afghanistan is very complex”. “It is simplistic to blame only one country for the recent upsurge in violence. We need to have an objective and holistic view,” he said, replying to the accusations made by afghan and Indian leaders in their speech.

“It is simplistic to blame only one country for the recent upsurge in violence. We need to have an objective and holistic view,” he said, replying to the accusations made by Afghan and Indian leaders in their speech.

Prime minister Modi’s rhetoric was quite subdued  when compared to the BRICS summit, where he had called Pakistan the “mothership of terrorism”. But, the Indian PM’s target was unmistakable. “As such, support for voices of peace in Afghanistan alone is not enough. It must be backed by resolute action. Not just against forces of terrorism, but also against those who support, shelter, train and finance them,” he said. “Silence and inaction against terrorism in Afghanistan and our region will only embolden terrorists and their masters,” Modi asserted.

The Amritsar Declaration, which was negotiated till the last minute, devoted a large space to address the issue of terrorism. “We remain concerned by the gravity of the security situation in Afghanistan in particular and the region and the high level of violence caused by the Taliban, terrorist groups including ISIS/Daesh and its affiliates, the Haqqani Network, Al Qaida, Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, East Turkistan Islamic Movement, Lashkar-e-Taiba, Jaish-e-Mohammad, TTP, Jamaat-ul-Ahrar, Jundullah and other foreign terrorist fighters,” said the multilateral document.

In contrast, the 2015 Islamabad Declaration had only talked about the need to eliminate the “menace of terrorism, all terrorist organisations, in particular, Al Qaida, Daesh (ISIS) and their affiliates and any support to them and their enabling networks in the HoA-IP region”.

The proliferation of terror groups in the Amritsar Declaration may be due to competing interests between various countries like India, Pakistan, Iran, China and Uzbekistan to include organisations which specifically target them.

“Acknowledging the support that terrorism derives in our region, we demand an immediate end to all forms of terrorism, as well as all support to it, including financing of terrorism,” the declaration said, describing terrorism as the “biggest threat to peace, stability and cooperation in our region”.

“We strongly call for concerted regional and international cooperation to ensure elimination of terrorism, in all its forms and manifestations, including dismantling of terrorist sanctuaries and safe havens in the Heart of Asia region, as well as disrupting all financial, tactical and logistical support for terrorism,” it added.

“We recognise the necessity of taking serious measures to address recruitment of youth to extremist and terrorist networks. We realise that the radicalisation of disaffected elements of the population, especially youth, can only be prevented by effective de-radicalisation and counter-radicalisation strategies involving all the HoA countries”, it asserted.

The declaration announced that experts from education, education and regional governance will meet in the first half of 2017 to draw up a regional approach to counter radicalisation. The recommendations of the experts will be presented at the senior officials’ meeting of the Heart of Asia process next year.