Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Daily Times Editorial Sept 21, 2015

The Afghan connection Interpretations of the origins and control of the Badaber attack could cause misunderstandings between Pakistan and Afghanistan. Although the ISPR account of the attack traced its perpetrators and controllers to Afghan soil, ISPR was careful not to point the finger of blame at the Afghanistan government. Nevertheless, President Ashraf Ghani's office considered it necessary to reiterate that Afghan soil would never be allowed to be used for terrorism against other countries and emphasising the need for Islamabad and Kabul to cooperate and work together against the common menace. Hopefully this clarification will lay any suspicions about Kabul's role to rest. The logic of the situation and the ground realities point to some irrefutable facts and perhaps the aim of the terrorists to create a gulf between the two neighbouring countries, which would obviously work to their advantage. The fact of the matter is that the Pakistani Taliban, having been driven out of their bases in FATA, have found safe havens across the border on Afghan soil. Kabul, hard pressed to contain the insurgency after the withdrawal of the bulk of NATO troops, is not in a position to control cross-border incursions along the infamously porous divide on its own. It is another matter that recent developments after the Kabul-Taliban talks floundered and the Taliban carried out deadly attacks in Kabul have once again soured the trust being built between Islamabad and Kabul. That has proved a setback to the critical need for both countries to work together to deny the terrorists freedom of movement across the porous border. Of course Kabul could, and does when relations deteriorate, point accusing fingers at Pakistan for continuing to harbour the Afghan Taliban on its soil. But the Pakistan government's reiteration of willingness to host the stalled second round of talks between Kabul and the Taliban leaves the door ajar for the exploration of a negotiated political settlement with the insurgency. That would be the ideal outcome, not only because peace in Afghanistan and peace in Pakistan are inextricably intertwined, but also because such a development would focus minds and effort on scotching the embryonic emergence of Islamic State-affiliated groups inside Afghanistan (and arguably Pakistan). As far as the Badaber incident is concerned, investigations, including forensic analysis of the dead bodies of the attackers, to whose body count one more has been added in the shape of a charred body discovered later, are in progress. A dragnet has netted tens of suspects, but it is not clear if this is a case of the 'usual suspects' being rounded up or based on actual leads. The owner of the vehicle used in the attack has been arrested, but reports say he had sold the vehicle, which then passed through at least five hands before the deadly attack. Nevertheless, this offers a promising trail to be vigorously pursued. While critics are pointing to a security lapse in the face of prior accurate intelligence reports about just this kind of terrorist attack on Badaber amidst calls for the accountability of concerned officials who ignored the warnings, the lapse is neither new nor the first such instance. Similar warnings of impending attacks, including the Bannu jail break, were reportedly available before the event but not acted upon effectively. The terrorists rely on heightened security after every attack to fall into the almost inevitable inertia of business as usual before launching their next assault. They therefore enjoy the advantage of will, time and space, with the security forces naturally being in a strategic defensive and reactive mode. The exception to this rule are the military operations in FATA, of which the bombing in the Tirah Valley on Saturday, September 19, which reportedly killed 16 terrorists in retaliation for the Badaber attack, proving the point about the need for being proactive and keeping the initiative with the security forces. National Security Adviser Sartaj Aziz has said the evidence collected regarding the Badaber attack will be shared with Kabul. This is to the good, but to regain recently lost trust between the two sides, Pakistan should now bend its back to get the stalled Afghan talks restarted.

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