The future of a peace initiative looks bleak after Afghanistan blamed Pakistan-based Haqqani group for an attack in Kabul. The Afghan government says it no longer expects Islamabad to bring the Taliban into peace talks.
The Afghan government has once again blamed Pakistan for supporting Islamic militants. On Saturday, April 24, President Ashraf Ghani's administration claimed that the last week's attack on the headquarters of an Afghan security agency in Kabul was conceived in Pakistan. The terrorist attack near the US embassy and government ministries on April 19 killed at least 64 people and wounded over 300.
On Saturday, Kabul police chief Abdul Rahman Rahimi told journalists the attack was planned by the Haqqani network, a Pakistan-based militant group, which many analysts say has close ties with Pakistan's military establishment.
The attack in Kabul infuriated the Afghan government to an extent that President Ghani had to say that his country "no longer expects Pakistan to bring the Taliban to the negotiating table." The statement is a clear indication that the Afghan authorities do not trust Islamabad in the fight against Islamic militants.
"What we want is for Pakistan, based on the four nations' agreement, to keep its promises and launch military operations against insurgents," Ghani said, referring to a four-nation peace initiative involving Afghanistan, Pakistan, China and the United States.
Ghaffar Khan, an Afghan security analyst and former general, said the president's speech was comprehensive. "The Afghans support their security forces and are united against terrorism. We can now distinguish between our friends and foes," Khan told DW.
Good terrorists, bad terrorists
Ghani said there were "no good or bad terrorists, they are just terrorists," and that "Pakistan must understand that and act against them."
Afghanistan and western countries have long accused Pakistan of distinguishing between "good and bad Taliban" - the ones that attack Pakistani soldiers, and the ones that it allegedly use as proxies in the neighboring country.
The Afghan government's claim that the April 19 attack was carried out by the Haqqani network was endorsed by the US State Department's press office.
"We have consistently expressed our concerns at the highest level of the government of Pakistan about their continued tolerance for Afghan Taliban groups such as the Haqqani network operating from Pakistani soil," State Department spokeswoman Elizabeth Trudeau told a news briefing in Washington on Friday.
"And we did again - after this week's attack, we have pressed the Pakistani government to follow up on its expressed commitment not to discriminate between terror groups regardless of their agenda or their affiliation by undertaking concrete action against the Haqqanis," she added.
Pakistan and the Haqqanis
Islamabad continues to deny it is backing the Haqqani network, which is largely based in its Waziristan region close to the Afghan border. Pakistan no longer believes in separating the "good" and "bad" Taliban, a senior government official said last year.
"We have decided to ban the Haqqani network as a step in implementing the National Action Plan devised after the (Peshawar) school attack," a cabinet member told Reuters, referring to the massacre of 134 children by Taliban gunmen in December 2014.
The decision to outlaw the militant group came just days after US Secretary of State John Kerry visited Islamabad and urged Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif's administration to fight extremist groups that pose a threat to Afghan, Indian and US interests in the region.
Siegfried O. Wolf, a senior research at the University of Heidelberg's South Asia Institute, warns that the decision to outlaw the Haqqanis should not be mistaken for a change in Pakistan's Afghanistan policy: "At the moment one cannot identify any significant change in Pakistan's foreign and security policy. Pakistan still wants the participation of the Taliban in the Afghanistan government," he told DW.
O. Wolf says that history is proof that such bans hardly translate into action. "Pakistan outlawed several militant groups in the past but they have reemerged after regrouping or renaming themselves and continued to operate on Pakistan's soil. Furthermore, there is no proof that the latest military operation in North Waziristan has significantly destroyed the operational structure of the Haqqani Network as claimed by the military," said O. Wolf.
Omar Hamid, Head of Asia Pacific Country Risk at IHS, a global analytics firm, says that despite the fact that Islamabad has decided to ban the Haqqanis, and that there is a military operation against them underway, it won't be easy to eliminate the group.
"The fundamental misunderstandings and misgivings between Islamabad and Kabul, and cooperation between the two governments on the Haqqani issue is unlikely," Hamid told DW, adding that a concerted effort was essential if the militant network was to be eliminated anytime soon.
"In the past few years, the Haqqanis suffered the losses of key leadership figures as a result of unmanned aerial vehicle strikes and assassinations within Afghanistan and Pakistan, which have immeasurably weakened the group. The capture of two more key members by the Afghan security forces in 2014 only further weakened the group," Hamid said.
Future of the peace talks
Islamabad says it is willing to cooperate with the Afghan government on peace talks, and denies claims of interference in Afghanistan.
Afghan expert Miagul Wasiq believes the success of the peace process largely depends on Pakistan's role. If Pakistan really wants to bring the Taliban into negotiations, it would be impossible for the militants to turn them down, he told DW.
"It is clear that the Taliban leaders are based in the Pakistani cities of Peshawar, Karachi and Quetta. Pakistan hasn't forced them to shun their activities and stop using its soil," said Wasiq. "If Pakistani officials stop backing them, I am sure the militants will have no option but to join the peace talks."
But Naufil Shahrukh, a researcher at the Islamabad-based Institute of Policy Studies (IPS), believes the suspension of talks is due to the inflexible approach on the part of Kabul and Washington.
"The Taliban have always been willing to talk, but with a precondition of the complete withdrawal of NATO forces from Afghanistan. This, obviously, is not acceptable for the Afghan government and the US," Shahrukh told DW.
Shahrukh also says that Pakistan has practically no influence over the Taliban leadership. "Such preconceived notions should be cleared before any meaningful initiative can take root," he said. "We must admit that the Taliban are still a potent force in Afghanistan. They control, and have public support, in several Afghan provinces."
Dawa Khan Menapal, a deputy spokesperson for President Ghani, is hopeful that a regional consensus for peace could still be achieved. "We will continue our discussion in the four-nation group because it is an Afghan initiative. We want all parties to recognize the threats to Afghanistan and the region," Menapal told DW.
But after the latest Kabul attack, and the Afghan government's accusations against Pakistan, the future of the peace talks seems bleaker than ever.
Additional reporting by Shadi Khan Saif, DW's correspondent in Kabul.