Ghani's Pakistan Dilemma

The Afghan-Pakistan rapprochement that started with the coming to power in Kabul of President Ashraf Ghani is beginning to run out of steam. Elected in September 2014, Ghani came to power hoping that closer ties with Pakistan would convince Pakistan to change its decades-old policy towards Afghanistan that involved the use of Jihadi proxies.

The primary aim of the entente sought by Ghani was to obtain Pakistan’s assistance in negotiations with the Afghan Taliban. However, this gambit of Ghani’s depended upon three things: First, that the civilian leadership under Nawaz Sharif could actually change Pakistan’s policy towards Afghanistan, overcoming entrenched prejudices and policies of the ISI. Second, closer ties between Afghan and Pakistani military-intelligence services would lead the Pakistani military to move away from its policy of supporting jihadis as an aspect of foreign policy. Third and most important that the international community especially the Chinese and the Americans were invested to the extent of exerting sufficient pressure on Pakistan to deliver the Afghan Taliban to the talks.

Ghani came through on a number of his promises. His first few foreign visits were to China and Pakistan. He only visited India in April 2015, almost 6 months after taking over power, effectively reassuring Pakistan that Afghanistan did not consider India more important than Pakistan. After the December 2014 terror attack on a school in Peshawar, Afghanistan helped capture the terrorists involved in that attack. In May 2015, the Pakistani and Afghan intelligence services signed a Memorandum of Understanding which provided for Pakistan training Afghan intelligence officers, participating in the interrogation of terror suspects and even conducting joint operations with Afghan counterparts.

Pakistan has yet to follow through on its side of the deal. Pakistani military launched an operation in North Waziristan, Zarb e Azb and did dislodge some militant groups and their camps. However, jihadi groups, like the Haqqani network, which poses a major threat to Afghan security, had advance warning and moved to safe havens across the border in Afghanistan.

Pakistan promised to bring the Afghan Taliban to the reconciliation process and after months of promises has not yet delivered substantive talks. Attacks by the Afghan Taliban and their affiliates continue not only in Kabul but throughout the country.

In June 2015 news outlets leaked a letter from Ghani to his Pakistani counterpart which reflected the immense domestic pressure Ghani is facing for giving too much to Pakistan without much received in return. According to the news outlets the letter “issued a month’s deadline to Pakistani leaders to take action against the Afghan Taliban.”

Ghani came in hoping that if he changed Afghan policy towards Pakistan, it would lead to reciprocity from the other side. He is gradually learning that with Pakistan that is not always the case.