This week, Afghanistan lodged repeated official complaints against Pakistan’s violations of international agreements, including Pakistan’s Afghan border closings and forced repatriation of Afghan refugees. The border closings are contrary to World Trade Organization (WTO) rules, and Pakistan’s forced repatriation of refugees breaks its agreements with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). Pakistan is a member of the WTO and U.N., so these actions are the latest in a series of broken promises on the issue of Afghanistan. These are confirmation that Pakistan can no longer be trusted as a negotiating partner on Afghan-related issues. About two weeks ago, Pakistan used the excuse of its own domestic terrorism, including terrorists who caused 125 deaths, to scapegoat Afghanistan, and launch artillery strikes on alleged Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP, or Pakistani Taliban) and Jamaat ul-Ahrar (aka Jamaatul Ahrar, JuA) terrorist camps in Afghanistan.
This blunt strategy of cross-border artillery strikes disillusions Afghanistan for at least four reasons. First, Pakistan did not ask permission, which they should have according to the laws of war. Second, in 2016 Pakistan broke a border agreement and closed its border, precipitating armed clashes, a death, and dozens of wounded. In 2011 Pakistan initiated 470 rocket attacks on Afghanistan. These artillery strikes caused great fear at the time, and the current artillery strikes must be seen in that context.
Third, Pakistan’s attack was astonishingly hypocritical given that some terrorist camps in Afghanistan were the result of militants getting tipped off about anti-insurgent operations in Pakistan. There are a much greater number of cross-border and Pakistan-oriented terrorist camps and leaders within Pakistan’s own borders, than in Afghanistan. Jamaat ul-Ahrar terrorists, for example, claimed responsibility for two recent attacks in Pakistan. Pakistan claims that the terrorists infiltrated from Afghanistan to launch the attacks, but offered no evidence. The terrorist group has gone rogue from its roots in the Pakistani Taliban. While Afghanistan should take immediate action against this group, and any other terrorists who might be training or launching cross-border strikes into Pakistan, the far larger problem lies with Pakistani support for terrorists who launch strikes from Pakistan.
Fourth, there are plenty of terrorist centers of gravity in Pakistan that could be targeted by Pakistan. Afghanistan released a list of 32 Pakistani terrorist training centers and 85 Pakistan-based terrorist leaders on February 19. By attacking Afghanistan with the crude weapon of artillery when the terrorist centers of gravity on its own soil requires little more than arrests, Pakistan proves its antipathy against the elected Afghan government, not terrorism. The Pakistani artillery strikes were meant to mislead the public, rather than address the root causes of South and Central Asian terrorism. Had Pakistan really meant to eradicate terrorist training camps in Afghanistan, it would have gotten more traction through direct cooperation with Afghanistan. Pakistan appears to support terrorists in a misguided attempt to use them as weapons and levers of influence against India, Afghanistan, and possibly even the U.S.But the terrorist groups have gotten out of control and are now seeking localized overthrow of Pakistan government facilities, at a minimum. Some terrorist groups in Pakistan, including the Islamic State, go further to seek a larger regional caliphate as a potential long-range objective. Islamic State killed 72 in an attack on a Sufi shrine in Pakistan last month. Pakistan claimed that the terrorists came from Afghanistan, but offered no evidence.
Pakistan appears to use a duplicitous public relations strategy of reversing charges against Afghanistan and India, which are increasingly allies with each other in the fight against South Asian violent extremism. Pakistani defense analysts claim that Indian and Afghan intelligence are using Afghan-based terrorists against Pakistan. A day prior to the Afghanistan government’s release of information on 85 Pakistani terrorist training centers and 32 militant leaders, Pakistan released an underwhelming list of 76, presumably low-ranking, militants living in Afghanistan. This raises the question as to whether Pakistan had advance knowledge of the Afghan government release, and if so, how. Pakistani claims of Afghan and Indian sponsorship of radical Islamic terrorism are difficult to believe, and it is unclear how terrorism in Pakistan assists the foreign policy goals of either India or Afghanistan. Quite the opposite. More plausibly, Pakistan makes such claims to redirect international and domestic anger over terrorism away from Pakistan’s weak leaders and failed foreign policies. Tabish Forugh, former Chief of Staff, Afghanistan Independent Election Commission, said in an email that the “Pakistanis have never presented any concrete evidence to prove what they claim regarding cross-border terrorist attacks; and they have never truly wanted to solve the problem of terrorism in the region.”
Pakistan’s pro-Taliban and anti-Afghanistan activities belie its claim to be an ally of NATO against terrorism. Islamic State, which killed scores at a famed Sufi Shrine on Thursday in Pakistan, and which is one of the attacks that Pakistan is using as an excuse for border closings and artillery strikes against targets in Afghanistan, also killed 18 soldiers on the same day in Afghanistan. It makes little sense for Pakistan to target Afghanistan with border closings and artillery strikes, when Afghanistan suffers similar attacks from the same foe. According to West Point’s Javid Ahmad, “Islamabad’s duplicity is arguably the greatest cause of Afghanistan’s instability.” As U.S. officials have pointed out, Pakistan should be seeking more cooperation with Afghanistan, India, and the United States against the Islamic State, Taliban, and other terrorists. Pakistan should not unilaterally and without permission lob artillery shells at terrorist bases in Afghanistan. Pakistan should immediately open its borders to legitimate trade from land-locked Afghanistan. Only through greater transparency and cooperation with Afghanistan, India, and the United States, will Pakistan regain the trust and allies that are necessary for defeating terrorism at home.