As the creator, supporter and host of the Afghan Taliban, Pakistan has the leverage to prevent the Taliban's further break up and disarray due to the confirmation of the spiritual head of the movement Mullah Omar's death. While the Afghan government viewed the dissent in the Taliban's rank as good news, Pakistan is worried that the breakup will lead to the weakening of their strong card in the Afghan conflict game. Not wasting any precious time, Pakistan is busily involved in trying to reconcile the different factions of the Taliban post-Mullah Omar and rally the disenchanted under a unified leader. Needless to say, that leader will have to have close ties with the Pakistanis to insure their continued role in the ever precarious struggle for Afghanistan to become a viable nation state.
The questions surrounding the death of Mullah Omar, why it was kept a secret, and the role of the current leader Mullah Akhtar Mansoor have created a major turmoil within the rank and file Taliban. Pakistan is desperately trying to contain the situation from further deterioration. According to the Afghan government, the latest rash of bombings in Kabul was directed by the Pakistani intelligence agency the ISI. The aim, according to Hasib Sidiqi (the spokesman for the Afghan intelligence organization the National Directorate for Security (NDS) was to show that the Taliban are still capable of mounting serious security challenges for the Afghan government. Additionally, they wanted to dispel any notion that the Taliban have weakened as a result of internal divisions following the death of their leader Omar.
The Afghan government has directly accused Pakistan of being complicit in the latest bombings which hit the heart of Kabul. Hasib Sidiqi said that the type of explosives used in the bombings were more sophisticated than usual, a type which only countries like Pakistan possess. The usual improvised explosive devices, vehicle borne or otherwise, used by the insurgency employ ammonium nitrate as the explosive material. Ammonium nitrate which is also used as fertilizer in the agriculture industry is produced in Pakistan and widely available. Although these devices are crude, they have been used with devastating effect since 2006. The majority of the victims are civilians, women and children. The United Nations just announced that the current year was especially lethal for the Afghan women and children.
Ghani and Sharif during happier days. Photo: (AP)
The latest developments are a testimony to the complex and convoluted nature of the Afghanistan conflict with its own citizens and its neighbor to the south and east. Therefore, in my opinion, there does not seem to be an end to the carnage at least in the short term. It is particularly discouraging and embarrassing to the Afghan President Ashraf Ghani who spent considerable political capital courting Pakistan since he took office last October. It has been almost a year since he ascended to the Afghan presidency, but he does not have much to show for it. Mr. Ghani was adamant about the rapprochement with Pakistan over the objections of many Afghans including his national unity government partners who do not trust the Pakistanis based on the long history and past experience. Mr. Ghani, unlike his predecessor, Mr. Karzai, was very measured in criticizing Pakistan since coming to office last year. However, the latest bombings and lack of any tangible progress on Pakistan's part to rein in the Taliban recently pushed Mr. Ghani over the edge. In a reversal of his hitherto favorable stance, he directly blamed Pakistan for being duplicitous and a supporter of terrorism.
From Afghanistan's perspective the way forward with respect to its relationship with Pakistan is very simple. Pakistan can arrest the Taliban leadership, cut off funding to them and close down the Taliban's safe havens in Pakistan. The Taliban's spring and summer offensive culminating with the latest bombings in Kabul could have been stopped by Pakistan. The fact that these attacks have continued unabated clearly shows that Pakistan is not interested in a favorable outcome in Afghanistan. Pakistan leaders such as Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif have pronounced their interest in curbing the Taliban and other lethal groups' terror activities, but they have done nothing to back up their words. Pakistan's inaction could therefore force the Ghani regime to adopt a more critical posture relative to Pakistan similar to his predecessor, Hamid Karzai. But Pakistan thus far has not been persuaded to abandon its support for the Taliban regardless of whether the Afghan posture been critical or friendly.
The current Pakistani efforts to maintain the Taliban's cohesion, if successful, will have a considerable effect in what the new Taliban looks like and in the continued bloodshed in Afghanistan.