Assuaging concerns: Kabul softens up on ‘terror sanctuaries’

COAS orders effective border coordination with Afghan forces

Kamran Yousaf February 21, 2017
Afghan policemen stand guard at a checkpoint in the Deh Sabz district of Kabul, Afghanistan. PHOTO: REUTERS

ISLAMABAD: Afghanistan on Monday agreed to address Pakistan’s concerns over the presence of ‘terrorist sanctuaries’ on its side of the Durand Line in a development that may pave the way for de-escalation of tensions between the two neighbours, officials said.

The assurance was given by Afghan Ambassador in Islamabad Dr Omar Zakhiwaal during a meeting with Prime Minister’s Adviser on Foreign Affairs Sartaj Aziz and senior military officials.

Zakhiwaal flew to Kabul at the weekend to consult his country’s leadership after Pakistani officials had traced a string of deadly terrorist attacks, including the one at the shrine of popular Sufi saint Lal Shahbaz Qalandar in Sehwan, back to Afghanistan.

Within hours of the horrific Sehwan bombing, senior Afghan diplomats were summoned to the military headquarters in Rawalpindi and given a list of 76 terrorists hiding in Afghanistan.

A Foreign Office official familiar with the meetings told The Express Tribune that discussions were held in ‘constructive and positive manner’, and that Afghanistan had assured that it would address Pakistan’s concerns on cross-border terrorism.

A flurry of overt and covert meetings prompted a high-level security huddle at the GHQ where the overall security situation along the border was reviewed. There were reports that Pakistan Army had reinforced security along the Afghan border fearing that ongoing tension might lead to some serious situation between the two neighbours.

But army chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa, who presided over the GHQ meeting, clarified that the enhanced security arrangements on the Pak-Afghan border were meant to fight a common enemy — terrorists of all hues and colours. “Pakistan and Afghanistan have fought against terrorism and shall continue this effort together,” he was quoted as saying by the Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR).

The army chief directed for more effective border coordination and cooperation with the Afghan security forces to prevent cross-border movement of terrorists including all types of illegal movement. He also welcomed recent proposals from Afghan authorities to take forward mutual coordination for result-oriented efforts against terrorism.

His conciliatory tone was in total contrast to the hard-hitting statement issued after the deadly attack at the Sehwan shrine last Thursday. At the time, the army chief had said that Pakistan would show no more restraint to anyone and “blood of Pakistani nation would be avenged – and avenged immediately”.

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has also ordered the security forces to eliminate terrorists wherever they were in a move interpreted as authorisation of targeting hideouts across the border. Although there was no public acknowledgement, Pakistan pounded the hideouts of Jamaatul Ahrar across the border and killed scores of terrorists.

The unannounced action by Pakistan drew a strong reaction with Kabul calling it an ‘act of aggression’ and vowed to use all available means to stop shelling from Pakistan.

Security officials, however, clarified that Pakistan had no intention to violate the sovereignty of Afghanistan. “We have never targeted the Afghan army or people. We carried out attacks in an area where Afghan authorities have no control,” the official explained.

Since the sudden upsurge in terrorist attacks, including the one in Sehwan, Pakistan has been exerting renewed pressure on Afghanistan to take decisive action against the hideouts of banned Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and its breakaway faction, Jamaatul Ahrar, which is behind the recent terrorist attacks.

In a statement, Ambassador Zakhiwaal confirmed that he had a ‘positive meeting’ with Sartaj Aziz and ‘constructive talks’ with military officials at the GHQ right after his return from Kabul on Monday.

“As a result I expect quick de-escalation of the current tension and the creation of a more positive environment for responding to each other’s concerns and grievances in a cooperative manner. We have agreed tentatively on a path forward,” he further said.

He also claimed that he has passed on to the Foreign Office and the GHQ a list of 32 ‘terrorist training centres’ which, according to him, were operating out of Pakistani soil against Afghanistan. He said Pakistan had been asked for immediate action against those centres.

In a separate statement, the Afghan foreign ministry said the letter given to Pakistan includes names of 85 senior members of and leaders of the Taliban and other terrorist groups, including the Haqqani network. ‘The initial response from Pakistan authorities was positive and we hope Pakistan takes practical steps in this regard,” it added.

The Afghan foreign ministry also said that Kabul was willing to discuss and take responsible actions jointly with Pakistan on the lists and concerns of both sides within the framework of the Quadrilateral Coordination Group (QCG) involving the United States and China besides the two neighbours.

Published in The Express Tribune, February 21st, 2017.

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