‘Af peace unsustainable unless Pak shuts down sanctuaries to Taliban’

'Af peace unsustainable unless Pak shuts down sanctuaries to Taliban'

NEW DELHI/ISLAMABAD: The US-Taliban deal is unsustainable unless Pakistan shuts down its sanctuaries to the Taliban and all the states with stakes in the regional stability are signatories to the peace agreement in Afghanistan, one of the most influential think tanks of Australia has warned.

In a new paper, the Lowy Institute in Australia, has argued that previous Afghan political settlements — the 1989 Rawalpindi shura, the 1992 Peshawar Accord, and the Islamabad Accord in 1993 — have shown that the Afghan Mujahideen tanzims (military-political organisations) could reach an “agreement” but still fail to commit to the agreement, because they did not address the real source of the conflict, such as external military and financial support or external sanctuaries.

The paper has been written by Farkhondeh Akbari, a PhD candidate at the Asia-Pacific College of Diplomacy, The Australian National University and Dr Timor Sharan, former senior policy analyst for International Crisis Group.

The two scholars based their argument on several academic and policy studies which show that external support, such as providing sanctuary, has a decisive impact on the outcome of insurgencies. “Externally backed insurgencies tend to last longer, and violence is prone to continue even after peace agreements are signed,” the paper said.

Pakistan’s interest in Afghanistan, the scholars said, is driven by two broad objectives — to achieve strategic depth in Afghanistan and to avoid strategic encirclement by India. To achieve the first, Pakistan has utilised the Taliban and the larger Pashtun population in an attempt ultimately to ensure a relatively friendly and reliably pro-Pakistan government in Kabul.

“In pursuit of the second, fearful of India’s increasing diplomatic and commercial presence in Afghanistan and also in Central Asia, Pakistan is pursuing an ongoing battle to undercut India in the region,” the paper said.

The scholars added, “Unless Pakistan tangibly commits to shutting down Taliban sanctuaries, the group will retain the option to return to war.” The 1988 Geneva Accords and the commitment of both the Soviet Union and Pakistan to stop support for their respective clients did not produce success, the scholars pointed out saying that it was because both guarantors — the Soviet Union and the US — continued to provide aid and weapons to their clients.

Afghan government officials understandably expressed concern that without guarantees from Pakistan and closing of sanctuaries, the Taliban will always have the leverage of returning to fighting after the US withdrawal.

The Afghan government and a number of experts insist they do not see major changes on the ground to indicate a fundamental shift in Pakistan’s policy towards Afghanistan, and maintain that Pakistan is once again playing Washington to achieve its objectives.

A recent US Defence Intelligence Report, issued on May 19, found that “Pakistan continues to harbour the Taliban and associated militant groups in Pakistan, such as the Haqqani Network, which maintains the ability to conduct attacks against Afghan interests.”

The paper said Pakistani generals have been already talking openly about a regime change in Kabul, believing that the Afghan government will not survive once the coalition forces pull out and funding for the Afghan security forces shrinks.

To minimise the risk of the Taliban resuming violence, the closing of sanctuaries and respect for international obligations must be addressed as part of any wider Afghan peace settlement, the Lowy Institute said.

It is also necessary that regional and international actors with a stake in Afghanistan are signatories to the agreement, Akbari and Sharan said. “Pakistan’s security concerns in Afghanistan can be addressed by seeking to include India as a signatory to a separate regional settlement, along with Iran, China and Russia,” they recommended.

There are, of course, problems in enforcing international agreements. But the legal limits and deficits of a peace agreement depend on how obligations are codified in the text and on the political will to legalise those obligations. If crucial elements are left out, agreements will be in trouble long before enforcement problems even arise, Akbari and Sharan warned.