For the people of Afghanistan there is no respite from violence. Days before the Taliban announced the start of their spring offensive, nearly 200 Afghan soldiers were killed in a terrorist attack on a military base. Many more people were killed in lesser intensity incidents. But May 31 saw one of the deadliest terrorist attacks as a truck bomb exploded in Kabul’s diplomatic quarter, killing 90 people and wounding at least 400 others, including 11 US citizens working as contractors. No one claimed credit immediately for the carnage. The Taliban spokesman though said they were not involved and “strongly condemn” the attack. It could be the handiwork of IS terrorists, though considering their track record the Taliban denial is not very credible, either.
Whosoever did it, the situation in Afghanistan is quite worrisome. The unity government headed by President Ashraf Ghani is pulling in different directions. At least 43 percent of the country is under the Taliban control, and they continue to make gains. Taking advantage of the chaos, the IS has managed to establish a foothold in the country. The Trump administration has yet to decide its Afghan policy. The top US commander in Afghanistan, General John Nicholson, is awaiting response to his request for “a few thousand” – about 5000 – more troops to join 8,400 American soldiers for bolstering the capabilities of Afghan security forces, whose morale is said be pretty low. Even if Trump accepts his general’s request, that would change little. At best, with reinforcements US-led Nato forces can maintain a stalemate. It is imperative therefore for Washington to work more seriously towards a negotiated settlement of the conflict.
Instead of waiting for outsiders to resolve the situation, the Kabul government also needs to get its act together. It must first create unity among its ranks, and refrain from blaming Pakistan for its own shortcomings or causing unnecessary provocation’s as has been happening during the recent census exercise in two border villages near Chaman. Islamabad has a significant role to play in nudging the Taliban towards the talks table, though it cannot guarantee success – like you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make him drink. Kabul may have had genuine complaints about this country’s policies in the past, but there is no question about that a stable Afghanistan is in Pakistan’s self-interest. 37 years of wars, foreign as well as internecine, there have badly affected this country in many different ways. On its part, Pakistan has made several attempts during the recent weeks and months to reach out to Kabul so as to build mutual trust, also proposing several solid measures to deal with the problem of cross-border movement of terrorists. Last but not least, it is heartening to note that President Ashraf Ghani and Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif have reached a new understanding to fight off terrorism through some ‘specific actions’.