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Afghan Lawmakers, Officials Oppose New Pakistani Anti-IS Offensive

Grab from an Islamic State militants propaganda video. IS’s Khorasan Province has mostly attracted former members of the Afghan and Pakistani Taliban.
Grab from an Islamic State militants propaganda video. IS’s Khorasan Province has mostly attracted former members of the Afghan and Pakistani Taliban.

In a sign of entrenched mistrust between Afghanistan and Pakistan, Afghan lawmakers and officials have opposed Islamabad’s new offensive against the Islamic State (IS) militants.

Lawmakers and a Defense Ministry official said the new offensive along Pakistan’s western border with Afghanistan was an attempt to deceive Kabul and the international community.

Fazal Hadi Muslimyar, chairman of Meshrano Jirga, upper house of the Afghan Parliament, criticized Pakistan for launching a new military offensive in a remote part of its northwestern Khyber tribal district, which abuts the restive province of Nangarhar in eastern Afghanistan.

“Pakistani actions are always aimed at misleading and deceiving the people and government of Afghanistan and the international community,” he told lawmakers on July 18. “In reality, this operation is not in the interest of Afghanistan. We want our forces to secure our borders.”

Pakistani forces claimed to have killed at least eight militants and injured three more on July 17 during the first day of its offensive, formally named Khyber-IV.

The Pakistani military says the operation aims to cleanse and secure the forested Rajgal Valley in Khyber tribal district’s remote Tirah region.

Rajgal borders Nagarhar’s Achin district. This remote Afghan region has served as an IS stronghold since the ultra-radical group controlling parts of Iraq and Syria launched its Afghan-Pakistani branch, Khorasan Province, in early 2015.

"This operation was necessary because Daesh (local name of IS) is getting established there and we have to stop its influence spreading into Pakistani territory through the Rajgal Valley," Pakistani military spokesman Lieutenant General Asif Ghafoor said on July 16. "There is no organized [IS] infrastructure [inside Pakistan], and we shall not allow them to establish themselves.”

FILE: Army soldiers stand guard in Khyber tribal district.
FILE: Army soldiers stand guard in Khyber tribal district.

IS’s Khorasan Province has mostly attracted former members of the Afghan and Pakistani Taliban. Despite losing significant chunks of the territory it overran in 2015 and reportedly losing thousands of fighters in Afghan and NATO military raids, there are still no signs of IS’s immediate collapse.

Lawmaker Jumadin Gianwal, a member of Meshrano Jirga, says the Pakistani offensive is tantamount to Islamabad abandoning a recent understanding with Kabul. With Chinese and U.S. encouragement, the two neighbors recently agreed to closely coordinate their operations against insurgents.

“Pakistan began this offensive on its own, which means it is not seeking peace with Afghanistan,” he said. “The Afghan government should not try to conceal this issue and instead raise it at the United Nations.”

Dawlat Waziri, a spokesman for Afghanistan’s Defense Ministry, agreed. He told Radio Free Afghanistan on July 16 that Islamabad is already violating its understanding with Kabul, which stipulated that China and United States would oversee Pakistani operations against any militants on its soil that Kabul deems as threatening its security.

“After our understanding, they said the Haqqani network, the Taliban, and other terrorist groups don’t exist in Pakistan,” he said. “This means they are not committed to [our mutual] understanding.”

Waziri said that instead of looking for terrorists in remote regions, Pakistan should move against militants operating from its urban centers.

“If they do away with Taliban centers and leadership councils in [Pakistani towns and cities] such as Peshawar, Quetta, and Miran Shah, the war in Afghanistan would end,” Waziri said of two major Pakistani cities and a town along its western border with Afghanistan.

Relations between Islamabad and Kabul are threatened by endless blame games and accusations of support for militants.

Pakistan alleges that remnants of Tehrik-e Taliban Pakistan use safe havens in eastern Afghanistan to launch attacks in Pakistan. It constantly accuses Kabul of teaming up with regional archrival India to undermine its security.

Successive Afghan governments and their Western allies, however, blame the Pakistani military and its Inter-Service Intelligence (ISI) spy service of bankrolling and sheltering the Afghan Taliban to foment instability in Afghanistan or even topple its government and political system.

Insurgent groups active in the two countries have claimed responsibility for attacks that killed tens of thousands of civilians in Afghanistan and Pakistan since 2002.

With reporting by Radio Free Afghanistan correspondents Najia Safi, Asmatullah Sarwan, and the BBC.