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Ghani Tells Pakistani Army Chief Taliban ‘Freely Operate, Live, and Recruit’ In Pakistan

Pakistani army chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa.
Pakistani army chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa.

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani has told Pakistan’s powerful army chief that the militants responsible for recent high-profile attacks in Afghanistan are living and operating with impunity in Pakistan.

“Those who have claimed responsibility for these recent attacks freely operate, live, and recruit in Pakistan, but so far there has been no action against them,” read a statement by the Afghan president’s office on January 16.

Pakistan’s top soldier, General Qamar Javed Bajwa, telephoned Ghani on January 15 to condemn the recent terrorist attacks in Afghanistan.

Last week, more than 50 people, including officials, civilians, lawmakers, and Arab diplomats, were killed in three bomb attacks in the Afghan capital, Kabul, and the southern provinces of Kandahar and Helmand.

The Afghan presidential statement about the exchange is markedly different from how the Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR), the Pakistani military’s media wing, had portrayed the conversation.

“He [Bajwa] emphasized that Pakistan has come a long way in its fight against terrorism of all hue and color and has eliminated all safe havens in the process,” a January 15 ISPR statement noted. “He [Bajwa] said that the elements inimical to peace in the region are strengthened by the blame game. Both nations should rather focus on capitalizing upon the gains of the successful Zarb-e Azb [offensive] in Pakistan.”

Ghani, however, seemed to have questioned Islamabad’s sincerity in going after all militant organizations operating from its soil.

“The president termed terrorism and extremism a serious threat for the region and the world,” the statement said. “He added that the lack of a sincere resolve to fight against this joint threat can pose grave dangers to Pakistan and the region.”

The exchange appears to be a setback to Bajwa’s efforts to cultivate a new relationship with the Afghan leader.

In a similar exchange on New Year’s Eve, Bajwa had pledged to work with Afghan leaders for peace because “peace in both countries is in the greater interest of the region.”

While Ghani invited him to visit Kabul and “welcomed his forward-looking approach,” his administration was not expecting a major breakthrough.

Major attacks, some claimed by the Afghan Taliban, since then have apparently set back the prospects for a fresh start between the leaders of the two countries.

After assuming office in September 2014, Ghani attempted an unprecedented pivot to Pakistan by cultivating a close relationship with Bajwa’s predecessor, Raheel Sharif.

Ghani’s aim was to settle the historically fraught relations between the two countries by winning Pakistani powerful military’s support for reconciliation with the Taliban, who successive Afghan governments have claimed to be operating out of Pakistani sanctuaries with covert support from the country’s spy services.

At the cost of losing domestic popularity, Ghani engaged in a number of risky confidence-building measures. But Taliban violence skyrocketed, and Pakistan’s pledges to bring the insurgents to the negotiating table did not yield tangible results.

A rapid loss of countryside to the Taliban and mounting attacks in Afghan cities prompted Kabul to revert to blaming Islamabad for supporting the Afghan insurgents.

While Islamabad has mostly denied supporting the Taliban, Pakistani prime minister’s adviser for foreign affairs, Sartaj Aziz, said that Islamabad retains considerable influence.

"We have some influence over them because their leadership is in Pakistan and they get some medical facilities. Their families are here," he told a think-tank audience in Washington in March 2016.

He later moderated his stance. “It shows anxiety in Kabul and is understandable due to the deteriorating law and order,” he said in December.