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Scholar Says Pakistan Not Reciprocating Afghan Overtures

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani (L) and Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif shake in Islamabad, November 15, 2014.
Afghan President Ashraf Ghani (L) and Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif shake in Islamabad, November 15, 2014.

Academic Barnett Rubin formerly served as as senior adviser to the U.S. special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan. He sees few Pakistani efforts to reciprocate Afghan President Ashraf Ghani's groundbreaking steps to establish a lasting peaceful and cooperative relationship with Pakistan.

RFE/RL: Is the window still open for Islamabad to respond to President Ashraf Ghani's attempts to reset relations with Pakistan, initiated last fall?

Barnett Rubin: President Ghani has shown a lot of patience and apparently will continue to do so for a while, but I doubt he can continue much longer without visible action by Pakistan. If the Pakistan military cannot force the Taliban to negotiate right now, it will have to act against Taliban leaders in Quetta or Karachi. In the past, the ISI [Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence agency] has detained Taliban leaders who acted against its notion of Pakistan's interests.

Why is it not doing so now? And the Pakistan Army, however overstretched it is, needs to do something to limit the bloodshed the Taliban are inflicting on all parts of Afghanistan. The Afghan Army, which is far more overstretched, has undertaken operations against TTP (Tehrik-e Taliban Pakistan, or the Pakistani Taliban) leaders in Kunar. Where is the reciprocity?

RFE/RL: So we haven't seen the kind of progress or quid pro quo that most had hoped for after Ghani tried to solicit Pakistani help in talking to the Taliban?

Barnett Rubin
Barnett Rubin

Rubin: It appears from what I see in the media that Ghani has addressed all the concerns that Pakistan has expressed about the current dispensation in Afghanistan -- India, cooperation on the border, action against the TTP, economic access, access to and training of Afghan security forces.

He has offered Pakistan land access to Central Asia for trade on the condition that Pakistan offers Afghanistan the same access to India -- but, again, Pakistan is not ready to reciprocate. I understand why this looks like a one-way deal to many Afghans. Whatever is going on behind the scenes, Afghans don't see results.

RFE/RL: Can you offer any insight into what is happening with the peace talks between the Taliban and the Afghan government?

Rubin: I imagine the Afghan government and the Taliban are communicating with each other, but the Taliban are unlikely to negotiate seriously until they receive some kind of guarantee that the U.S. will withdraw its troops, and they want to hear it directly from the U.S. In any such talks, the U.S. would say, I imagine, that it will withdraw its troops in coordination with the Afghan government only when there is a settlement, and the Taliban will reply that they will negotiate only when the troops have left.

Then you are having a discussion about timing and commitment to a settlement, not about principles. President Ghani, like his predecessor, rightly wants a reconciliation process led by the Afghan government, but unfortunately the Afghan government does not control the main issue motivating the Taliban -- the presence of U.S. troops.

It is difficult to have an Afghan-led peace process to end a U.S.-led war process. It is up to the U.S. to address this issue and empower the Afghan government. But this does not relieve Pakistan of its responsibility to influence or act against the Taliban.

RFE/RL: The recent signing of a Memorandum of Understanding (some say agreement on a draft) between Pakistan's ISI and Afghanistan's Notional Directorate of Security (NDS) has turned into a very emotional issue in Afghanistan. How do you assess the controversy?

Rubin: Ultimately, both countries need cooperation between these intelligence agencies, because terrorists, insurgents, and organized crime do not recognize any borders. Pakistan has the additional problem of having different agencies and legal frameworks in FATA (Federally Administered Tribal Areas), PATA (Provincially Administered Tribal Areas, and the so-called "settled" areas [or districts of the northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and southwestern Balochistan provinces].

This is almost as difficult as coordinating with the NDS. But the public in each country has come to view the other's intelligence agency as an enemy, and the Afghan view of the ISI, at least, has a solid basis in fact. The NDS-ISI agreement is a very sudden change and, as far as I know, Ghani has not explained it to the Afghan public. Maybe he wants to wait until he has concrete results to show for it. Otherwise, what can he say? It is up to the Pakistan Army to change this dynamic.