Pakistan-Afghan Relations: Mistrust and Misinformation

The rumors that followed the crash-landing of a Pakistani helicopter in Afghanistan point to deeper problems.

Posted on 08/16/16
By Imtiaz Gul | Via The Friday Times
The MI-17 helicopter that crash-landed in Afghanistan was identical to the one in the photo. (Photo by Faisal Akram, Creative Commons License)
The MI-17 helicopter that crash-landed in Afghanistan was identical to the one in the photo. (Photo by Faisal Akram, Creative Commons License)

The latest casualty of the deadly India-Afghanistan-Pakistan contest in the region were nearly five dozen innocent non-combatants at Quetta on August 8. Only two weeks ago, on July 23, at least 80 innocent people fell victim to a terrorist attack in Kabul. At the same time, over seven dozen Kashmiris have lost their lives and or eyes to pellet bullets fired by the brutal state machinery in the Indian-administered Kashmir since July 8. And this is just a glimpse.


Hundreds of lives lost to terrorists every month in Pakistan and Afghanistan are just one dimension of the embittered relationship between these two neighbors. Allegations, rooted in mistrust as well as trans-border alliances, keep flying across the Durand Line, at times reducing this to a juvenile contest of egos.


Kabul, Islamabad and New Delhi are caught in a spiral of allegations and counter-allegations. During the August 9 corps commanders conference at the General Headquarters (GHQ), the military top brass reportedly concurred that the terrorist threat is transforming because of a growing nexus between hostile actors in the neighborhood and ‘facilitators’ within the country.


The attending generals “were told that threat was emanating from Afghan soil, which was being managed by Indian intelligence agencies. However, at the same time there was an acknowledgment that a network of ‘facilitators’ within the country provided an enabling environment for the external enemy,” according to the daily Dawn.


It was a field day for rumor-mongers

In Kabul, all those who matter point fingers at Pakistan as the lynchpin for all the ills that are currently afflicting Afghanistan. They refer to the support for Afghan Taliban and the Haqqani Network. Most Afghan media drew on statements by ex-senator Afrasiab Khattak and Maulana Sherani to reinforce their view on Pakistan.


“It is also public knowledge that non-state actors find no obstacles to their agenda,” Khattak was quoted as saying in a report by Gandhara/RFERL. “Proscribed organizations not only indulge in public activities but also give themselves the right to determine Pakistan’s regional policy,” Khaama press quoted Khattak as saying on August 9.


Critics accuse Pakistan’s powerful security institutions of aiding and protecting the “good” militants — those who launch attacks in India and Afghanistan — while going after the “bad” terrorists whose attacks have killed more than 60,000 civilians and soldiers since 2004 (in Pakistan), the Khaama press said.


This situation reflects a gridlock.


Kulboshan Yadav, the former Indian naval officer arrested in Balochistan over charges of spying, Raymond Davis, the private CIA contractor, the Afghan Taliban, the Haqqani Network and Lateefullah Meshud, a TTP leader seized by the US from NDS custody Afghanistan, are all instruments of the war of interests that has been going on. Yadav’s arrest reminded Pakistanis of the “opportunities of intervention” that the ex-RAW chief and current Indian National Security Advisor Ajit Doval had been talking about. Raymond Davis, who was arrested for murdering two Pakistanis in January 2011, brought attention to an intelligence network in Pakistan. Lateefullah Meshud’s arrest in October 2013 provided a glimpse into how intelligence agencies use designated terrorist outfits as instruments of foreign policy. The crash of Punjab government’s MI-17 in Logar is also symptomatic of this messy situation.


The disappearance of the surviving crew as well as confusing statements coming out of Kabul have tested the troubled relationship once again.  Afghan defense ministry officials diverted reporters to the foreign ministry for details but the local media swiftly quoted anonymous Afghan officials as saying that the Taliban had captured all the men onboard and set the aircraft on fire before disappearing from the scene.


Hours later, officials in Kabul confirmed that the Pakistani helicopter was flying through the Afghan airspace with permission but with a caveat; an investigation was underway to determine whether they had sent the same aircraft for which they had sought permission. This clearly underlined the Afghan mistrust and skepticism, also reflected in claims by Hameedullah Hameed, the chief of Azra district, where the crash was reported.


He said that the helicopter was carrying seven Pakistani military men, who had $140,000 in cash, 150 Afghan army uniforms, and one satellite phone. A leading Afghan television channel, Ariana TV, quoted residents of Azra as saying that the men were trying to use the satellite phone to contact IS militants in the area when the Taliban fighters arrived and took them away. Ariana TV quoted a member of the Logar provincial council, Hasibullah Stanikzai, as saying that Pakistani helicopters had helped Taliban several times in the past and “we have seen Pakistani military dropping equipment and essentials for the Taliban.”


It was a field day for rumor-mongers, with some Afghan media claiming that a relative of Gen Raheel Sharif was among the passengers on board the helicopter. The ISPR denied the claim.


The fog of skepticism became thicker when the presidential place in Kabul announced that a delegation would look into various aspects of the case, including the circumstances surrounding the emergency landing, and whether the specifics of the MI-17 helicopter matched the ones rendered in the request letter and permission documents.


All this happened despite direct phone calls by army chief Gen Raheel Sharif to the US commander of NATO’s Resolute Support mission in Afghanistan, General John Nicolson, and to President Ashraf Ghani, requesting for help in recovering the seven hostages.


The Afghan Taliban, usually swift in claiming responsibility, have not officially commented on whether they have captured the hostages. The Pakistani Taliban (TTP) have also denied involvement.


But Russian media quoted a foreign ministry statement in Moscow on August 9 as saying that “there is no threat to the lives of hostages” and “talks on their release have been scheduled.” The statement said that Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif is “personally supervising the release of the hostages”. It gave no further details.


This cocktail of mistrust and misinformation points to the need for Pakistan and Afghanistan to start talking to each other and to address each other’s concerns. And they need to delink socio-economic cooperation from the intricate political dialogue. Until they do this, innocent people in both countries will keep suffering, with India having the last laugh.


Imtiaz Gul is the executive director of the independent Center for Research and Security Studies

This article first appeared at The Friday Times. Click here to go to the original. 

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