Afghan President Ashraf Ghani has ordered amendment of some controversial articles of the cooperative agreement to be signed between Afghanistan’s National Directorate for Security (NDS) and Pakistan’s intelligence agency, ISI, the reports say. The memorandum of understanding between Afghan and Pakistani spy agencies has sparked concerns among Afghan political elite, and many, including former president Hamid Karzai and two ex-chiefs of the NDS have asked the government to cancel the agreement. However, the government has assured that no agreement between Afghan and Pakistani intelligence agencies is signed, and that only a draft agreement is signed by two sides. In an attempt to ease the concerns, President Ashraf Ghani convened a meeting of top political and jihadi leaders at the Presidential palace.
The recent controversies involving the Afghan government’s move to have the National Directorate for Security (NDS) sign a deal with Pakistan’s intelligence agency, ISI, clearly indicates the sensitivities of mutual relations between Pakistan and Afghanistan particularly in security and intelligence areas. Since formation, the new unity government has made it clear that it will pursue peace talks with the Taliban through building trusts with Pakistan. To achieve this, President Ashraf Ghani has moved fast and took measures that were unthinkable during his predecessor Hamid Karzai. The approach of the new unity government towards have alarmed many in Kabul who think it is not in Afghanistan’s interests, and that Afghanistan cannot trust Pakistan.
However, the mistrusts involved with the agreement to be signed between Afghan NDS and Pakistan’s ISI can be described only in a bigger theme. The nature of relations between Afghanistan and Pakistan in the past and the country’s role in Afghanistan’s past crises drives many to conclude that Pakistan is not going to cooperate with the Afghan government in brining Taliban leaders to table of negotiations to end the conflict. Given this, the critics of the NDS-ISI conclude that Pakistan cannot be trusted in such sensitive issue, and that will it subdue Afghanistan’s most important security agency to Pakistan’s military and intelligence establishment. However, such a conclusion seems to be over-simplistic and not based on facts.
The fact is that Afghanistan needs some levels of security cooperation with Pakistan. Previous government under Hamid Karzai also sought to improve relations particularly security cooperation with Pakistan. The current unity government and the Karzai’s administration both tried to persuaded Pakistan to support the Afghan peace talks with the Taliban. Perhaps there is no difference that better relations with Pakistan are imperative for the Afghan peace to succeed. However, it cannot be ignored that given Afghanistan and Pakistan’s intertwined security affairs, the issue cannot be ignored in mutual relations of the two countries. Therefore, Afghanistan and Pakistan need to improve security cooperation or even develop some sort of security partnership based on improved mutual relations.
Regarding Pakistan’s potential role in bringing peace in Afghanistan, it is widely believed that Pakistan has ultimate influence on Taliban leadership and the country can influence the Taliban to come to table of negotiations and end the conflict. Also, there has been visible change in Islamabad’s long-term approach towards the Afghan conflict. Pakistan now considers militancy – and the Taliban, in general – a major long-term threat for the country. Pakistan itself has been a major victim of terrorism as the extremist groups are wreaking havoc on regular basis in cities and towns across the country. The country’s Afghan policy now is not expecting a Taliban win as Islamabad does not see it in the country’s interests. Pakistan has made it clear that it will help a peaceful settlement of the Afghan conflict.
However, there are still mistrusts between the two countries. Perhaps now it is a right time for the two governments to work on removing historical distrusts between the two countries and build relations based on mutual respect and interests. It should be noted that there can never be relations fully free of problems, and that a perfectionist approach by either side will lead to nowhere. If the Afghan and Pakistani governments manage to build relations that would lead the countries a step closer to peace and prosperity, it would be a major achievement for both countries. Pakistan and Afghanistan has no option except cooperation for overcoming mistrusts that would gradually benefit each other through better economic relations.
Afghanistan and Pakistan need to not only expand relations in economic and trade areas but in areas of security and intelligence sharing. However, the Afghan government should ensure to protect Afghanistan’s sovereignty and national interests through calculated and measured security cooperation with Pakistan. The government should listen to the critics and remove whatever articles that are deemed as precarious in the NDS-ISI agreement for Afghanistan’s interests. The government of Afghanistan should do more to make a political consensus among the government stakeholders and the Afghan political elite over the agreement with Pakistan. To succeed in its overtures to Pakistan, the unity government needs to diffuse the skepticisms towards its move to have the NDS sign a cooperative agreement with Pakistan’s ISI.
Reaching a suitable cooperative agreement with Pakistan’s military and intelligence agencies is not against Afghanistan’s interests. But what is unconstructive is that such moves be made without necessary consultations particularly with the authorized government officials. There have been serious problems in the recent developments regarding the agreement to be signed with Pakistan. There have been much ambiguities involved with the move and even roles of a number of key government agencies/officials have been overlooked in the process. Such flawed process cannot help issues that are of high importance.
Consensus and transparency are keys for success of security cooperation between Kabul and Islamabad, particularly sensitive matters such as the agreement to be signed between NDS and ISI. Any hidden agenda or unexpected move in foreign policy by the unity government would only expose it to further problems. The government should always remain committed to making consensus on issues of national importance. It should move to build closer relations with Pakistan or any other states through a pre-defined and transparent foreign policy.