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Cooling Tensions

by Newsweek Pakistan

File Photo. Asif Hassan—AFP

Handing over militants fleeing Afghan forces is a good step toward normalizing Pak-Afghan ties.

On Feb. 7, Pakistan announced the capture of four Islamic State terrorists in Peshawar and handed them over to Afghanistan. The four had been injured in a skirmish with Afghan forces and had come to Peshawar for medical aid. The subsequent handover was a well-measured gesture, which might help cool the inter-intelligence tensions reflected in the aggressive statements emanating from Kabul’s National Directorate of Security (NDS), which often accuses Pakistan of sending killers into Afghanistan.

Despite the now routine accusations of cross-border interference from across the Durand Line, Pakistan has acted wisely. Former Army chief General (retd.) Raheel Sharif opened the lines of communication with Kabul and engaged them whenever they accused Islamabad of providing safe haven to the Taliban or even of deploying militants against targets in Afghanistan. That trend has continued under Sharif’s successor, General Qamar Bajwa. However, a closer look at the mind of the Afghan NDS indicates deep, small-state paranoia that hampers confidence-building at this crucial juncture when Al Qaeda and I.S. are both active in the region and indiscriminately targeting Pakistan and Afghanistan alike.

Some idea of how hostile the NDS has been can be gathered from what Indian scholar Avinash Paliwal wrote in Pakistan at the Crossroads: Domestic Dynamics and External Pressures (2016), edited by Christophe Jaffrelot: “If Pakistan was hosting the Quetta Shura and other TTP [Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan] that operated from its territory, Afghanistan had some influence over the TTP that operated from its territory. In fact, Rahmatullah Nabil, the chief of Afghanistan’s intelligence agency, openly accepted that NDS had infiltrated enemy networks.” The New York Times has also reported: “Afghan spies have potential, and the intelligence agency has clandestinely taken its fight across the border, targeting Taliban leaders sheltering in Pakistan.” Given its increasing isolation, Pakistan must review its relations with all its neighbors, including India and Iran, to bring down the heat on its borders.

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