After a bloody weekend in Kabul and a Monday morning suicide bombing at the airport, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani addressed the nation. His statement was firmly directed at Pakistan. One of the most-remarked-upon aspects of Ghani’s presidency has been his willingness to work with Pakistan–a country his predecessor, Hamid Karzai, had a noticeably antagonistic relationship with. But the rapprochement may indeed have been a mirage.
Ghani said, “Pakistan still remains a venue and ground for gatherings from which mercenaries send us messages of war.” He called out Pakistan’s relative silence with regard to the skyrocketing civilian toll of Taliban attacks. The Afghan president urged Pakistan to imagine that the spate of attacks rocking Kabul over the weekend had occurred in Islamabad, carried out by groups with bases in Afghanistan: “Will you have looked at us as friends or enemies?”
The latest iteration of the peace process in Afghanistan was born and died in less than a month. An early July meeting between a delegation from the Afghan High Peace Council and members of the Taliban in Islamabad, facilitated by the Pakistanis, was heralded as an extraordinary (though at the same time minute) step forward. I wrote at the time:
The Taliban, ostensibly still led by Mullah Omar (who no one seems to be sure is still alive), has fractured between field commanders carrying on the fight in Afghanistan and political leadership based outside of the country, mostly in Pakistan. While Ghani’s strategy in wooing Pakistan into helping press the Taliban leadership to the table might, one day, turn into a peace process–the Afghan government will still need to deal with the fighters in the field.
Turns out, Mullah Omar is dead and has been for two years. The fracturing of the Taliban seems to have accelerated after the news broke–conveniently right before the second round of peace talks was to take place.
Ghani, in his Monday address, said that future moves toward peace talks would be done by Afghanistan alone. “We don’t want Pakistan to bring the Taliban to peace talks, but to stop the Taliban’s activities on their soil,” he said.
Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has said in the past that the enemies of Afghanistan are the enemies of Pakistan. Ghani is unwilling to take him solely at his word: “now the time has come for him to prove it.” Ghani said that the Taliban was operating bomb-making factories and suicide training centers in Pakistan and that Islamabad needs to do more to cut the Taliban off. “We know they have sanctuaries there, we know they are active there. We need all those activities to be stopped,” he said, as reported by the AP.
The wave of bombings over the weekend–resulting in over 50 deaths and hundreds of injuries– has been seen by many as the fallout of a leadership struggle following the confirmation of Mullah Omar’s 2013 death (and subsequent revelation of a two-year coverup) and the recent appointment of Mullah Akhtar Muhammad Mansour to replace him as the leader of the Taliban. While the Taliban, in its original form, drew strength from the unity that differentiated the movement from the various mujahideen parties, it finds itself now just as fractious as the mujahideen of the early 1990s. Meanwhile, ISIS has emerged as an alternative, perhaps just in terms of branding if not connection to the original group fighting in Iraq and Syria.