Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s public condemnation of the Afghan Taliban’s spring offensive is seen as a clear message to the orthodox militia to shun violence and embrace dialogue. “We strongly condemn increase in violence and Operation Azm offensive by the Afghan Taliban,” he said at a joint news conference with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani. “Continuation of such offensive and attacks will be construed as terrorist acts,” he added.
In the past, several Pakistani leaders – including former prime minister Yousaf Raza Gilani –had issued formal appeals to the Afghan Taliban and Gulbuddin Hekmatyar’s Hizb-e-Islami to engage with the government in Kabul – to no avail, though. Premier Nawaz Sharif’s remarks could be indicative of Pakistan’s growing frustration with the Afghan Taliban, who have disregarded repeated calls for reconciliation.
The Taliban have ruled out talks with President Ghani’s National Unity Government, saying that they would continue fighting till all foreign troops pulled out from the strife-torn country. However, many in Afghanistan say Taliban attacks were killing Afghan officials as foreign forces have already ended their combat missions and are now confined to their bases.
Worryingly, the Taliban have now taken the insurgency from their traditional strongholds of Pashtun-dominated south and east to the north, where other ethnic groups are in majority. Soon after the announcement of the ‘spring offensive’, hundreds of Taliban fighters had launched a major attack in northern Kunduz province.
The Taliban incursion into the north has also worried Central Asian states and even China, which also shares a border with northern Afghanistan. Afghan officials say Kabul expects Islamabad to use its influence on the Afghan Taliban to give up violence and join the peace process.
“We understand the Taliban’s stubborn behaviour and we are not surprised at their refusal to join the peace process. But our request to Pakistan will be to take action against the Taliban on their soil, expel them and stop them from entering Afghanistan,” an Afghan diplomat told The Express Tribune.
Premier Nawaz’s condemnation of the Taliban violence is not only a clear message to the orthodox militia but is also an attempt to address the serious concerns about the deteriorating security situation in Afghanistan.
With Tuesday’s visit, which came amid a sharp upsurge in violence, Pakistan has also sent a message to the world that the civilian and military leaders are on the same page vis-à-vis Afghanistan as army chief General Raheel Sharif and DG ISI Lt Gen Rizwan Akhtar were also part of the prime minister’s delegation. Earlier there was an impression that Pakistan’s civil and military leaders had different approaches towards Afghanistan.
There has been a substantial improvement in bilateral relations between Pakistan and Afghanistan since President Ghani assumed office in late September. As a result, Kabul has stopped the traditional blame game that reflects growing trust between the two neighbours. Afghanistan has also taken steps to address Pakistan’s concerns on several issues, including on presence of Pakistani Taliban on the Afghan side of the Durand Line.