Developments in Afghanistan

Ceasefire: Afghanistan announced on 7th June that it would maintain ceasefire with the Taliban for Eid, though operations against other groups including the Islamic State would continue. The week-long ceasefire, backed by the US, was to extend “from the 27th of Ramazan until the fifth day of Eid ul Fitr”, according to a tweet from President Ashraf Ghani – the period indicated implying June 12-19. Ceasefire announcements from the Government are not in themselves new. It would be recalled that on February 28, President Ghani had made a renewed call for the Taliban to join peace talks without eliciting any response. This time around however, and for the first time, the Taliban also announced a three-day ceasefire with the Afghan government over the Eid holiday period. This was widely welcomed and during the ceasefire period scenes of fraternization have been reported between the Taliban and Government representatives leading to speculation, which may also be premature, that the brief ceasefire suggests that the dynamics of the conflict in Afghanistan may finally be changing. While that may be so it is also a fact that the past month had seen also many terrorist attacks and Taliban assaults of undiminished intensity. Some in Afghanistan had also voiced their objection to the Government’s unilateral ceasefire saying that this would allow Taliban insurgents to position themselves for future attacks. 

Afghanistan reaction to FATA merger: See Pakistan section above. It does appear that Afghanistan’s protest on this was low key and that possibly can be explained by the general improvement in Pakistan Afghanistan atmospherics on account of the ceasefire and other developments listed below.

Pakistan COAS Visit: The Pakistan Chief of the Army Staff made a day long visit to Kabul on 12th June accompanied by the Pakistan Foreign Secretary, the  ISI chief and the  Director General Military Operations. Coincidentally, Gen Bajwa visited Kabul on the day the unilateral ceasefire by the Afghan government went into effect. Gen Bajwa, according to a ISPR statement, welcomed the ceasefire and “wished that these steps gain permanence ultimately leading towards an enduring peace”. The visit further strengthened the speculation that Pakistan had facilitated the ceasefire in Afghanistan by using the leverage it has with the Taliban and that it is continuing with efforts for more confidence-building measures by both sides. To an extent at least these moves are also made with a view to reassuring the US that it is not coming in the way of political moves being made by the Afghan Government to begin some kind of engagement process with the Taliban. According to Pakistan press reports the army chief during his talks also sought to dispel Afghan concerns about border fencing, which has been the cause of considerable friction in the relationship in recent months.

TTP Leader Mulla Fazlullah killed in US drone strike in Afghanistan: A spokesperson for the Pakistan army announced on 15th June that the Afghan President Ashraf Ghani had called the Pakistan COAS to convey the news of the killing of the commander of the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan Mullah Fazalullah in a US drone strike. A similar call is believed to have been made to the caretaker PM of Pakistan. 

Mullah Fazlullah, also known as Radio Mullah had come to prominence in Swat particularly from 2007 onwards and following a military operation and cleanup in May 2009 is believed to have moved to Afghanistan. A number of major terrorist attacks by the TTP within Pakistan are traced back to him including the attempted assassination of the noble laureate Malala Yusufzai, the massacre at the Army Public School in December 2015 etc.

The ‘bases’ of the TTP within Afghanistan has been a major Pakistani grouse vis a vis Afghanistan and talking point with the United States. Fazullulah’s elimination would be a major setback to the TTP and may well be the beginning of yet another concerted effort to harmonize the US Pakistan and Pakistan Afghanistan relationships. 

 

June 25, 2018

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About the Author

Mr. Sharat Sabharwal joined the Indian Foreign Service in 1975. After serving in various positions in the Permanent Mission of India to the UN in Geneva and the Indian Missions in Madagascar, France and Mauritius, he was Director/Joint Secretary in the Ministry of External Affairs in New Delhi from 1990 to 1995. The positions held by him subsequently have been Deputy High Commissioner of India in Pakistan (1995-99), Deputy Permanent Representative of India to the UN in Geneva (1999-2002), Ambassador of India to Uzbekistan (2002-2005) and Additional Secretary/Special Secretary in the Ministry of External Affairs (September 2005-March 2009).

Mr. Sabharwal was High Commissioner of India to Pakistan from April 2009 to June 2013.

He was appointed Central Information Commissioner in November, 2013 and served in this position till September, 2017.
Mr. Sabharwal has been Deputy leader/member of the Indian delegations to the UN General Assembly, the erstwhile UN Commission on Human Rights, International Labour Conference and World Health Assembly. He was also the Deputy Leader of the Indian delegation to the International Conference of the Red Cross and Red Crescent held in Geneva in October 1999 and member of the Indian delegation to the World Conference against Racism, held in Durban in September 2001.

Mr. Sabharwal holds a post graduate degree in Political Science. He speaks English and French besides Hindi, Urdu and Punjabi.

Mr. Sabharwal has been an author at the Indian Express, The Hindu, India Today, The Tribune and The Wire.