Security deal

A LANDMARK Pak-Afghan agreement on intelligence-sharing and conducting coordinated operations against militants along their troubled border is unquestionably the most meaningful fence-mending effort, but it has triggered a hostile backlash in Afghanistan.

The signing of the memoranda of understanding between the two spy services ISI and the NDS came days after the recent visit of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, Gen Raheel Sharif and the DG ISI to Kabul.

Although the details of the agreement are yet to be known, its signing sends a clear message to the militants that brainless attacks in the two countries will no longer be condoned.

More importantly, the deal is a welcome indication of a shared determination to repair a frayed relationship.

Under the accord, suspected terrorists will be jointly interrogated action that will help stem the tide of extremism in the region.

Pakistan will equip and train Afghan intelligence agents, whose modus operandi has long raised serious concerns.

Quite unanticipated though, the development represents a change of heart on the part of NDS, which has always blasted the ISI for aiding the Afghan Taliban and other guerrilla outfits in Afghanistan.

One can safely assume the MoU was signed during Sharif`s trip, but its announcement was delayed because of strong reservations from influential Afghan figures, including ex-president Hamid Karzai, jihadi leaders, legislators and former spymasters, And these sensitivities are unlikely to go away soon.

Signing the agreement would have been unconceivable under Karzai, who blamed his myriad failures on the Pakistani military establishment and gave India enough rope in Afghanistan to its neighbour`s detriment.

In a predictable response, he called for scrapping the agreement saying that it hurt Afghanistan`s national security interests.

Afghan spymaster Rahmatullah Nabil, who shielded the Tehreek-i-Taliban leader Latif Mehsud, reportedly refused to sign the memorandum. Instead, his deputy initialled the deal that has been in the works for months.

One knee-jerk reaction has come from lawmakers, who asked the parliamentary panel on international relations to summon the NDS top brass to brief MPs on the accord. Keeping in view the deep-seated mistrust between the neighbours and concerns voiced by powerful circles, the MoU may be amended.

The backlash shows the delicate balance the president has to strike between promoting reconciliation and sustaining public support. The hostile response highlights divisions within the so-called national unity government.

As reported, to Amarullah Saleh, who headed the agency from 2004 to 2010, the pact is an abiding national shame and a betrayal of the sacrifices rendered by Afghan security forces. Nonetheless, his warning of nationwide protests over the agreement does not stand to reason, in that counterterrorism cooperation is in consonance with popular aspirations.

In a departure from Karzai`s senseless foreign policy, President Ghani has taken significant steps to cut Indian influence. For instance, he has shelved the ex-president`s request for Indian weapons, besides sending cadets to train in Pakistan for the first time.

The presidential decision on devoting his limited military resources to battling Pakistani rebels hiding in Afghanistan has profoundly dismayed the hawks. This policy reprioritisation is far from smooth sailing.

Despite all odds, the president has shown gritty resolve in bringing a dose of realism to Kabul-Islamabad relations. The latest move will hopefully win him Pakistan`s support for peace talks with the Taliban, who have lately spiked their gory campaign in Afghanistan.

Aversion to it notwithstanding, the MoU isa giant stride toward ending antagonism and signalling a steady thaw in frosty relations. It will help the ISI and NDS overcome a bitter legacy of mistrust and defeat Taliban insurgencies in both countries.

Lack of profession-alism, the use of heavy-handed interrogation techniques, intelligence-gathering flaws and detainee abuse by NDS operatives have long been a source of discomfort to human rights watchdogs, as well as civil society.

However, training on modern lines in Pakistani intelligence institutions will go a long way in honing NDS skills. At the same time, interaction with experienced counterparts will enable Afghan personnel to spruce up their human rights record.

If the two nations do not break with the past, combined offensives along the Durand Line against the Taliban, Al Qaeda and Haqqani network fighters will remain elusive. For the new diplomatic manoeuvres to yield dividends, Pakistan has to lend Ghani consistent support.

Now that the neighbours are gradually unlearning the blame game, sanity is limping back to their relations. Let us see how soon they act on the three guiding principles they tout all too often: non-interference, preventing the use of their respective territories by terrorists and treating fighters in both countries as a common foe.
The writer is a Kabul-based Pakistani journalist

Published in Dawn