Afghan president Ashraf Ghani has ordered the country’s intelligence service to end a bloody campaign of retaliatory covert action against Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate, in a bid to secure Islamabad’s support for talks with the Taliban leadership expected to unfold this summer, government sources in Kabul and New Delhi have told The Indian Express.
The decision, the sources said, was formalised in an agreement signed last week, committing Afghanistan’s Riyasat Amniyat e-Milli, or National Defence Service, to share intelligence and facilitate interrogation of suspects by the ISI.
President Ghani’s decision comes even as Kabul has decided to issue passports to over 200 active Taliban jihadists operating from Pakistan, in an effort to facilitate communications between them and negotiators for the group now stationed in Doha. The Taliban’s negotiators are believed to currently be using Pakistani passports.
New Delhi is watching President Ghani’s high-stakes peace gamble warily from the sidelines—concerned that it could spark off rebellion from leaders of ethnic minority groups in the country, as well as anti-Pakistan Pashtuns, undermining the country’s fragile polity.
“Frankly”, a senior government official in New Delhi said, “our assessment is that this peace bid is more likely to spark off a civil war than result in a peace deal”
Kabul newspaper Hasht-e-Subh reported that Rahamatullah Nabil, the head of Afghanistan’s intelligence intelligence service, refusing to sign the agreement, leaving the task to a deputy. In a press conference on Monday, NDS spokesperson Haseeb Sediqi denied reports that the agreement would lead to the training of Afghan intelligence personnel by Pakistan. He added that the agreement was in “the interests of both countries”.
“I can understand why the NDS would be so angry about this deal”, said Vikram Sood, a former chief of India’s Research and Analysis Wing. “Its being asked to give up its trump card, and display its hand, with no guarantee its going to get anything in return”.
The intelligence-sharing deal, informed sources in Kabul said, was hammered out during a secret visit by ISI chief Lieutenant-General Rizwan Akhtar to Kabul early this month. In one-on-one meetings with President Ghani, Lieutenant-General Akhtar asked for the termination of Afghan intelligence ties to jihadist groups fighting against
Hard evidence had emerged of the NDS’ links with Pakistani jihadist groups in 2013, after United States special forces snatched top Tehreek-e-Taliban leader Latif Mehsud, while he was on his way to a meeting with the NDS. Aimal Faizi, former president Hamid Karzai’s spokesperson, publicly said that the NDS had been working with Latif “was part of an NDS project like every other intelligence agency is doing [sic]”.
In addition, the NDS is believed to have run an assassination campaign targetting top Pakistan-based jihadists—one of whom, Nasiruddin Haqqani, was killed at his Islamabad home, blowing apart Pakistan’s claims it had no knowledge of his whereabouts.
The NDS’ cultivation of Pakistani jihadists had begun in 2006-2007, to retaliate against the ISI’s sponsorship of the Haqqani Network—a Taliban affiliate based in Pakistan’s North Waziristan, which was described by former United States military chief Admiral Mike Mullen as “a veritable arm of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence Agency”.
In 2008, the United States intercepted communications between Haqqani commanders with ISI officers, who directed attacks on its embassy, and that of India, in Kabul.
Following the attack on the Indian embassy in Kabul, highly-placed government sources in New Delhi said, former National Security Advisor MK Narayanan had tasked India’s Research and Analysis Wing to explore the prospect of targeting the Lashkar-e-Taiba through Afghanistan. The project, however, did not secure the approval of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s government.
The intelligence sharing deal has come in for harsh criticism in the Wolesi Jirga, Afghanistan’s lower house of parliament, with Members of Parliament demanding that NDS chief Nabil be summoned to testify before them. First Deputy of the Wolesi Jirga, Zahir Qadeer, ordered parliament’s security and international relations commission to summon National Security Council officials to explain the situation to the house.
President Ghani’s spokesperson, Ajmal Abedi, said that “the memordandum of understanding between Afghanistan and Pakistan is not a new thing. In the past, both institutions had such agreements, but now the focus is on fighting terrorism”.
In 2007, Turkey had brokered an intelligence sharing pact between the governments of General Pervez Musharraf and President Hamid Karzai. However, the two countries remained locked in an adversarial relationship, after Pakistan failed to rein in the activities of the Quetta-based leadership of the Taliban.
Eight Afghan military personnel for sent for training in Pakistan this summer, in a military confidence-building measure that provoked sharp criticism from Afghan lawmakers, who described Pakistan as an enemy state.