The role of Pakistan in “de-stabilising” Afghanistan has come under sharp focus, after a deadly attack in Kabul, claimed by the Islamic State (Khorasan), left at least 32 people dead. The terror strike at a public meeting, attended by top Afghan leader Abdullah Abdullah, came barely a week after the US and Taliban sealed the historic peace agreement.
Members of the intelligence community who have spoken to India TV reckon that the terror attack, which involved gunmen firing indiscriminately at a public meeting mainly attended by Shia Hazaras, was possibly “masterminded” by Pakistan’s spy agency Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI).
The meeting was held to commemorate the death of Abdul Ali Mazari, an ethnic Hazara leader killed in 1995 after being taken hostage by Taliban fighters. The insurgent group was prompt enough to deny responsibility for the attack.
Sources in the know say that while Islamabad is keen on getting its “lost influence” back in Kabul, the Taliban is no longer interested in being seen as a proxy for Islamabad, like it used to be the case in the late 1990s and early 2000s. “They are directly dealing with the US and they now realise that the US President Donald Trump doesn’t really favour Islamabad playing a major role in the Afghanistan peace process,” sources said.
Significantly, many of the 1,600 ISIS(K) militants who, along with hundreds of their family members, had surrendered to authorities in Kabul last year were reportedly found to be from neighbouring Pakistan.
“Both the US and the Taliban realise that a major share of the money routed from the US towards reconstruction of Afghanistan and fighting militancy through Islamabad landed in the pockets of Pakistani army generals and politicians,” sources highlighted.
In a tweet posted on the first day of 2018, Trump was harshly critical of Pakistan for swindling the American taxpayer of billions of dollars during the War on Terror.
Sources point out that Pakistan was left “out of negotiations” for the US-Taliban peace deal, even though the US does "appreciate" the importance of Islamabad in maintaining stability in the region. “The invitation extended to Pakistan foreign minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi to witness the signing of the deal in Doha was meant to be a face-saver for Islamabad, so were statements of praise for Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan made by Trump from time to time,” sources say.
India, on its part, has maintained that it has always been a backer of the peace process that is “Afghan-led, Afghan-owned and Afghan-controlled,” in what is a reference to New Delhi not wanting Pakistan and other regional players to meddle in internal affairs of Kabul.
The Indian delegation that had been invited to the Russia-backed Moscow talks in 2018 had stressed on New Delhi's position while on the table with the Taliban during the discussions, sources say.
When asked if Pakistan could possibly be behind the terror strike in Kabul, Indian Army veteran and defence expert Colonel (retired) Jaibans Singh conceded that Islamabad’s “involvement in the latest carnage may well be one prong of its evolving strategy.”
“Pakistan is quite concerned about India playing a larger role in Afghanistan beyond US withdrawal and views the cards as being placed in the aftermath of US Presidents visit to India,” Singh noted.
“Pakistan's interest has always remained in maintaining Afghanistan as a strategic asset in its power play within the region and with the Islamic world,” said Singh, adding that the “goalpost of the ISI was constantly changing with every dynamic that was coming up.”