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Ghani deal with ISI outrages Afghans

Farhad Peikar
The recent MoU between the Afghan and Pakistani intelligence services has been met with disgust by Afghan stakeholders, who see the new 'partner' as a traditional enemy and the chief destabilising force in recent…
22.05.2015  |  Kabul, Islamabad
The Pakistan Army is digging a 2.4 by 3-metre trench stretching 480-kilometres along the Durand Line.
The Pakistan Army is digging a 2.4 by 3-metre trench stretching 480-kilometres along the Durand Line.
Ghani deal with ISI outrages Afghans

The recent MoU between the Afghan and Pakistani intelligence services has been met with disgust by Afghan stakeholders, who see the new 'partner' as a traditional enemy and the chief destabilising force in recent years in Afghanistan.

The recent intelligence sharing accord between the Afghan and Pakistani secret services has created furore in Afghanistan and deepened public mistrust in the Unity Government. Several current and former officials called the deal a “disgraceful” act that was against the national interests of the country.

ISI and NDS to fight terrorism together

The signing of a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between the Afghan National Directorate of Security (NDS) and Pakistan’s Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) is part of an ongoing rapprochement by the Unity Government with Islamabad. Since taking office in September, President Ghani has committed to ending the “undeclared state of hostility” between Afghanistan and Pakistan. Ghani’s unprecedented overtures are aimed at winning Islamabad’s assistance in brokering peace talks with the Taliban, whose leadership is based in Pakistan.

As part of trust-building measures with his nuclear-armed neighbour, Ghani has offered dramatic concessions to Pakistan. The president scrapped an arms deal with Pakistan’s archrival India, sent - a symbolic gesture - six cadets to a Pakistani military academy, and in a stark departure from protocol, met with Pakistan’s army chief General Raheel Sharif at the General Headquarters in Rawalpindi during his trip to Pakistan last year.

Ghani’s rapprochement with Islamabad seems to be working, with more Pakistani military leaders paying visits to Kabul in the past six months than in as many years during Karzai’s administration. In a move that seemed unthinkable during the strained cross-border relationship under President Karzai, Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif condemned attacks by the “Afghan Taliban” and said their continuation would be “construed as terrorist acts.” For the first time in years, a large delegation from Kabul met with Taliban representatives in Qatar in an informal talk last month.

Afghans in all walks of life and across political factions acknowledge that no peace deal can be struck with the Taliban unless Pakistan whole-heartedly takes part in the process and brings the Taliban to the negotiating table. Despite Pakistan’s apparent desire to contribute to peace west of its border, Afghans reacted harshly to the recent intelligence deal. Here are five reasons why:

1. Done behind closed doors

The Afghan government kept the intelligence deal a secret for days. The news was first confirmed by the Pakistani military and then leaked to Afghan media. In the absence of accurate information about the contents of the deal, Afghan media, political leaders and commentators created a cloud of specualtion, which in turn sparked angry reactions by Afghan social media users, some of whom took to online networks to lash out at the government. Many people accused President Ghani of selling the country to Pakistan and likened the intelligence deal to the controversial Durand Line accord, which was signed by Afghan King Abdul Rahman Khan and British India in 1893. The Durand Line accord relocated large swaths of Afghan territory to British India, which later became Pakistan after independence in 1947.

2. Lack of customary consultation

The leaks about the deal took many politicians, including former President Karzai, by surprise. Karzai issued an angry statement, labelling the security MoU against the national interests of Afghanistan and demanding the unity government “immediately” invalidate the deal. Other politicians, including members of parliament and former government officials, condemned the accord and called for its cancellation. Shukria Barekzai, a Member of Parliament and a staunch supporter of President Ghani, told a parliamentary session that it was a “shameful and disgraceful pact that is being imposed on the Afghan people.”

The strong reaction from all sides of the political spectrum highlights the government’s failure to win the support of key stakeholders before inking the accord. A long consultative process over national issues is an old tradition in Afghanistan and the practice became part of government norms during President Karzai’s era. The former president gathered around 3,000 Afghan tribal elders and other influential figures to Kabul in 2013 for consultation on whether Afghanistan should sign the Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA) with the United States. Although Karzai left the BSA for Ghani’s government to sign, he received a unanimous vote of approval from the grand council.

In order to quell the endless barrage of criticism over the deal, President Ghani invited a large number of political, jihadi and religious scholars to his palace for consultation on Thursday. It remains to be seen if the president's damage-control strategy will quieten his critics.

3. Old enemy is an unwelcome friend

The fact that the deal was signed with the ISI agency is itself a problem in the eyes of many Afghans. If there is one foreign entity that has been widely and repeatedly criticized under various Afghan governments - with the exception of the Taliban regime - in recent history, it is the ISI, perceived as an enemy intent on destabilising Afghanistan as part of proxy war with India. Many Afghans, including senior officials, have accused the Pakistani spy agency of supporting the Taliban and of deliberately subverting national security in Afghanistan. .

While many ordinary Afghan see the ISI as source of continued conflict and misery in their country, the mistrust is even stronger among former and current NDS officials, who, according to leaked reports, will now receive training and direction from their Pakistani counterpart. The former head of the NDS, Assadullah Khalid, who was seriously injured in a suicide attack in 2012, called the deal an “unforgivable act” in an interview with TOLOnews. Khalid said the deal would enable the ISI to subvert the NDS and undo the achievements the Afghan secuirty directorate has made in recent years. Khalid’s predecessor, Amrullah Saleh, tweeted that by signing the deal, Kabul risked “falling in the trap of deception.” There were also unconfirmed reports in Afghan media that the current NDS chief, Rahmatullah Nabil, opposed the deal and that his first deputy signed the accord on behalf of the directorate.

4. Contents of the deal unclear

Although the contents of the MOU have not been made public by either country yet, if information leaked to the Afghan media is correct then Afghanistan is set to gain little from the deal. The focus of the MoU is reportedly on establishing joint cross-border operations and  mechanisms to share intel about international terrorists networks, such as al-Qaeda and ISIS hiding in border regions, with a view to destroying separatist militants. The deal does not however obligate the ISI to share information with the NDS on activities of the Afghan Taliban, the Haqqani network, or other insurgents groups that are based in Pakistan.

5. Leaders' contradictory statements

In addition to a lack of transparency, the Unity Government's PR, unity and public diplomacy have again been called into question by inconsistent and contradictory statements. Presidential spokesman Ajmal Obaid Abidy and NDS spokesman Haseeb Sediqi confirmed the signing of the MOU to media earlier this week, but tried to downplay the significance of the deal. On Friday, Najib Manalai, spokesman for the Afghan National Security Council, told reporters that no intelligence deal had been signed, only that the two countries had agreed on a draft. Following the public outcry, even Dr. Abdullah Abdullah, Afghan Chief Executive Officer (CEO), and Ghani’s partner in the unity government, tried to distance himself from the accord. Abdullah’s first deputy, Mohammad Khan, told TOLOnews on Wednesday that Abdullah was not aware of certain articles that were added to the draft after he had seen it. Abdullah allegedly objected to the use of the word "separatists" - arguing "we do not have separatists in Afghanistan" - as well as the clause that will see the ISI take a formal role in training NDS agents.

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