Disquiet over Af-ISI pact

Disquiet over Af-ISI pact

The recent intelligence-sharing agreement signed between Pakistan and Afghanistan has raised eyebrows. The MoU between Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) and its Afghan counterpart National Directorate of Security (NDS) even mentions “coordinated intelligence operations”. This is almost unthinkable, given the hostility between the two agencies. Kabul has often blamed the ISI of backing the Afghan Taliban, which its security forces are fighting. Reports say NDS chief Rahmatullah Nabil was so upset with the MoU that he refused to put his signature on it. Afghan parliamentarians have slammed it. The country’s Chief Executive Officer Abdullah Abdullah who shares power with President Ashraf Ghani has let it be known that he was not totally with it. All this has led the NDS to announce that a panel of experts will now review the agreement.

India should seek some solace from that: clearly signing the agreement and implementing it on the ground are two different things. Yet, there is bound to be disquiet in Delhi over the move by President Ghani, who took over last year and is seen as Pak-leaning compared to his India-friendly, Shimla-educated predecessor Hamid Karzai. There is apprehension that the deal would help ISI enlarge its influence in Afghanistan as the American forces withdraw, and deny that space to India. National Security Advisor Ajit Doval has reportedly said the “crux” of the agreement was that Pakistan wanted an assurance that Afghanistan will not allow India to use its territory for “security-related work.” Even if that was based on a “false assumption” that India does that.

Ghani’s motivations are, of course, different from Pakistan’s. He is looking for a deal with the Taliban to end the bloodshed in his country. “Intelligence-sharing” here might just be a euphemism for seeking the help of the ISI to broker a peace with the monster it has nurtured. A peace that comes on these terms may not be the best option – even if it is the best Ghani can do. Depending on the kind of concessions Ghani makes, it could mean a rollback on the progress Afghanistan has made, for instance on women’s rights, over the last several years. Delhi, in any case, can only wait and watch. It decided long ago not to help Afghanistan militarily in its fight against the Taliban, and Karzai was repeatedly denied military aid. But since 9/11, it has pumped in US$ 2 billion in development projects that have gone down well with the Afghan people. Delhi can hope that this approach continues to create goodwill. And still keep it in the picture as Afghanistan prepares for life after America.
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