South Asia Research and Analysis Studies

Attack on Afghan Spy Chief
Bassam Javed

President Hamid Karzai has implied that Pakistani interests were behind the suicide attack on Asadullah Khalid, head of Afghan Intelligence Service (NDS). The Afghan spy chief, who was seriously wounded in a Taliban suicide attack last week is recovering fast at US military hospital at Bagram and would be sent abroad for further treatment. The assailant had posed as a Taliban emissary for possible peace talks. The suicide bomber had hid the explosives in his groins. Burhanuddin Rabbani, the former head of Afghan High Peace Council for reconciliation with Taliban was assassinated by another Taliban emissary in a similar manner who had hid the explosives in his turban. Ahmad Shah Masud’s assassination pattern was the same when some implanted explosives in the movie camera used for recording an interview with him, were detonated by two suicide bombers who posed themselves as Belgians.

On each occasion, the suicide bombers managed to reach their targets with utmost ease. President Karzai said that Afghan traditions and customs did not support detailed personal searches of guests who on all the three occasions killed their hosts. By saying so, the President implied that Afghanistan, after having defied Soviets’ military onslaught on their country and now putting up resistance to the Americans’ grandeur designs, Afghan traditions still overtake sensitive security and state matters in Afghanistan. He also implied that Ahmad Shah Masud, Wali Karzai and Burhanuddin Rabbani got assassinated by the suicide bombers for following their traditional traits and not on security lapses by Afghanistan’s security establishment.

Whatever aspersions President Karzai’s may have against Pakistan, one thing is certain that the attack on Afghan spy chief at this time could not have served Pakistan’s interests in any way. In recent times, both the countries have moved closer on reaching some understanding to move the Afghan peace process forward. Pakistan’s Chief of the Army Staff while addressing a joint meeting of political and security council to the European Union military committee in Brussels earlier this month, emphasized the need for an immediate rapprochement between the Taliban and the Afghan government as the US forces/ NATO withdrawal time drew closer in 2014. Two important Afghan delegations have also visited Pakistan this month resulting in very positive developments as far as peace in Afghanistan was concerned. Afghan Peace Council delegation visit resulted in release of many Taliban leaders that could pave way in enticing various Taliban factions to negotiate peace whereas, Afghan Foreign Minister’s visit discussed ways and means to establish direct contacts with the Taliban. Currently, another delegation of Afghan Parliamentarians is visiting Pakistan seeking more interaction with each other. President Zardari and Karzai are in Ankara to participate in a two-day summit to delve on the ways and means that could bring the two countries interact with each other frequently. Pakistan’s COAS, DG (ISI), Hina Rabbani Khar and the foreign secretary had arrived earlier in Ankara to assist the President and interact with their respective counterparts from the three countries. The high profile meet will also delve on the possibilities of enabling Taliban open their office in a neutral country. The occasion was also utilized by President Karzai and President Zardari to clear the air on assassination bid on chief of Afghan Security Service (NDS). Another conference is coming up in Paris on 20-22nd of this month wherein the Taliban leadership has agreed to participate only to share their proposals for resolving the longstanding conflict in Afghanistan. Taliban would be represented by senior Taliban negotiator Maulvi Shahabuddin Dilawar and Hizbe Islami negotiator, Dr Ghairat Baheer. Maulvi Shahabuddin’s participation is still in doubt as he continues to remain barred from traveling abroad being on UN Sanctions list. Afghan delegation would comprise former foreign minister Abdullah Abdullah and Younis Qanooni besides a couple of representatives from Afghanistan’s High Peace Council.

In such an environment wherein positive bilateral progress has been made during Afghan officials’ visits to Pakistan and where Pakistan and Turkey are working hand in hand to help stabilize Afghanistan before foreign military forces quit the country, Karzai implicating Pakistan in suicide attack on NDS Chief Khaled, do not auger well in taking the peace process or bilateral relationship forward. Karzai has little time left in the Presidency and with ten years of running Afghan affairs, he ought to have been more responsible and cautious in his anti-Pakistan overtures.

There are other factors also that Mr. Karzai should have delved before implicating Pakistan in attack on NDS chief. The fact is, that his most trusted advisor Assadullah Khaled, lies a controversial personality with huge political ambitions. He is a die hard anti-Taliban and is considered a fierce politician in Afghanistan. Afghanistan based foreign diplomats have never held Assadullah Khaled in high esteem. Based on their respective interactions with him being the minister of Border and Tribal affairs before his appointment as NDS Chief, the foreign diplomats in Afghanistan characterized him as a corrupt, an extremely brutal and influential drug lord. According to ‘Wikileaks’ also, a confidential cable sent to Washington in 2009 from US Embassy in Kabul characterized him as ‘exceptionally corrupt and incompetent’. Later in the same year, a diplomat deployed at the Canadian Embassy in Afghanistan publicly accused Assadullah in April 2010 of participating in international narcotics trafficking and systematically employing torture against his opponents while being the governor of Kandahar from 2005-2008. He also accused him of maintaining private torture cells at Kandahar during his governorship time. As per ‘The New York Times’, its staff interviewed more than twenty foreign diplomats based in Kabul in the same time frame wherein many of them showed their extreme frustration and concern on his appointment as Chief of Afghan Intelligence Agency by President karzai. Nevertheless, his close association with Karzai wherein the latter viewed him as a ‘son’ and a surrogate member of his own family won him the coveted post of Chief of Afghan Security Service (NDS).

The resentment that he earned from Taliban over his repression of Pashtuns while being Border minister and later governor of Kandahar may have also led Taliban to target him. Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid talking to Afghan Islamic Press owned the responsibility of the attack and confirmed that it was planned and executed by the Mujahideen of Islamic Emirate. Pakistan also denied its connection to the assassination bid which any way that the Afghan President wanted to implicate. Even the US State Department or the US Commander in Afghanistan or for that matter even India did not support Karzai’s anti-Pakistan aspersions on attack on NDS Chief. Now that Pakistani and Afghan Presidents have met in Ankara and cleared the air over Assadullah Khaled’s assassination bid, it is time for Afghans to move faster to stabilize their country before the foreign forces quit Afghanistan. Afghan blame game must end immediately and the country must realize that a peace effort in Afghanistan is in the interest of Pakistan.