An unprecedented attempt to improve cooperation between Afghan and Pakistani spies has caused uproar in , where politicians and the media accused the government of selling out to a mortal enemy.
Pakistan’s army confirmed the two countries’ security agencies signed a memorandum of understanding last week in which will help train and equip Afghan intelligence officers, take part in the interrogation of terror suspects and conduct joint operations.
It is an astonishing step for Afghanistan’s National Directorate of Security (NDS), which has long accused its opposite numbers at the Pakistani military’s Inter-Services Intelligence directorate (ISI) of practically directing the insurgency.
It is also the most dramatic gesture yet by Ashraf Ghani, the Afghan president who came to power last year determined to win Islamabad’s help in brokering peace talks with the Taliban by offering concessions that would have been unthinkable under his predecessor, Hamid Karzai.
Ghani has upset hawks by and diverting scarce military resources to fight Pakistani militants hiding in Afghanistan. Even his November 2014 visit to the office of Pakistan’s army chief in the garrison city of Rawalpindi was seen by some as an affront to national pride.
We all know these daily attacks, the suicide bombers, the terrorists are coming from Pakistan
There are signs Ghani’s strategy is paying off, with Taliban and Afghan representatives meeting for informal talks in Qatar this month. Last week, to deliver an unprecedented public rebuke to the Taliban, which is engaged in a brutal summer campaign of violence.
But with the number of attacks soaring, the diplomatic achievements have not been enough to appease Ghani’s critics. On Monday, a senior member of the Afghan parliament ordered the international relations committee to summon NDS officials for a grilling over the intelligence-sharing deal.
The immediate backlash highlights the difficult balance Ghani has to strike between pushing for peace and sustaining public support for his government. “We all know these daily attacks, the suicide bombers, the terrorists are coming from Pakistan,” said Haroun Mir, a Kabul analyst. “Suddenly we want to share something we don’t share with very close allies with a government we blame for every single attack.”
Highlighting its extreme sensitivity, the Afghan government did not formally announce the intelligence-sharing deal and denied that Pakistan will train and equip Afghan officers. Leaks to the Afghan media said that the NDS chief, Rahmatullah Nabil, was against the move.
The memorandum of understanding was signed by a deputy NDS director general after Nabil refused to sign, said Davood Moradian, a Kabul-based analyst and ex-aide to Afghanistan’s former national security adviser.
“This was an initiative proposed by the British but the NDS chief refused to sign it despite enormous pressure,” Moradian said. “It has not only heavily damaged morale within NDS but further damaged the credibility of Ghani and the national unity government.”
Following the uproar, Ajmal Obaid Abidy, spokesman for Ghani, attempted to play down its significance, saying other memorandums had been signed with the ISI in the past, but he did not say what areas they covered.
Opponents of Ghani’s strategy say Nabil and other top intelligence officials have been sidelined by the president and Hanif Atmar, his national security adviser.
One former Karzai-era official said many in Kabul were shocked to learn that Nabil was excluded from at least one key meeting between Ghani and the ISI chief, Rizwan Akhtar in the last year.
Pakistan has long-pushed for Nabil to be sacked after it emerged the NDS under his watch attempted to recruit Latif Mehsud, then the second most important commander in the Pakistani Taliban, as an intelligence source.
was a bid “to send a message to Pakistan that if they can do this, we also can do it.”
Pakistan insists it is trying to push the Taliban – a movement it helped to power in the mid-1990s and continued to support after 2001 – towards a peaceful resolution of the conflict.
“Unfortunately there is a group [in the NDS] who do not want us to move forward,” said a Pakistani intelligence official. “They have benefited from all the money that has come to this region and they are not interested in peace.”
Amrullah Saleh, the NDS director general from 2004 to 2010, said he would have been ashamed to sign such an agreement and predicted staunch opposition to it.
“I think a lot of us consider this a betrayal and a dishonouring of the sacrifices of our defence forces,” he said. “I never negotiated from a position of weakness. I always asked Pakistan to first stop terror, then ask Afghanistan to cooperate.”