ISLAMABAD - Afghanistan and Pakistan's recent ground-breaking agreement to share intelligence and resources to combat terrorism is getting a rocky reception from many people in Afghanistan. Former President Hamid Karzai, for example, is demanding that the national government in Kabul repudiate the accord, and many lawmakers in the Afghan parliament make the same point even more emphatically. Senior Afghan officials say the agreement will not be scrapped, but that discussions are underway on possible changes. The controversy has cast a shadow on President Ashraf Ghani's goal of establishing national unity.
Former president Karzai said he has serious concerns about last week's agreement signed by the Afghan National Directorate of Security (NDS) and Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency. Karzai is urging President Ghani to withdraw from the memorandum of understanding, on the grounds that it is against Afghanistan's national interests.
A majority of lawmakers in the lower house of the parliament are taking a similar stand. During Wednesday’s session in Kabul they demanded that the intelligence agreement be scrapped immediately, and they summoned top officials of the NDS and Ghani's national security adviser to appear before the House next week.
Media reports said that NDS chief Rahmatullah Nabil declined to sign the accord with Pakistan's ISI, leaving it instead for his deputy to intial. Nabil is not commenting about that, but a spokesman for Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah, who holds co-executive power in Afghanistan with President Ghani, said the deal remained in effect.
A spokesman for the Pakistani military Major-General Asim Bajwa said this week that the two intelligence agencies agreed to share the intelligence they gathered and take part in "complementary and coordinated operations" in border regions.
Abdullah's spokesman, Mujib Rahman Rahimi, told VOA that Pakistan and Afghanistan were working together to revise the text of the memorandum of understanding to make it acceptable to Afghan lawmakers.
“We are still working on that, and we are quite happy to cooperate [with Pakistan] in fighting terrorism, which is a common threat against both countries. The deal will not be scrapped, but there will be some amendments to it. I think while the two countries need to cooperate, there should be some mechanism for cooperation, and that memorandum of understanding is a step forward to that direction. We hope to continue with steps we have taken and with cooperation between the two countries. So, there is no intention to step back," he said.
Rahimi suggested the parliamentary criticism was premature, because the two sides merely have a memorandum of understanding, not a binding treaty. Afghanistan's unity government is determined to continue strengthening cooperation with Pakistan, he said, and hopes for similar action by Islamabad.
Afghans' outrage at the anti-terrorism deal stems from long-running suspicions and allegations that Pakistan's ISI has fueled years of conflict in Afghanistan by training and arming Taliban insurgents.
For their part, Pakistani authorities have been accusing the Afghan intelligence service for years of sheltering anti-Pakistan extremists, leaving them free to stage cross-border attacks at will.
President Ghani’s advisers and senior officials in Pakistan said the intelligence accord would help both countries suppress terrorist activity on both sides of the neighbor states' long and porous border. They see the ISI-NDS agreement as the culmination of a lengthy effort to increase cooperation between their mutually hostile and suspicious security establishments.
Former Pakistani law minister Ahmer Bilal Sofi said reducing suspicion could lead to much broader cooperation between Kabul and Islamabad in the future.
"There was never a law enforcement formal cooperation, there was never a request for providing evidence of a terrorist [act], although both the countries have been for long accusing each other [of funding cross-border terrorism]. So, I think this [deal] is kind of a first formalized arrangement that two state bodies have entered into, and therefore it will open up and pave ways for more improved coordination on terrorism on the operational side, on the law enforcement side, and, hopefully, on the judicial side in the future as well,” said Sofi.
Step in the right direction
Cameron Munter, the former U.S. ambassador to Pakistan, also welcomed the prospect of increased cooperation on intelligence.
“I can only say that when I read news such as that the head of ISI has just come back from Kabul after meeting with his counterpart to talk about security in the region, that’s very good news. That’s the kind of thing that is very important. ... I have just a very positive feeling that when you talk to each other you avoid mistakes,” he said.
Munter was the U.S. envoy to Pakistan during the time when Islamabad’s relations with both Kabul and Washington plunged to record lows, over allegations that ISI was allowing the Haqqani network of insurgents and fugitive Taliban commanders to take sanctuary in Pakistani border areas following attacks staged in Afghanistan.
The intelligence-sharing agreement was signed shortly after Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif concluded a visit to Kabul last week, where he condemned Taliban attacks as terrorist actions and told President Ghani that “enemies of Afghanistan cannot be friends of Pakistan.”