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Published On: Thu, Nov 9th, 2017

Iran calls for cooperation with Pakistan for Afghan peace; NATO views Taliban bases in Pakistan as a major threat

Christof Lehmann (nsnbc) : Iran’s Defense Minister called on Pakistan to help establish peace and security in Afghanistan. Meanwhile, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg, during a meeting of NATO  defense ministers in Brussels, warned that the Alliance sees Taliban bases in Pakistan as a big threat to Afghan peace.

Iran - Pakistan Defense ministries_2017Iran and Pakistan, both accused of supporting Taliban, discuss Afghan peace

In a meeting with Pakistan’s Chief of Army Staff General Qamar Javed Bajwa in Iran’s capital Tehran on Tuesday, Iranian Brigadier General Amir Hatami called for closer interaction between the two predominantly Muslim neighbors to ensure regional stability. Iran and Pakistan’s synergy could help the Afghan government to end a crisis that has engulfed that country for 37 years and to experience peace and security, the Iranian minister added. Iran’s fixed policy is respect for the territorial integrity and sovereignty of regional nations, General Hatami claimed.

However, there have over the past year been a marked increase in incidents involving Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard troops in supporting Taliban forces in northwestern Afghanistan even though Tehran officially denies such involvement.

Pakistan’s Chief of Army Staff General Qamar Javed Bajwa, for his part, said fighting against terrorism and combatting insecurity along the common border with Iran are among Islamabad’s main priorities in the military sphere. He also stressed the need for Muslim unity and concerted action by regional nations to ensure sustainable security and stability.

The Pakistani top-commander arrived in Tehran on Sunday evening for an official visit, and was received by Chief of Staff of the Iranian Armed Forces Major General Mohammad Hossein Baqeri in a formal ceremony on Monday morning. General Bajwa has also held meetings with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif.

Jens Stoltenberg_NATO_2017_Courtesy NATONATO Secretary-General described Taliban bases in Pakistan as big challenge

The Afghan government, for its part, repeatedly accused Pakistan of harboring Taliban troops instead of either fighting them or denying them Pakistani territory as safe haven and for strategic depth. Pakistan, for its part, accuses Afghanistan of harboring other Taliban factions. Meanwhile, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg, during a meeting of NATO foreign ministers in the Belgian capital Brussels on Tuesday, backed the Afghan government’s position when he said Taliban bases in Pakistan pose a “big challenge” to efforts aimed at bringing peace and stability to Afghanistan. Stoltenberg told reporters Tuesday that he regularly raises the issue in meetings with Pakistani leaders and will continue to do so.

“We have to address the big challenge that [the] Taliban, the insurgents are working also out of bases in Pakistan. And we have raised that several times. It is extremely important that all countries in the region support efforts of the Afghan national unity government and that no country provide any kind of sanctuary for the terrorists,” said the NATO chief. Stoltenberg insisted if regional countries deny sanctuaries to insurgents the fight against the Taliban and terrorist groups in Afghanistan “will gain so much.”

Stoltenberg spoke just hours after a top Pakistani Foreign Ministry official again rejected allegations terrorists are operating out of her country. Foreign Secretary Tehmina Janjua while briefing a parliamentary committed on foreign affairs said Islamabad told Washington in recent high-level bilateral talks that all areas in Pakistan have been cleared of terrorists. Janjua claimed Pakistani forces will take immediate action if the United States provides “actionable intelligence” regarding the presence of terrorists in the country. She went on to assert terrorists are operating not out of Pakistan, but from across the Afghan border.

The presence of proxies, including Iranian has long been known and published, among others by Pakistani Major (r( Agha H. Amin Map plottings, Major (r) Agha Humayum Amin

The presence of proxies, including Iranian has long been known and published, among others by Pakistani Major (r( Agha H. Amin Map plottings, Major (r) Agha Humayum Amin

NATO will continue support of Afghanistan: Stoltenberg – Geopolitics 101

The Afghan government and military as well as NATO continue to face major challenges as no more than about 45 percent of the country are under government control. Pakistani Foreign Ministry official Janjua correctly claimed that the Haqqani network does not need safe havens in Pakistan because the Afghan government does not control large swaps of the country.

Most analysts who know the political and geopolitical dynamics of the region will know that the statement of the fact, by Janjua, does not necessarily imply that an unstable Afghanistan is inconsistent with Pakistan’s defense doctrins. Pakistan perceives Afghanistan as much-needed strategic depth for the case of a major conflict with India. Any Afghan government that does not enter into a defense alliance with Pakistan, and any Afghan government that prioritizes cooperation with India higher than with Pakistan would necessarily been perceived as a government that weakens Pakistan’s defensive capabilities, and one that may either have to be “convinced” or destabilized.

Iran, for its part, also has obvious reasons for asserting its influence in northwestern Afghanistan, especially as long as there is a U.S. and NATO presence in the country. The fact that the Taliban is Sunni while Iran is a Shia country is not of great importance when it comes to asserting Tehran’s interests in the region. Likewise, Russia and former Soviet republics are also backing their “favorite proxies” in the north.

It is against this backdrop, and with NATO members also wanting to assert their influence in one of the world’s geopolitically most important regions, that Stoltenberg reiterated NATO will continue and strengthen its financial and military training support to Afghanistan, saying the number of foreign troops in the country will be increased from currently around 13,000 to a new level of around 16,000 troops.

“We will not go back in combat operations but we need to strengthen the train and assist and advise mission, the Resolute Support mission, to help the Afghans break the stalemate, to send a clear message to the Taliban, to the insurgents that they will not win on the battleground,” asserted Stoltenberg. The only way the Taliban can achieve anything, he noted, is by sitting down at the negotiating table and be part of a peaceful negotiated political solution to the Afghan war.

The Islamist insurgency, however, has refused to engage in talks until all foreign forces withdraw from Afghanistan. The Taliban did not explicitly include Pakistani and Iranian special operations forces in their statements. The reference to “all foreign forces” means all NATO, and especially all U.S. forces.

CH/L – 09.11.2017

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