sanctuaries
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Jan Achakzai|

How Afghan sanctuaries are threatening stability in Pakistan and wider region can be seen from the recent wave of terrorist incidents: Lahore attack, Peshawar Hayatabad blast, Momand Agency Check post, FC Chaman attack, border infiltration last week all traced to Afgan soil. In most cases they were planned, financed, launched and executed from Afghan sanctuaries.

No army or force in the world can defend a city within. Once suicide bomber reaches cities like Lahore, Peshawar and Quetta then in all probability he is unstoppable from blowing himself up somewhere on soft or hard target.

Afghanistan: A new safe haven for ISIS?

Russians intelligence fear, over 500 citizens of ex-Soviet Union have moved out or on the way to join cells in Afghanistan and Central Asia.

Afganistan is increasingly becoming a new theater of non-state actors as expected, ISIS proper after losing much in Syria and Iraq is trying to find some toehold in Afghanistan. There are certain reports suggesting that the tactical prowess of ISIS Khorasan has dramatically improved.

ISIS proper had recruited trained snipers and instructors mainly from Chechnya with high salary packages and have copied erstwhile US Blackwater nonstate mercenary organizational structure and attracting a pool of Jihadi talent through a competitive process. With last stand in Mosul in Iraq and Raqqa in Syria, the Russians intelligence fear, over 500 citizens of Ex-Soviet Union have moved out or on the way to join cells in Afghanistan and Central Asia.

Already Afghanistan hosts some of the militants focused on Central Asia and China working under the umbrella of ISIS Khorasan and they have expanded footprints from South East to South West of Afghanistan directly threatening Pakistan’s Balochistan region on the one hand and parts of FATA on the other hand.

Since almost 40  percent of Afghanistan is not controlled by Afghan state, weak state structures provide a perfect opportunity to fleeing ISIS to make their way into Afghanistan and put to use their battle hardened experiences into use. This is why fears are becoming a reality that terrorist incidents will spike. They will focus on Pakistan, Afghan state, China, and Euro-Asia region.

Read more: Trump: Awaited Angel or feared Devil for Afghanistan?

What options Pakistan has?

Pakistan needs at least $5 bill for proper border managed force-FC as the first line of defense and then another border security-cum- police force comprising tribesmen as the second line of defense

Pakistan is unilaterally trying to manage western border militarily. There has been a plan to raise 50 wings of Fronter Crops in the next three years and 15 wings will be completed by July 31st. While Western border has been socially managed for the last 70 years, now, Islamabad has no choice but to go for militarily managing the border.

Now border hardening is an expensive and time-consuming business. After the plan above described, the distance between the two post is likely to be up to 30 kilometers on the Afghan border and up to 50 kilometers on the Iranian border. Still not good enough to functionally manage routes crisscrossing the Durand line and stop the bad guys.

Recently, an estimate was made for the Trump Administration to raise a wall on the US-Mexican border with $25 billion budget and three years time line. Pakistan needs at least $5 billion for proper border managed force-FC as the first line of defense and then another border security-cum- police force comprising tribesmen as the second line of defense. This is, of course, one estimate. Pakistan does not have huge resources; however, it has always had an option of one-off border tax emergency to levy on every moving and unmoving property, service, and entity to pay off the cost.

Diplomatic efforts by Pakistan

Multilaterally, Pakistan is working with Russia, China, Iran and now hopefully with Kabul, as Afghanistan has agreed to join multilateral parleys in Moscow later this month, to somehow administratively co-opt moderates Afghan Taliban through an eventual peace deal.

For Pakistan as a country the choice has never been starker: sink in the strategic terror mayhem of the region and forget CPEC, or rise to the occasion and strike back

Islamabad has started to engage the new Trump Administration and resolved to convince Washington to do away with belligerent Obama policies in the Af-Pak region and let Kabul be a willing partner in peace and let parts of Afghan Taliban to have a genuine offer as an incentive if they go for a ceasefire and ultimately entering into a peace deal. This zone of constructive engagements with Trump Administration will also offer a genuine opportunity to allow Washington a reasonable time frame to scale down its war effort and eventually a  respectful drawn down from Afghanistan.

Pakistan has nearly convinced the  Russian, Iran, and Chinese of the negative role of India as force-multiplier to help sustain proxy landscape in Afghanistan and continue with its non-conventional client-patron relations.

Read more: Lahore Terrorism: Abject Failure of Pakistani Intelligence & policing institutions

Domestically,  Pakistan has done a great deal from Zarb-e-Azb to National Action Plan. But it needs to do more by starting  to learn from post 9/11 experience of the US and 7/7  experience of U.K— asking citizens to carry documents all the time, barring any entry in buildings without ids, going for racial profiling, expediting Afghan returnees as soon as possible, declaring war on elements providing grass root support as facilitators and abettors.

The state needs to ensure all regions and provinces have robust implementers of NAP and adopt zero tolerance for misgovernance on these issues, and bring an end to point scoring.

For Pakistan as a country and nation the choice has never been starker: let us sink in the strategic terror mayhem of the region via terrorism and forget CPEC, or rise to the occasion and strike back with all elements of national power.

Jan Achakzai is a geopolitical analyst, a party leader in the ruling PML-N party, and advisor to Balochistan Government on media and strategic communication. He remained associated with BBC World Service in London covering South and West Asia.

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