Afghan President Ashraf Ghani said neighboring Pakistan has instigated an “undeclared war of aggression” against his nation after repeated bombings in Kabul in the past week, including the deadliest attack on the capital in 16 years. Ghani’s accusation signal the difficulty NATO and Afghan forces have in defeating the Taliban and other insurgent groups, which have long been said to enjoy safe haven within Pakistan. The Taliban already control or contest more than half of Afghanistan’s populated areas, according to U.S. estimates, making it harder for the U.S. to extract itself from its longest-ever war. Ghani called on the world to make good on a promise to end state-sponsored terrorism, he told a peace conference in Kabul attended by delegates from 23 nations on Tuesday. In the last two years, 11,000 foreign fighters have arrived in Afghanistan to fight for Islamic State, he said, while more than 75,000 Afghans have been killed or wounded in 2015 and 2016.
While nobody has claimed the attacks in the capital, Afghanistan’s intelligence service blamed the Haqqani Network supported by Pakistan’s main spy agency for a bombing outside the diplomatic Green Zone in Kabul last week. The explosion killed more than 150 people and wounded more than 450. That was followed by three blasts on Saturday at a funeral attended by politicians, including Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah, who shares power with Ghani and escaped unharmed.
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On Tuesday, an Indian guesthouse in the capital was hit by a rocket, though there were no casualties from the attack, Najib Danish, an Afghan interior ministry spokesman, said by phone. The Taliban claimed the attack in an emailed statement. Pakistan has often been accused of arming and supplying groups, including the Haqqani Network and Taliban that operate in Afghanistan, in a bid to assert geopolitical goals using proxy forces. Pakistan’s military in turn has also blamed Afghanistan of harboring insurgents it said were responsible for a spate of bombings in February. The two nations have also engaged in cross-border clashes this year.
With security deteriorating under a resurgent Taliban and as Islamic State steps up attacks, there has been talk of Afghanistan’s government collapsing and the country becoming a training ground for groups like Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Mohammad, said Manoj Joshi, a distinguished fellow at the New Delhi-based Observer Research Foundation. If that happened, “a country the size of Germany with virtually no policing will become an open training camp for all kinds of Islamist radicals,” Joshi said. “This would be a danger for the entire world.”
Pakistan’s foreign affairs adviser Sartaj Aziz in a statement on Sunday said he “strongly rejected the baseless and unfounded allegations” that Pakistan had any involvement with the May 31 bombing. Nafees Zakaria, a spokesman for Pakistan’s foreign ministry, couldn’t immediately be reached for comment on Tuesday. A U.S. watchdog said a record number of Afghan civilians died in 2016, 16 years after then-U.S. President George W. Bush first sent special forces to the country after the Sept. 11 attacks to topple the Taliban regime which sheltered al-Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden.
U.S. President Donald Trump is now mulling whether to deploy as many as 5,000 extra troops to Afghanistan to bolster the 8,400 U.S. and Afghan forces. Many are skeptical that more soldiers will defeat the Taliban, which an earlier and larger troop surge under Barack Obama’s administration failed to do. Under Obama, the U.S. supported peace deals Ghani’s government made with former warlords, such as Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, and White House officials admitted a resolution to Afghanistan’s conflict will require a truce with the Taliban.
“Afghanistan is currently doing badly both in the fighting and in its civilian politics, governance, and poverty,” Anthony Cordesman, a defense analyst with the Washington-based Center For Strategic and International Studies, said in a report on Monday. “It is clear that half measures—simply keeping today’s numbers of troops—are highly unlikely to work, risk losing whole provinces over time, and will not press the Taliban into serious peace negotiations.” Ghani reiterated on Tuesday that he wants peace talks with the Taliban, but said that it wasn’t an “open-ended” opportunity. “If the Taliban wants to join peace talks, the Afghan government will allow them to open an office, but this is their last chance,” he said. Afghanistan also wants to build strong political and economic ties with its neighbors.