x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 17 January 2018

Kabul needs its neighbours to help fight terror

Iran, Pakistan and Afghanistan have pledged to work together to fight the regional scourge of terrorism, but their track records raise major concerns.

The weekend's 60-country conference on counterterrorism in Tehran contained a substantial amount of unproductive play-acting, but did produce one useful aid to understanding terrorism as a factor in the region's affairs.

On the meeting's sidelines the presidents of Iran, Pakistan, and Afghanistan held less-publicised talks, pledging to work together to fight the regional scourge of terrorism. (It's easy to forget that Iran, while often accused of fomenting unrest, is itself a victim of terror attacks, notably in its southeast.)

This sounds encouraging but there is, we're sorry to say, less here than meets the eye. The difficulty is that neither Pakistan nor Iran comes to the issue with clean hands. Elements of the Pakistani intelligence service are known to be close to the Taliban. And Iran, a principal sponsor of Hizbollah and Hamas, has displayed contradictory motives in Afghanistan - pledging stability on the one hand while backing the Taliban on the other.

There were, as expected, promises and pledges to address an issue that touches every nation. But while most in attendance spoke of their efforts to reduce terrorism, Iran preferred, predictably, to denounce the US and Israel as the region's leading terrorists.

For all that, the tripartite meeting did bring to the fore the reality that as Western troops begin to leave Afghanistan, a regional solution there will become essential.

The problem is that all three governments are of two - or more - minds. The Pakistani state may be too divided to speak with one voice. Support for managed chaos is a prime tool of Iran's statecraft. And Afghanistan is a Gordian knot of conflicting loyalties and tactics. Then there's India, a key regional player not in attendance in Tehran. As the cockpit for regional rivalries, Afghanistan suffers from furtive meddling by all its neighbours.

When elements of a state's apparatus resort to abetting terror, government promises to combat terrorism must be taken with a pinch of salt.

That is not to say that these actors are incapable of seeing a more stable Afghanistan emerge from decades of unrest. Plainly, Afghanistan will not be left to the Afghans anytime soon. We can only hope that declarations of cooperation - like the one in Tehran - will prove to be a starting point for effective regional management of the problem, and not more empty bluster.