Afghan security situation in a flux
Asif Haroon Raja
The US led western forces invaded Afghanistan on October 7, 2001 and caused massive destruction to the country. Ruling Taliban considered it prudent to withdraw and fight the occupation another day. After regrouping in FATA the Taliban fighters started guerrilla war. While Haqqani Network (HN) under Siraj Haqqani concentrated upon Eastern Afghanistan, Quetta Shura under Mullah Omar focused on Southern Afghanistan from late 2002 onwards and by 2008 they were able to gain ascendency over these two regions. Thereon, they started attacking targets in all parts of Afghanistan in spite of the two US troop surges in 2009. Mounting casualties forced Obama to announce drawdown of troops in December 2010 despite strong reservations of ISAF, Pentagon and CIA. Process of withdrawal set into motion from July 2011 onwards which got completed in end December 2014. The US-NATO forces abandoned Afghanistan in disgrace, leaving behind an unstable, impoverished and ethnically polarized Afghanistan heading towards another round of internecine war. They have desecrated the status and reputation of mighty US military and NATO, caused post stress disorder diseases to the tens of thousands, compelled many homesick soldiers left with no heart to fight the unwinnable war to commit suicides, debased the image of the sole super power and plummeted US economy.
So much so that the US was forced to quit without defeating its opponent and achieving any of its objectives. Pakistan has been politically and economically enfeebled but the schemers have failed to disable its nuclear program, demobilize Army, detach Balochistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa/FATA and make Pakistan a submissive State. Their creations – TTP, BLA, BRA, and BLF - conducting proxy war all these years have been pushed against the wall by Pak security forces. MQM linked with RAW and MI-6 has been cornered. Al-Qaeda has been badly mauled in this region but it has emerged as a strong force in Arabian Peninsula and in North Africa.
Afghan-US Barter Security Agreement (BSA) was signed by the elected unity government of President Ashraf Ghani and CEO Dr Abdullah. It allowed the ISAF to retain nine military bases and a token residual force of 12,000 troops, which include 8400 US soldiers, till December 2016 to help the new regime to achieve stability. BSA is also designed to enable the US to create conditions for talks with Taliban leading to negotiated political settlement and to prevent the Taliban from capturing power. Presence of foreign troops in Afghanistan has kept the resistance movement alive and is also allowing CIA to keep an eye on Pakistan and China.
It will be exceedingly difficult for the meager residual force to accomplish the said objectives when over 155,000 ground troops backed by a huge array of airpower, technology and intelligence assets of six agencies couldn't do it under best of circumstances. Economy was vibrant and military power of US armed forces and NATO was at its zenith. Situation has changed drastically after 13 years of fighting so-called war on terror. Occurring green-over blue attacks from inside would keep the residual force frightened. The residual force will remain bunkered in fortified nine military bases. They are eagerly waiting for the completion of hazardous and torturous two-year period devoid of fun and frolic so that they could return to their homes safe and sound.
Besides rendering technical advice, the trainers will continue imparting training and providing equipment to ANSF from within the promised $4.1 billion annual military aid. This force will also provide back up support by way of drones, airstrikes and gunship helicopters attacks. Drone attacks in eastern Afghanistan have picked up momentum. Daesh leaders and fighters have also been targeted in Helmand and Nangarhar.
The Afghan National Army (ANA), comprising mostly Tajik and Uzbek soldiers, trained and equipped by the US-UK military for over a decade has still not acquired sufficient prowess to fight the Taliban at its own. ISAF has always considered ANA a liability since it failed to live up to its expectations despite spending colossal amount on its refurbishment. The ANA plagued by indiscipline and desertion cases took over forward line security duties from ISAF on December 28, 2014 and has been involved in battles with Taliban all over the country but has so far not been able to contain their surge. The Taliban are striking targets in all parts of the country including Kabul. Their rate of attacks intensified after they launched their spring offensive. The Haqqani Network after being pushed out from North Waziristan by Pak security forces accelerated their attacks against Northern Afghanistan in collusion with IMU and gained ascendency over large number of districts. The only possibility of survival of ANSF is continuation of unity government of Ashraf Ghani and Dr Abdullah and their skillful handling of the explosive situation to promote political stability and harmony between warring tribes/groups.
Abdullah has not overcome the grief of losing presidential election since he is convinced that his mandate was fraudulently stolen. He enjoys broad support among non-Pashtuns and also has some support among the Pashtuns. He is in best books of India because of his highly pro-India stance but he is not good enough for USA. Ashraf Ghani on the other hand is unassuming, lacks charisma and doesn't enjoy much respect even among his fellow Pashtuns. His allies like Rashid Dostum in the north do not enjoy good reputation. Crutches provided by Washington may not help him in steadying the rocking ship. Unlike Hamid Karzai who managed to stay in power for 13 years, Ashraf Ghani has tough times ahead. He will have to remain watchful of Abdullah who may pull the rug from under his feet whenever opportunity comes his way. Surging power of Taliban under Mullah Omar is his biggest test. Warlords may resurface to challenge the central authority.
These challenges are impeding his constructive initiatives to improve governance, minimize corruption, and bring improvement in law and order, and uplift the condition of marginalized sections of the society. It is encouraging noting that he has not pursued his predecessor's policy of rancor and vitriol and keeping its eastern border hot to antagonize Pakistan and please India. He started off well by acting more prudently and maturely and took several initiatives to remove the climate of mistrust and hostility between Pak-Afghan relations. However, since he has no political roots and he has been installed by USA and the country is entirely dependent upon foreign aid, Ghani is likely to follow US dictated policies rather than pursuing independent foreign policy in the best interest of Afghans and the country.
Somehow the two power sharing leaders do not have the political sagacity, magnetism and maturity to gel the divided nation and pull the country out of the woods. India which has penetrated in every department of Afghanistan including Army and intelligence agencies is continuing with its dirty work of keeping Pak-Afghan relations tense in pursuit of its regional ambitions. Relations which had begun to improve rapidly once again nose-dived after massive pressure was put on Ghani by Hamid Karzai, Northern alliance heavy Parliament and pro-India elements within ANSF and NDS. Pakistan was blamed for attack on Afghan Parliament last month and resurgence in Taliban attacks. Ghani reverted to the tone and tenor of Karzai by saying that Pakistan is 'waging an undeclared war against Afghanistan'. Mercifully the downward slide has been stemmed as a result of Murree meeting between Afghan regime representatives and Taliban and also attended by reps of USA and China. China's One-Belt-One-Road connectivity and huge investment in Afghanistan will also help in inducing Afghan regime to gravitate towards immediate neighbors rather than far off neighbors like India.
Reclusive Mullah Omar has put his weight behind the talks saying these are legitimate. He has given this policy statement despite strong opposition within Taliban ranks who maintain that no talks are possible as long as foreign troops are present on Afghan soil. This change has occured most probably because of emergence of threat of Daesh in Afghanistan and defection of segment of Taliban to Daesh and several TTP leaders pledging allegiance to Abu Bakar Baghdadi. RAW-CIA has played a role in bringing Daesh and TTP closer and creating space for Daesh in Afghanistan. Kunar-Nuristan will in all probability become a common base of operation for Daesh and TTP to bolster Khurasan movement and also to step up terrorism in tribal belt of Pakistan to recapture the lost space. In case Taliban are downed though collective efforts of ISAF, ANA and Pak Army, it will accelerate Khurasan movement, which will become uncontrollable and will engulf Afghanistan, Central Asia, Caucasian region as well as Pakistan. The only force that can effectively counter threat of Deash in this region is Pak Army in Pakistan and Taliban in Afghanistan. Pakistan should therefore play its cards sensibly and shouldn't befriend tottering Afghan regime at the cost of annoying ascending Taliban.
The writer is a defence analyst/columnist/researcher, Member Executive Council PESS, Director Measac Research Centre.email@example.com