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Archive for category Brig (Retd).Asif Haroon Raja’s Column

Stimulated instability in Af-Pak region Part-3 Asif Haroon Raja

Stimulated instability in Af-Pak region

Part-3

Asif Haroon Raja

The steep decline in America’s image and standing after 9/11 is a direct reflection of global distaste for the instruments of American hard power: the Iraq invasion, Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib, torture, rendition, and Blackwater’s killings of Iraqi civilians. – Shashi Tharoor

Unforgiving attitude of the losers

The Taliban’s meteoric victory has dejected the USA, Europe, India, Israel, Iran, liberals and seculars all over the world but has pleased the Islamists. Countries governed by parliamentary democracy and dictatorship are also upset.

The victorious Taliban after giving general amnesty to the collaborators, have neither carried out any retributions, nor demanded trials of those who had indulged in massive war crimes as was the case with the victors of the 2nd world war carrying out Nuremberg trials of the Germans, or sought war compensations.

The losing US-NATO are however, in black mood, and seem to be primed to avenge their defeat through means other than the military to teach a lesson to the Taliban as well as the convenient scapegoat Pakistan, which was first held responsible for the instability in Afghanistan and now for the victory of the Taliban, and for supporting the new regime.

Ironically the losers are trying to dictate terms to the victors and no one is asking them as to who has given them this right.

Governed by Islamophobia, Islamic Emirate is unacceptable to the prejudiced West, and is therefore finding faults in every good or bad act taken by the new regime in Kabul and is trying to unsettle them. They want them to fulfill their promises immediately. It is like asking a one-month old baby to start running.

The US controlled UN has not fulfilled its commitments given to the Palestinians and Kashmiris 74 years ago. Did the Kabul regime, the Afghan Army and India live up to the expectations of the US, or did the US fulfill its promises made to the Afghans in their 20-year rule?

The US after forcibly occupying Afghanistan chose to keep the heavy majority Afghan Pashtuns out of power and handed over the reins of power to the minority ethnic communities. Idea of an inclusive regime never occurred to the occupiers. The two puppet regimes were responsible for fomenting subversion in the region, deepening cleavages within the Afghan society and for creating a big mess. And yet the US tolerated the puppets and richly rewarded them simply because they governed the country as a so-called Islamic Republic under the US tailored constitution.   

Ill-intended demand of inclusive regime

The interim set-up in Kabul has not pleased the US, its strategic allies, and the neighbors of Afghanistan. All are insisting on an inclusive regime not realizing that how can revolutionary Taliban accommodate collaborators who aided and abetted foreign occupation, undertook mass killings and inflicted cruelties upon them. Traditionally, the revolutionaries undertook mass killings of their opponents. 

The Northern Alliance elements are though Muslims, but have a secular bent of mind and are predisposed to the western civilization and not to Pashtunwali code. They had extended their loyalties to the invading Soviet forces and also to the western forces and served them loyally. They showed no mercy to the oppressed Afghan Taliban.

Interestingly, none has insisted on selecting honest, upright and capable persons from various ethnic communities on merit.

There is no room for liberal political philosophy in Islam which had given birth to pro-rich and anti-poor deceitful modern democracy. 

Continuation of hostile policy

Yes, war is hell. It is awful. It involves human beings killing other human beings, sometimes innocent civilians. That is why we despise war. – John O. Brennan

The US is angry with Pakistan on account of refusing to provide a military base for counter terrorism purposes, its new policy of defiance and Imran Khan’s brashness to show mirror to the West. The US has got addicted to the pliant leaders and cannot tolerate defiant leaders.  

 

 

 

 

 

While Daesh-K has been activated to carry out acts of terror in Afghanistan and Pakistan, other hostile measures undertaken so far are freezing of Afghanistan’s $9.5 billion in the US banks, suspension of financial assistance by the World Bank and the IMF, and pushing the Taliban regime to grant more freedom to the women and to induct bigger number of women in the parliament.

Hybrid war has been intensified to vilify Pakistan and to disconcert the new regime in Kabul.

The US know that since the Taliban cannot be browbeaten, purchased, tricked, or humbled, the only way to have a toehold in Afghanistan is to include the lackeys from Northern Alliance in the interim as well as in permanent set-up who can be easily manipulated to act as fifth columnists and to help in sabotaging peace and stability.    

To punish Pakistan, the TTP, BLA and Daesh-K have been brought under one umbrella to accelerate terrorism in former FATA and Baluchistan, sword of FATF hasn’t been removed, and cricket teams of New Zealand and UK have cancelled their tours on account of invented insecurity. Australian and West Indies teams are likely to follow suit. Indian hand in the cricket racket has been traced and proof sent to ICC.

Political polarization and terrorism have been further intensified by the detractors to project Pakistan as politically unstable and an insecure country in order to block foreign investment.

Instability in Afghanistan as well as in Pakistan suits the spoilers since it will impede the progress of CPEC and will also prevent Afghanistan getting connected with it for which the Taliban have expressed their readiness.

Taliban’s amiability

Much to the chagrin of the spoilers, the Taliban are giving right signals to elicit support of the international community. They want to expand trade ties with other countries and have expressed willingness to induct more Tajiks, Uzbeks, Hazaras and also women in the cabinet. After operationalizing the badly damaged Kabul airport, they are seeking restoration of international flights. Their amiability will however be not at the cost of making compromises on Sharia laws.

The Taliban have forgiven their internal and external enemies, but have not forgotten their treachery. They have agreed to cooperate, but not at the cost of losing Islamic identity, Islamic culture and values. They have no intention of falling into their honeycombed trap promising moon and are taking measured steps sensibly. 

Pakistan’s stance

Since problems of Afghanistan and Pakistan are interlinked, the latter is keen to restore stability in Afghanistan at the earliest. It is right in saying that the Afghans having gone through four decades of turmoil need healing. Apart from dispatching humanitarian assistance, trading in local currency and lowering tariffs on import of fruits and vegetables, Pakistan is lobbying hard to convince the international community to send all possible assistance to stabilize the new regime.

In its view neglecting the Taliban would be disastrous for the region in particular and the world in general due to financial, food and health crises and rising poverty in Afghanistan.

Pakistan is making strenuous efforts to bring all the six neighbors of Afghanistan in one loop to tackle Afghanistan’s socio-economic issues regionally and has made good progress.

Terrorism major worry of Pakistan

Apart from economic woes, Pakistan’s major worry is continuing acts of terrorism. Reportedly, bulk of the TTP elements and its affiliated groups have moved into Pakistan and are regrouping in Loralai and Zhob. The TTP leader Noor Wali Mehsud is dreaming of bringing back former FATA under his sway and to make it an Islamic Emirate. To win over the locals, the TTP is targeting law enforcement agencies only.

The Baloch groups led by BLA have teamed up with Dr. Allah Nazar’s Lashkar Baluchistan group. They are targeting security personnel and Chinese in Quetta, Awaran, Kharan, Turbat, Gwadar, Mastung, Sibi, Mach, and Bolan. BLA-Daesh-K terrorists are operating jointly from Nago hills in Mastung and are in contact with dacoit gangs in interior Sindh. A cell of Baloch rebels is functional at Sheerzan (Chahbahar) led by Rasool Bux. With the closure of Spin Boldak main supply route, the terrorists are receiving funds and weapons from India via Sindh, Mekran coast and Sistan.  

Several intelligence based operations have been conducted in Waziristan and Baluchistan, and good results achieved. Several militant leaders were gunned down and large caches of arms recovered. Speedy completion of fencing of southwestern border along with improved border management has become necessary.      

China’s role

China is keen to fill the power vacuum in Afghanistan and has developed good understanding with the Taliban. Its flagship project of CPEC cannot perform optimally without stable Afghanistan and getting connected with CPEC through Peshawar-Kabul Highway. It has extended 200 million Yuan aid to Kabul, which includes 3 million corona vaccines. China’s foreign minister told his counterpart in Washington that it was unethical to freeze accounts of war-torn countries and advised him to unfreeze Kabul’s cash assets and to extend humanitarian assistance.

The writer is a retired Brig Gen, war veteran, defence & security analyst, international columnist, author of five books, Chairman Thinkers Forum Pakistan, Director Measac Research Centre, and Member CWC PESS & Think Tank. asifharoonraja@gmail.com    

To be concluded

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Stimulated instability in Af-Pak region Part-2 Brig.Gen(Retd)Asif Haroon Raja

Stimulated instability in Af-Pak region

Part-2

Asif Haroon Raja

Situation in Afghanistan

 

 

The seven Mujahideen groups duly supported by Pakistan had fought, defeated and ousted the occupying Soviet forces in Feb 1989 after a 10-year bloody war. Left in a lurch by the USA, they got embroiled in a power struggle which led to a civil war in 1992. Tehreek-Taliban-Movement (TTA) under Mullah Omar originated in Kandahar in 1994 as a consequence of the highly disturbed security situation in Afghanistan. Mullah Ghani Baradar was Omar’s trusted deputy. The Taliban were able to capture over 90% territory less Panjshir enclave in northeastern Badakhshan province.

 

 

 

After taking over power in Oct 1996, Mullah Omar established Islamic Emirate and in no time restored normalcy. Only Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and UAE recognized the Taliban regime. Sharia laws helped the inexperienced rulers to make the society crimes and vices free. However, war with the Northern Alliance under Ahmed Shah Masoud duly supported by Russia, Iran and the West continued unabated in the Panjshir.       

When 9/11 happened, Afghanistan was a peaceful country. In spite of the US/UN sanctions the Taliban regime had managed to run the state affairs fairly well. Al-Qaeda was blamed for the attacks and the Taliban blamed for not handing over Osama bin Laden. These two reasons were played up to ignite the emotions of the Americans and to justify the invasion of Afghanistan in Oct 2001 and deposition of Taliban regime.    

After getting regrouped in FATA, the TTA resorted to guerrilla warfare to confront many times bigger and stronger enemies. Their strengths were religious ideology, valor, faith, will to die, suicide attacks and IEDs. All the Taliban leaders including Mullah Omar remained in hiding and couldn’t be traced by the CIA-FBI in spite of big head money announced for each wanted leader. Omar died in 2013 but his death was kept secret. His successor Mullah Mansour Akhtar operating as the de facto commander from 2013 onwards was elected the Ameer in end July 2015 after Omar’s death was revealed. He cultivated relations with Iran in order to procure arms.     

Once the tide swung in favor of the Taliban after the withdrawal of bulk of 140,000 foreign troops by Dec 2014 in accordance with Obama’s drawdown program, and it was established that the Taliban couldn’t be defeated on the battleground or divided, use of airpower and drones was maximized, peace talks with the Taliban through their political office at Doha stimulated, not to make the war-torn country peaceful, but to divide the TTA.

Map Courtesy

 

 

The Afghan national army was trained by the US, British and Indian instructors. Emphasis was on making them self-reliant to be able to fight the Taliban independently.

The CIA and RAW established Daesh-Khorasan (K) at Nangarhar in 2015 and was married up with Jamaat-al-Ahrar led by Khalid Khurasani, a breakaway faction of TTP. 

Elections were held in March 2016 in which only 10% voters from urban centres and Afghan refugees in Pakistan voted, and a unity regime formed in Sept that year in which Ashraf Ghani was appointed President and Dr. Abdullah CEO/PM. The two leaders remained locked in a power tussle which further weakened the governance and institutions, and the writ of the government got confined to Kabul only.

Corruption among the ruling regime scaled new heights and drug business kept flourishing making the country the biggest narcotic producing country of the world. Flow of dollars from the US modernized the major capital cities particularly Kabul, but also decayed the morality and values of the liberals and seculars. The downtrodden became poorer and they preferred to get recruited in TTA.  

The ANDSF also got corrupted and soldiers and policemen became addicted to drugs and other social vices including selling of weapons to the Taliban and becoming their informers. Officers minted money by recruiting ghost soldiers. Warlords and drug mafias kept filling their coffers and so did the US security and defence contractors. Raising and equipping ANA helped the US Military Industrial Complex to fatten the purses of the fat cats. The ANA on which $ 1.3 trillion was spent couldn’t win a single battle against the Taliban and in each confrontation they were rescued by NATO air support. The phenomenon of green-over-blue attacks and suicides propped up and suicide cases among occupational troops suffering from home sickness and post trauma stress disorder jumped up.

The Taliban managed their war expenditures through drug profits, seizure of NATO containers and levying tax on each passing container, or on development projects in areas under their influence. They earned $ 500 million annually from the US kitty.

These negative developments enabled India to further consolidate its influence in Afghanistan, keep the Kabul regime on a warpath with Islamabad, poison the ears of the Afghans against Pakistan, and to further bolster its clandestine operations in Pakistan.

Inequities and fault lines of the ruling regime made it unpopular, thereby giving reasons to the Taliban to dub it as illegitimate, and to refuse holding talks with it. ANA’s lack of will to fight allowed the Taliban to gain more and more space in all parts of the country.

The US government kept bestowing favors to India to enable it to achieve its ominous objectives against Pakistan. It kept pouring American taxpayers money in the kitty of Afghanistan to reinforce failure, while adopting a tight fisted and discriminatory policy against Pakistan.        

The US Alternative plans

Once the occupiers realized that stalemate on the battlefield favored the Taliban, and it was no longer possible to reverse the tide, the US made alternative plans so as not to lose Afghanistan. These were:-

  • The force level of the ANDSF was gradually raised to 352,000 (Army, commandos, air force and police) and was equipped with sophisticated weaponry. They were trained to fight the Taliban independently from mid-2013 onwards by handing over frontline security to them.
  • Divide Afghanistan on ethnic lines and hand over Eastern, Southern and parts of Western Afghanistan to the Taliban where they had a definite superiority. Retain Northern Afghanistan and integrate Central and Western parts including Kabul and Herat and continue fighting the Taliban. Major drawback in this option was the loss of the main supply route to Kabul via Torkham, and dependence upon the northern network which was dicey due to the unpredictability of Russia.
  • Instead of the whole of Northern Afghanistan, retain Mazar-e-Sharif, Kunduz, Badakhshan and Bagram airbase.
  • In the backdrop of Panjshir Valley under Ahmad Shah Masoud having remained unconquered during the rule of the Taliban in the 1990s, it was considered as an option to give last ditch battle duly backed by Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. India’s air force was to supplement the US drone attacks from Farkhor air base in Tajikistan.
  • Another plan envisaged making use of Daesh-K stationed at Nangarhar in 2015, coupled with 20,000 Blackwater elements based in Bagram base to help the ANA in retaining control over the cities. This force structure guided by CIA, RAW and NDS was considered sufficient to fill the power vacuum after the departure of US-NATO troops.
  • Regroup TTP and Baloch rebel groups, bolster Daesh-K and bring them on one platform to continue destabilizing Pakistan.  
  • Return power to the Taliban peacefully through a peace deal under a policy of give-and-take, so as to retain influence in Afghanistan. The Doha agreement was signed after 18-month long negotiations with this intent in mind. For the accomplishment of this plan, Pakistan was to be pressured to convince the Taliban to share power with Ashraf Ghani regime and to keep political Islam at bay.    

New narratives after plans misfired

Once all the plans misfired and the Taliban abruptly seized power on Aug 15, the baffled occupiers had to undertake ill-planned and disorderly withdrawal. To hide their mortification, the spoilers led by the US came out with new themes and narratives to discredit the Taliban and Pakistan.

To start with, the Indo-US-Western-Israeli media blared fake news that the monsters helped by Pak Army are on the verge of snatching power and soon there will be chaos, bloodshed, civil war and refugee exodus and the Afghan women would again be shackled. This narrative remained in play till July when 90% of territory and majority of provinces including provincial capital cities had fallen and no case of human rights violation had taken place.

Taliban’s master stroke  

Learning lesson from their first takeover of power in 1996 in which about 8% of Panjshir Valley couldn’t be captured, and it had provided an opportunity to Russia, Iran, India and the West to support the Northern Alliance, this time the Taliban changed their strategy and focused more on capturing almost the whole of Northern Afghanistan including provinces of Badakshan and Kunduz as well as the palaces of Rashid Dostum, and then homing towards Kabul. Strategy of encirclement and choking of cities was adopted. After the fall of a provincial capital city, (34 in numbers), the Taliban prisoners were released who beefed up the combat strength.

All trade points with the six neighbors and inter-provincial toll plazas were captured and kept functional to earn income. 

Wherever the ANA soldiers didn’t put up a fight and surrendered, the Taliban forgave them. This led to a chain reaction and surrender became a norm thereby providing fillip to the conquests of the Taliban.

Unlike the Bolsheviks, the French and American revolutionaries, the Saudis, the Iranians and many others who butchered their fallen foes and raped their women, the Taliban announced general amnesty, which was unique. 

By treating the captured or surrendering Afghan Army soldiers humanely irrespective of their ethnic background, the Taliban neutralized them, thereby making their task of capturing major capital cities easier.

The other notable thing was that no incident of killing, theft, and rape took place in all the captured areas. Normal routine was not disrupted, and educational institutes, offices and businesses were not closed. Their benevolence won the hearts of the people and shattered the demonizing myths. Urban dwellers welcomed them and chanted pro-Taliban slogans which further shattered the morale of Afghan soldiers. Consequently, when the Taliban knocked at the gates of Kabul on Aug 14, they encountered no resistance.         

After dominating all the roads leading to Kabul and surrounding and choking the capital city, the Taliban succeeded in entering Kabul and capturing it without firing a bullet.

After the botched drama staged at Kabul airport, the mountainous Panjshir under son of Ahmad Shah Masoud and Amrullah Saleh was played up which had been stocked with huge dumps of armaments. The Taliban managed to capture it on Sept 6 and the two leaders fled to Tajikistan.

Divine intervention 

Notwithstanding willful efforts of the US led western world to economically incapacitate the newly formed interim Taliban regime on Sept 11, the latter today has huge caches of sophisticated armaments left behind by the foreign forces which include tanks, APCs, Humvis, artillery guns, rockets, small arms, jets, gunship helicopters, night vision goggles, radars, super computers etc. Damaged equipment is repairable. According to some estimates the equipment is worth $ 85 billion, sufficient to raise several corps and air force.

They have also been gifted well-developed infrastructure, eight high-tech military bases, schools, colleges and universities, airports, dry ports, modernized provincial capital cities particularly Kabul studded with large numbers of high quality shopping malls, plazas, hotels, restaurants, gaming clubs, parks, sports grounds, water filtration plants, sewerage system, hospitals, gas and electricity projects.

India gifted parliament building, two dams, Zaranj-Dilaram Highway, several educational institutes, healthcare in rural areas, and structured RAAM and NDS intelligence outfits.

The fleeing Afghan elites have also left behind plenty of foreign currency recovered from their palatial houses.

Afghanistan has trillions of dollars’ worth untapped mineral resources which the US couldn’t extract due to insecurity.

To be continued

The writer is retired Brig Gen, war veteran, defence & security analyst, international columnist, author of five books, Chairman Thinkers Forum Pakistan, Director Measac Research Centre, Member CWC PESS & Think Tank. asifharoonraja@gmail.com    

 

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Why did the USA lose in Afghanistan? by Brig.Gen (Retd)Asif Haroon Raja

Why did the USA lose in Afghanistan?

 

Brig.Gen (Retd) Asif Haroon Raja

Pakistan Army

 

 

 

The US and its allies were drunk with power and took pride in their sophisticated war munitions, technology and wealth. They were sure to win the war irrespective of having no cause, and having sinister hidden motives. The Taliban had no resources but had an edge over their opponents in the intangibles. They had complete faith in Allah and were on the righteous path. Their faith is still unshakable, and are unpurchasable. Hence their total victory is a foregone conclusion.

 

Causes of the US defeat in Afghanistan

 

Insincere and mala fide intentions filled with prejudices and injustices.

 

Cooked up charges to invade Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya.

 

No grounds to wage a cruel war against so many Muslim countries.

 

No love lost for the Afghans, Iraqis, Libyans and Syrians, or any Muslim.

 

Minority non-Pashtun Afghans were empowered and majority Pashtuns sidelined and persecuted.

 

Pakistan which was instrumental in making the US the sole superpower, was mistrusted, ridiculed and penalized, while India which has no roots in Afghanistan, didn’t take part in the war on terror, and has been the biggest spoiler of peace, was trusted and made the main player by the US.  

 

Despite allocating over a trillion dollars development funds, the US failed to better the lives of Afghans living in poverty stricken rural areas.

 

The US continued to back the inept, corrupt and unpopular regimes of Karzai and Ashraf Ghani (AG) and failed to establish a stable government in Kabul.

 

One trillion dollars were spent on raising, training and equipping the ANSF, but the US-NATO trainers failed to develop their moral fibre, sense of discipline, motivation and will to fight.

 

ISAF and ANA were pampered, heavily paid and provided luxuries, which made them comfort loving and drug addicts. 

 

All the social crimes that were cleansed by the Taliban re-appeared and Afghanistan became the leading exporter of opium in the world.

 

Practice of ruthless bombings by jets and drones caused maximum deaths and injuries to the civilians; even funerals and weddings were not spared. Torture of prisoners and night raids were the tools widely used to break the will of opposing fighters. It gravitated the sympathies of the people towards the Taliban.

 

Too much trust in military might and no attention paid to winning the hearts and minds of the Afghans.

 

Weak military commanders who didn’t know much about Afghanistan’s geography, tribal history and culture, and terrain. They never strategized or modified tactics to grapple with the tactics of the resistance forces. The IEDs threat couldn’t be tackled. More so, they didn’t inspire their own troops, what to talk of the military contingents from 48 countries. Some top commanders were involved in love affairs and sex scandals.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Image Courtesy – Global Times, People’s Republic of China

The initial plan of occupying Afghanistan by the Western and Northern Alliance forces left much to be desired. The country was strategically ringed by establishing air bases in Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Pakistan, but the inner circle was not contemplated to encircle and trap the leaders and fighters of the Taliban and Al-Qaeda. Probably avoidance of boots on ground to avoid casualties hindered this option.

 

It was a frontal invasion from the north by the Northern Alliance troops under the umbrella of airpower. Gigantic carpet bombing was carried out recklessly. With their rear areas safe, the defenders first withdrew to the caves of Tora Bora with ease, and then slipped into FATA. No effort was made to circle Tora Bora where all the wanted elements including OBL were present. Emphasis was on dropping tons and tons of molten lava from the air.

 

No effort was made to seal the porous and vulnerable border with Pakistan, again due to shortage of troops. Whole reliance was on Pakistan but it had to be a collective effort to make the concept of anvil and hammer successful. The reason was that the US wanted the border with Pakistan to remain open for clandestine use by the RAW-NDS. That’s why the Kabul regime and the US strongly objected to fencing of western border by Pakistan.

 

The ISAF made up of 48 military contingents including 28 from NATO fought the war without initial battle inoculation, and acquisition of basic knowledge of geography, terrain, culture of tribes, meaning of Pashtunwali, and training in guerrilla warfare. No motivational training was given to the troops to inculcate in them the will to fight and die. Except for top commanders, none knew the aims and objectives of the war.

 

Opening of the second front in Iraq in 2003 when the Afghan front was fluid, indulgence in covert wars, and hybrid war were at the cost of consolidating gains in Afghanistan through development and education. Only important capitals were finely developed while the vast rural areas were neglected.  The two-front war resulted in distraction and division of resources and enabled the Taliban to bounce back in 2006.     

 

The real war started in 2009 after the two troop surges swelling the combat strength of the ISAF from 8000 to 1, 40,000, but Gen McChrystal lost heart in the first major offensive in Helmand due to heavy casualties of the ISAF. 

 

Biggest mistake made was when the ISAF troops were withdrawn backwards and bunkered in the safety of 8 military bases in capital cities in 2009. The entire rural belt in the eastern and southern Afghanistan was vacated thereby allowing the Taliban to gain initiative and a military edge over the occupiers and their collaborators.

 

Obama should have exited from Afghanistan after he concluded that it was an unwinnable war, and the main mission of killing OBL and professed destruction of Al-Qaeda had been accomplished. Clinging on to Afghanistan for next nine years on the insistence of Pentagon and Resolute Support Mission commanders was militarily unsound. This inordinate delay swelled the avoidable human and financial losses of occupational troops as well as of the ANSF and the civilians.  

 

The next mistake made by Obama was his broadcasted plan to withdraw troops by Dec 2014. The thinning out started in July 2011 and by 2013 frontline security was handed over to the ANA. It demoralized the ANA, snatched the fighting spirit of the ISAF whose troops wanted to return home alive and in one piece, spurred the Taliban and they stepped up their offensive. Their momentum accelerated from 2015. From that time onwards, the US for all practical purposes had lost the war, but due to pressure from the Pentagon, the US kept reinforcing failure.

 

To avoid body bags, Obama introduced the deadly pilotless drones as a choice weapon of war. Disproportionate use of drones was cowardly and unethical.

 

The US didn’t seriously negotiate with the Taliban between 2006 and 2014 when it was strong on ground and became serious in 2018-19 when it had become weak.

 

The decentralized Taliban field commanders under one Ameerul Momenein Mullah Omar outclassed the ISAF commanders in strategy and tactics. No change came in their vigor under Mullah Mansour and incumbent Mullah Haibatullah. New recruits kept getting enrolled and the numbers swelled. 

 

The US spent more time on blame game rather than focusing on its primary mission of stabilizing Afghanistan. By blaming Pakistan, Haqqani Network and Quetta Shura for its political and military failures, the US tried to cover up its fault lines. This blame-game continued even after all the terrorist groups were flushed out of FATA in 2015   

 

Trump tried to salvage the fast deteriorating security situation but failed and ultimately had to sign a peace agreement with the Taliban at Doha in February 2019. All foreign troops were to withdraw by May 2021. That was another turning point in the fortunes of the Taliban since the historic agreement had given them recognition and enhanced their stature internationally. 

 

Yet another defining moment came when Joe Biden announced on April 14, 2021 that the longest war will be winded up and all foreign troops would pull out by Sept 11, 2021. This date was advanced to August 31.

 

All roads in Afghanistan were opened for the triumphant Taliban to race forward and capture as much territory in May, June and July. With 80% territory and most trade transit points in the control of the Taliban, the final phase to capture cities that are already under their siege is likely to start after August 31, or Sept 11. For the ANA, the summer period up to Oct/early November is tough.

 

Endgame

 

In the endgame, the losers have suddenly changed their stance from a military solution to a peaceful solution of the tangle. Their narrative of blaming Pakistan for the instability in Afghanistan has been modified and now the Taliban are painted as violence prone and anti-peace.

 

While the winning Taliban have expressed their willingness to accommodate all less Ashraf Ghani (AG) and his team, the US and the whole world in general including Pakistan are standing behind the unpopular regime in Kabul and are pressuring Taliban to share power with AG and accept him as the elected president till next elections. The spoilers as well as others are also against the basic demand of the Taliban to establish Islamic Emirate.

 

This change of narrative clubbed with a petrifying story that there will be chaos, prolonged civil war, bloodshed and refugee exodus due to Taliban’s obstinacy and fancy for bloodletting, has drifted the attention of the world from the stupefying victory of the Taliban and disgraceful defeat and abrupt exit of the US forces. Whole focus has shifted to the future horrid scenario of Afghanistan based on premeditated assumptions.

 

For 20 years the world quietly stomached the brutalities of the mad adventurers wanting to bludgeon Al-Qaeda and the Taliban without a murmur. A minority government of non-Pashtuns remained in power and the majority Pashtuns remained in the backwoods. 

 

And now when the Taliban are getting closer to regain power which was illegally snatched from them, the world led by the spoilers of peace are giving sermons of peace to the winners and advising them that there is no military solution to Afghan crisis.

 

The infatuation of the US for the puppet regime in Kabul is so passionate that the US has announced its full diplomatic and financial support to it and air support to the shaky ANA. While Pakistan is in two minds, China is unhesitant in extending full support to the Taliban and to fill the power vacuum in Afghanistan.

 

                                 

 

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Fall of another superpower in Afghanistan   by Brig.Gen(Retd) Asif Haroon Raja

Fall of another superpower in Afghanistan

 

Asif Haroon Raja

 

Afghanistan occupied under fake charges

When George W. Bush decided to invade Afghanistan in order to avenge the attacks in New York and Washington allegedly masterminded by Osama bin Laden (OBL) led al-Qaeda on 9/11, the US was the most powerful country of the world and it had carved out a New World Order to monopolize the world for next 100 years. After its capture in Nov 2001, Afghanistan was converted into a permanent military station. Northern Alliance forces supported by the air umbrella provided by the Western forces captured the most impoverished country, singing the song of freedom and liberty, promising to make it democratic and prosperous and to emancipate the Afghan women by promoting education and liberalism. The dancing and cheering crowds in Kabul welcomed their Western liberators and thanked them for freeing them from the clutches of the brutal Taliban. The happiest were the Afghan Northern Alliance forces who came riding on the shoulders of the western forces.  

 

Hidden Objectives. The major objectives of the US were:-

Destabilise China’s Xinjiang Province by stoking Uighur and ETIM movement. Disrupt China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) and effectively contain China. Unsettle resurging Russia. Denuclearize Pakistan and make it a compliant state. Affect a regime change in Iran. Monitor the unravelling of the Middle East after capturing Iraq, again on false charges. Demonise Islam.

 

The US also planned to make India a key player in Afghanistan, economically and militarily fortify it to become a bulwark against China and a policeman of the Indo-Pacific region. Pakistan was taken on board as a tactical partner for the achievement of its short term objectives and its nuclear teeth were to be extracted covertly.

History of Al-Qaeda & OBL

30, 000  Mujahids assembled by the CIA from different Muslim countries including Saudi Arabia, were brought to FATA, chosen as a base of operation in 1981, to beef up the strength of Afghan/Pakistan Mujahideen and to fight the Soviet forces in Afghanistan. The war was won by the Afghan Mujahideen, helped by Mujahids from other countries including FATA tribesmen, and fully supported by the ISI. Not a single American or European soldier took part in the ten years war. After the war, not only Pakistan and the Mujahideen were abandoned by the US, the latter were not accepted by their respective countries. They had to reside in Afghanistan and in FATA. (Today the US is worried about the settlement of the pro-Afghan regime and the US Afghans who didn’t part in the war, and intend to shift 18000 Afghan interpreters, who had worked with them, all-told 80,000 with families, by July 2021).

The holy warriors under OBL named as Al-Qaeda by the CIA were declared as terrorists in 1997 and were hounded after they attacked American targets in two African countries and the Gulf of Aqaba in reaction to their relinquishment. The CentCom under Gen Zinni attacked Al-Qaeda base in Afghanistan with cruise missiles from a naval warship deployed in the Arabian Sea in 1998 but missed OBL. Since this outfit was on the hit list, it was promptly blamed for the 9/11 attacks. No proof of Al-Qaeda’s involvement has been furnished to this day. Not a single wanted militant was killed in the massive Tora Bora bombing in Dec 2001 in which not even a lizard survived. Suffering from acute kidney disease, OBL slipped into North Waziristan and next to Haripur. It was widely reported in 2005 that he had died, after which the biggest manhunt ever launched went cold. For sure, he was completely cut off from Al-Qaeda and posed no threat to the USA. Reportedly, he was killed by the US Navy Seals on May 2, 2011, in a house in Abbottabad, but the story of his killing woven by the USA left many lingering doubts about its authenticity and it is not certain whether it was OBL or his son, or a dummy. Dumping the dead body in the sea secretly raised many questions which have not been answered. Most of the Naval Seal members who had taken part in Operation ‘Get Osama’ died either in a helicopter crash in Afghanistan or were killed by mysterious hands.      

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Photo- Courtesy Al Jazeera

 

 

 

After taking the credit of killing OBL over whom $ 25 million head money had been announced, President Obama proudly declared in 2012, that Al-Qaeda had been effectively disrupted, dismantled and destroyed. In actuality, it was weakened mainly by Pakistan security forces by netting over 600 senior and middle-order leaders. They were handed over to the CIA for onward transfer to Guantanamo Bay. The majority had shifted to Arabian Peninsula in 2004/05 after the invasion of Iraq by western forces in March 2003 and had formed APAQ under Al-Zawahiri.

Bounce back by Taliban

The Taliban under Mullah Omar who had taken active part in Jihad against the Soviets and had lost an eye, ruled Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001 and had made the lawless country stable and peaceful. He refused to hand over OBL, whom he treated as his guest, without furnishing proof of his involvement, and on account of the injunctions of Islam and demands of Pashtunwali. On the insistence of Pakistan, he agreed to hold his trial in Saudi Arabia or any other country under Islamic laws. The US rejected his reasonable demands since they had no proof and 9/11 was an in-house drama.

In the wake of the relentless carpet bombing of the invaders, Mullah Omar in consultation with his Majlis-e-Shura wisely decided to carry out a tactical withdrawal into FATA in Nov 2001 to save the people and the country from further deaths and destruction; regroup and fight an insurrectional war. Within a year they started hitting back and thereon fought the invaders ceaselessly.

Unlike in the 1980s when the Mujahideen were backed by the whole free world under the USA, this time they fought single-handedly without any external support. By 2008, they managed to bounce back in a big way in their home bases of southern and eastern Afghanistan, from where they could target the invaders and collaborators in other parts of the country. Mullah Omar’s fighters in the south and Haqqanis under Sirajuddin in the east surged forward in coordination and started hitting targets in all parts of the country. They were ready to face the two troop surges ordered by Obama in 2009 from Iraq and the USA.

ISAF’s change of posture

Gen McChrystal who had earned fame untruthfully on account of defeating Al-Qaeda in Western Iraq, (but the feat, in reality, had been achieved by Sunni Iraqis), was posted to Afghanistan as ISAF Commander in 2008 to defeat the surging Taliban. With no dearth of airpower and resources, he requested for additional 100,000 ground troops which were granted by Obama. With over 140,000 combat strength, he launched a major offensive in 2009 in Helmand province which had become the hotbed due to the attraction of poppy trade, and where Britain had built the biggest cantonment near Lashkar Gah, the provincial capital of Helmand, and named it Camp Boston. After Bagram airbase, it was the strongest fort of the occupiers. An auxiliary was launched in Kunar-Nuristan.

The ISAF suffered much more casualties in Helmand operations than they had suffered in previous years, and also met a big fiasco in Nuristan. Frightened by the mounting casualties, the General lost his offensive steam and hastened to adopt a rearward posture, confining the troops to the 8 military bases and terminating the use of boots on the ground. Support to the Afghan forces was restricted to air cover only. The defensive strategy enabled the Taliban to gain the initiative and a military edge that could not be regained by the occupiers and the collaborators.

Obama’s drawdown of troops

Obama after spelling out his Af-Pak strategy in March 2009, made Holbrooke the coordinator. He wanted hot pursuit operations by Special Operations Forces into FATA based on actionable intelligence, but Gen Ashfaq Kayani put his foot down, saying his forces were capable of dealing with the militant threat. Seeing that the war couldn’t be won, Obama rightly took the decision at the Brussels conference in December 2010 and ordered a troop drawdown in July 2011 which was to be completed by Dec 2014. With the achievement of major objectives of destroying Al-Qaeda and killing OBL, there was no justifiable reason for the US to prolong the drawdown of troops from July 2011 to Dec 2014. On one hand, Obama opened peace talks with the Taliban in 2011, on the other hand, he stepped up drone war and declared drones as his chosen weapon, the brunt of which fell upon Waziristan in Pakistan.

Pentagon and the spoilers prevailed upon Obama to sign a bilateral security agreement with the new unity regime of Ashraf Ghani-Dr. Abdullah in Sept 2016 by virtue of which a Resolute Support Group (RSG) of about 12000 troops were to stay in Afghanistan in all the airbases for another year, but the dates of their departure kept extending.  

Once the bulk of the 1, 40, 000 ISAF troops withdrew by Dec 2014, and the two power contenders of the unnatural unity government remained engaged in power tussle, the Taliban accelerated their spring offensives each year and kept gaining more and more space. Nothing was achieved by prolonging the occupation, except for prolonging the agony of the resistance forces, the occupying forces, the government forces and the civilians. But the Pentagon kept painting a rosy picture to befool the American public that the US was winning the war and all was okay.

Doha agreement

Trump, after adopting a hardline approach in 2017-18, reopened peace talks with the Taliban in Sept 2018 and signed a peace agreement at Doha on Feb 29, 2019. The Kabul regime was kept aside throughout the talks. While the Taliban agreed that they will not allow Afghan soil for terrorism against any other country, the US agreed to exit by May 1, 2021. It was also agreed that both sides would refrain from attacking each other, Taliban leaders would be removed from the UN blacklist, and the Taliban would start an intra-Afghan dialogue soon after the release of prisoners. 

By the time Trump left the White House, only 2500 US troops were left in Afghanistan. Commitments made with the Taliban had mostly remained unfulfilled. 3500 foreign troops had been killed and more than one lac casualties of civilians had taken place in Afghanistan since 2009.            

Violation of Doha agreement by Biden

No sooner Joe Biden took over in January 2021, the lobbyists sprang into action, some pro and some against the pullout by the due date. Those against the retreat spread scary stories. On March 29, MSNBC host Joe Scarborough used his high-profile “Morning Joe” show to suggest that pulling out would lead to Islamic State militants burning people in cages and the Taliban “cutting off the heads of young girls.”

Influenced by the Pentagon, Israel, Kabul regime, India and 18000 security contractors in Afghanistan, Biden decided to review the Feb 2019 Doha agreement and seemed inclined to delay the departure by six months or so under the plea of arriving at a political settlement. He blamed the Taliban for violating the Doha agreement and promoting violence.

The Taliban shot back saying they were strictly abiding by all the clauses of the agreement but it was the US that had not honoured it. They recalled that the US failed to get their 7000 prisoners out of 10,000 locked up in jails of all the 34 provincial capitals, it failed to remove Taliban leaders from the blacklist, and the US airpower struck their fighters during their fight with ANA.  

New date of Sept 11 given for the pullout

Those in favour of timely pullout began to mount pressure on Biden giving their set of arguments and reminding him of the homesickness and demoralization of the leftover troops in Afghanistan, increased trends of suicides, and tens of thousands suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). After wrongfully blaming the Taliban for not abiding by the terms of an agreement that were refuted, sense prevailed and Biden acted before it was too late to avert the blowback by announcing on April 14 the new exit date of 11 Sept to end the longest war in US history. Four months extension was a bad idea, futile and at the cost of loss of face. It heralded the burial of the third superpower in the graveyard of Afghanistan. 

Extension of withdrawal date was taken by the Taliban as a violation of the agreement. They warned that after the deadline of May 1, they will be justified to launch their spring offensive with full force.

Hurried Departure from Bagram airbase

The foreign troops started exiting from May 1 onwards and the bulk of pullout was completed by July 3 to ensure participation of the troops in the US Independence Day on July 4. The largest and strongest Bagram airbase was the last to be vacated on the night of 2 July. The lights of the base were put off to conceal the exit which was undertaken in complete secrecy. Even the ANA Commander who was to take over the security and management of the airbase learnt about it 2 hours after their departure. No handing/taking took place nor any sendoff was arranged. The date and time of exit were kept secret to ensure the security of the US troops.

Fear was not from the Taliban who they knew would honor their commitment, but they were not sure of the loyalties of the ANA since they had been involved in Green over Blue attacks and several Americans had died at their hands inside Bagram base. 

One can imagine the fright and jangled nerves of the last batch of US soldiers during the first half of night 2/3 July impatiently wanting to sneak out safe and sound in one piece. Huge dumps of storage, arms, ammunition and sophisticated equipment (3,500,000 items) were left behind unattended. For two hours the base was looted by the people living in close vicinity and they managed to run away with whatever booty they could lay their hands on. It was a sorry spectacle, an inglorious withdrawal undertaken in panic and a disgrace. Only about 650 to 1000 American troops are now present in Kabul for the protection of American diplomats and Kabul airport. They are expected to leave by the end of August 2021.

Stepped up offensive of Taliban

The Taliban had already drawn a comprehensive war strategy and had divided the country into five commands (Western, Southern, Eastern, Northern and Central) with respective field commanders. Sirajuddin Haqqani and Mullah Omar’s son Mullah Yaqub are the two deputies of Haibatullah Akhundzada. Taking advantage of the speedy withdrawal of occupation troops, the Taliban stepped up their attacks after May 1, and in May-June captured 60-100 new districts including seven in Badakshan northeastern province and several districts in northern Kunduz province. . At several places, the ANA surrendered without putting up resistance and handed over military equipment. Well over 1000 ANA troops bolted to Tajikistan from Badakhshan leaving behind a huge quantity of arms, ammunition, equipment, tanks, armoured cars and vehicles.

Badghis province including its capital Qila Nau fell to the Taliban on July 6, which is the first urban centre to fall and will not be the last. In the remaining half a month of July, and 4 weeks of August, the Taliban are likely to capture many more districts/cities and tighten the noose around major cities including Kabul. Ultimately the centre of gravity will reside in Kabul.

The Taliban now control 85% of Afghanistan’s territory including 270 of 398 districts. They have succeeded in dominating all the major highways and almost all major cities are under their siege. With such speedy and easy successes, the Taliban stopped the intra-Afghan dialogue and got wholly focused on exploiting the momentum gained and capturing as much territory in the shortest possible time and stand on a strong bargaining position.

Having gained control over Sher Khan Killi in a district in Kunduz, which is a dry port on the border with Tajikistan, the Taliban are now in control over the sole crossing point between Afghanistan and Tajikistan. Likewise, Islam Qila crossing point in Farah province bordering Iran, three crossing points of Torkham, Chaman and Spin Boldak into Pakistan, Torghundi into Turkmenistan, and the one into Uzbekistan have also been seized. The Wakhan corridor is in their grasp. The Taliban recovered Rupees 3 billion from the office of Afghan intelligence Col near the entry gate at Chaman, which was meant for payment to the proxies. 

With all the transit points used for trade with other countries and also the inter-provincial crossing points in their control, the Taliban have started earning billions from custom duty and toll tax to run the administration by shadow governors and to dispense justice through Qazi courts.

The Taliban will prefer to throttle the cities and the government rather than head-on attacks. This has become evident from the seizure of oil tankers moving to Kabul and other big cities by the Taliban to deny fuel to the ANA vehicles, tanks, helicopters and jets and thus force them to surrender.

With the acquisition of surface to air SAM anti-air launchers as well as anti-tank FGM 148 Javelin rockets, the Taliban are now in a position to strike ANA’s attack helicopters and tanks. One helicopter was recently shot down and seven ANA pilots were killed. Sensing that the Taliban are now in possession of long-range rockets and might be supplied drones by Iran, the US has installed an air defence system at the airport. Indian pilots flying Afghan air force helicopters and India having promised to supply 21 helicopters would now be thinking differently

Bounded by the Doha agreement, the Taliban refrained from attacking the foreign troops. Had they attacked them and caused fatalities and injuries, could Biden afford to accept responsibility for more deaths and that too without any tangible results? It was quite obvious that when 1, 40,000 strong ISAF couldn’t reverse the tide from 2009 to 2019, what could 2500 troops achieve.

 

Lessons from history

Learning from history, the Taliban have activated their political and diplomatic fronts and have sent their delegations to Moscow, Tehran, Beijing, Islamabad, and capitals of Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan, assuring them that they are against bloodshed. China and Turkmenistan’s concern would be the ETIM and that of Tajikistan IMU. The Taliban have stated that they will not allow cross border terrorism, do not war with any neighbour, will maintain friendly relations with them, will ensure safe, secure and strong Afghanistan, will not allow bloodshed of the Afghans, and are keen to rebuild the country, and would welcome the international community to develop the war-torn country.

They have adopted a forgiving attitude and are welcoming the Afghan troops surrendering to them. They have assured all uniformed personnel with job surety. They have already indicated their leniency towards the education of girls and have also said that the future government will be all-inclusive, and the system of governance will be decided in accordance with the wishes of the people. So far no case of killing or torture or humiliation of the surrendered troops has been reported. All hospitals, schools, and administrative bodies have been allowed to remain functional. A department of public works has been opened which is busy constructing/repairing roads and bridges all over the country. All this indicates that the Taliban are maintaining a happy balance between their military, political and diplomatic strategies and are projecting themselves as seasoned, well versed and balanced.

Respecting the coming Eidul Azha, the Taliban announced on July 15 a 3-month ceasefire which will be subject to the Afghan regime agreeing to release their 7000 prisoners and the US removing their leaders from the blacklist. These are not new demands but are contained in the Doha agreement. It is a smart move since it will placate the Taliban fighters, shift the ball into the court of the other side, allow the Taliban to consolidate its gains in the captured areas, and also will refrain the ANA from launching counter-attacks to recover some of the lost regions.     

The threat of isolation.

In response to the pressure exerted upon the Taliban that they will be ostracized by the international community if they refuse to let go of their resolve to establish an Islamic Emirate instead of the Islamic Republic, and shirked from establishing a broad-based government inclusive of the incumbent regime in Kabul, or if they take over Kabul by force, they say that governed by the pulls of geo-economics, the world needs Afghanistan, while they could do without the support of the world as they had done in their previous rule. They said that the Doha agreement was by itself a certificate of world recognition.   

Role of spoilers

 

The tottering Afghan regime, dejected India and the biased western media are collectively spreading scary stories and demeaning the Taliban that they are responsible for the violence and instability and are non-cooperative to restore peace. To tarnish the Taliban’s policy of forgiveness and announcement of general amnesty to all, a story is in circulation that the Taliban killed 22 Afghan commandos in their captivity. The news was denied by the Taliban, saying that after losing the battle, the commandos were caught while they were trying to cross into Turkmenistan and they are with them as guests.

 

In order to hide their embarrassment, the government officials of Afghanistan are spreading false news that Pakistan army special units are taking part in operations with the Taliban against the ANA. They also allege that the PAF is providing close support to the Taliban in certain areas. Going further, they allege that the PAF has warned ANA and air force that any attempt to dislodge the Taliban from Spin Boldak will be repelled by PAF.

The propagandists in Afghanistan and their western backers look the other way to the double-dealings of India. India’s two C-130s were sent to Kandahar on July 10 -11 to evacuate their stranded diplomats and RAW operatives. On each day, 40 tons of war munitions consisting of 120 mm mortars, 122 mm artillery shells and small arms ammunition was offloaded for use by the ANA. On one hand, India is bending over backwards to win the friendship of the Taliban and has sent its delegations to Doha, and on the other hand, it is supplying arms to the ANA to fight the Taliban.   

 

The US legacy of failures

 

The Americans are leaving a legacy of failures. They could neither defeat nor contain the Taliban nor were in a position to stay on or exit safely. They could not develop the country, alleviate poverty and reduce illiteracy. They also failed to end corruption and improve the governance of the regime it installed in Kabul, and couldn’t sufficiently train the ANA and inculcate desired motivation and will to be able to fight the rag-tag Taliban. A small percentage of the elite and the ruling regime got rich while the vast majority still live in abject poverty. Not a single objective could be accomplished. The US earned nothing from this ill-conceived venture except for losing grace, respect and incurring a huge financial loss. It has shown the world that there has been yet another war that the US couldn’t win.

War losses

 

The foreign soldiers killed in Afghanistan — almost 3,500 of them, including 1,892 American combatants — have died for nothing.  The entire war has been a disgraceful catastrophe.

Cost of Afghan war $ 2.26 trillion; human cost 241000; refugees 2.7 million; persons displaced 4 million; to train one soldier in Afghanistan $175,000 and salary $ 45000; expenses of technology, research and vehicles $ 300,000 per soldier; miscellaneous expenses $ 1.5 million per soldier; guns & equipment $28,000 per soldier. A soldier cost $ 2 million to the US exchequer. It doesn’t include the expenditures on treating 66000 PSDs cases, thousands of injured and crippled, or the amount spent on bribes and covert operations.  After recklessly spending so much, Afghanistan was left worse off than before.

Afghan urbanites in panic

The urbanites in Afghanistan are in panic and are spending sleepless nights fearing how the Taliban would deal with them. They are trying to flee the country; hundreds are lined up daily outside the embassies seeking visas. They are thoroughly disappointed and disillusioned with the American forces, and feel they have been left high and dry at the mercy of the marauding Taliban.

Elbowed by the faltering Afghan regime, few hundred women came out on the streets in some cities holding guns and placards and chanting anti-Taliban slogans, in their bid to stir up demoralized Afghan forces. A rally of non-Pashtuns was also stage-managed to show to the world that the people are against the Taliban and the situation is getting ripened for a civil war. Historically, the liberals and seculars have mostly welcomed the invaders and became their loyalists, or fled the country, and seldom took up arms.       

Iran and Pakistan’s importance

Iran which sits on the mouth of the strategic Strait of Hormuz in the Indian Ocean is important for China for the extension of CPEC into Middle Eastern and African markets and beyond. For this purpose, Beijing signed $ 450 billion long term strategic agreement with Iran and managed to throw out India from the Chahbahar project and the railway line project connecting Zahidan with Helmand and beyond in Afghanistan. The agreement included the stationing of 5000 Chinese troops on Iranian soil.

China eager to fill the power vacuum

After the departure of the US, China is anxious to fill the vacuum left behind by the US in Afghanistan. It is already in close liaison with the ruling regime in Kabul and the Taliban. It had been persuading Ashraf Ghani since 2016 to join the BRI but he was reluctant due to American and Indian factors. After the Doha agreement, the Chinese officials were constantly in touch with the Taliban and found them receptive. The CPEC is the flagship project of the BRI, which cannot attain its optimum economic potential without taking Afghanistan in the loop. 

For China, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iran are equally important for the success of the CPEC, and in this regard peace and stability in neighbouring Afghanistan, which is contiguous to Pakistan and three Republics of Central Asia is essential in order to draw maximum benefits from the six mineral-laden Central Asian States.

China is keen to build a highway connecting Peshawar with Kabul to connect Afghanistan with CPEC and is looking forward to laying road infrastructure, railway lines and gas/oil pipelines.

Both China and Pakistan can jointly do a lot to develop the war-ravaged country. China must also be eagerly eyeing the mineral resources of Afghanistan, which the US couldn’t extract.

Turkey’s insistence on defending Kabul airport

Turkey has been part of the coalition taking part in the war on terror in Afghanistan. Since 2007, its 500 troops have been defending Kabul airport and are still there. Being part of NATO, Erdogan offered to continue performing this role after the departure of the US troops. He asked the US to provide financial, political and diplomatic support. He also asked for Hungary and Pakistan to provide additional support. Probably Erdogan has made this offer hoping that the US would remove sanctions imposed over the installation of the Russian S-400 air defence system in Turkey, facilitate Turkey’s membership of EU, and overlook Turkey’s intrusion in the eastern Mediterranean for oil and gas exploration.

The Taliban have however reacted strongly stating that if the Turkish troops didn’t withdraw by Sept 11, it will be against the Doha agreement and the violators will be branded as occupiers and dealt with accordingly. They said that they are quite capable of managing and defending Kabul airport. 

Prospects of civil war

In my view, the spoilers of peace are drumming up a fake narrative of civil war, refugee influx and all regional countries getting affected by the intensified instability in Afghanistan under the Taliban. What could be worse than what has been experienced by the Afghans and Pakistan during the 20-year war on terror? The situation would gradually calm down after August 31 provided the spoilers are kept at bay and the Taliban allowed to restore peace and order, and Pakistan plays its cards sagaciously. Pakistan should avoid going the extra mile to help the illegitimate Kabul regime which is pro-India and anti-Pakistan, merely to please the US and in the bargain dishearten the Taliban. In case the situation becomes explosive in Afghanistan brewed up by the spoilers, there is a possibility of China deploying its peacekeeping force in the war-torn country.

Pakistan’s response

Instead of reaching out to the Taliban and extending support to them in their testing times when the whole world seems to have ganged up against them, Pakistan has teamed up with others to maximize pressure upon them and is creating hurdles in their way. It looks as if Pakistan is friendlier with its adversaries. It has been constantly pressuring the Taliban to enter into an agreement with the US-installed regime in Kabul which the Taliban view as collaborators and illegitimate.    

The loaded statement of the Taliban spokesperson Zabihullah Mujahid is evocative and says it all. The last sentence of his interview to a Pakistani TV channel was, “If our decisions were in the hands of Pakistan, the USA would have succeeded in its mission a long time back, forcing us to surrender and after tying our hands and legs, handed us over to others”.

The writer is a retired Brig Gen, he took part in the epic battle of Hilli in the 1971 War with India, defence & security analyst, international columnist, author of five books, his sixth book under publication, Chairman Thinkers Forum Pakistan, Director Measac Research Centre, Member CWC PESS & Think Tank. asifharoonraja@gmail.com       

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Talibanization by Brig(Retd) Asif Haroon Raja, Pakistan Army

Talibanization

Asif Haroon Raja

Taliban movement

 

 

 

In reaction to the infighting and power tussle between the seven warring Mujahideen groups in the aftermath of defeat and ouster of Soviet forces in Feb 1989, the Taliban movement led by Mullah Omar erupted in 1994 in Kandahar, which was his birthplace. By Sept 1996 they managed to take control over 93% of Afghanistan’s territory including Kabul and they established Islamic Emirate. A small toehold in the north was held by Northern Alliance (NA) forces under Ahmed Shah Masood. Only Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and UAE recognized the regime in Kabul, while Russia, the West, Iran and India supported NA. The NA army and air force were trained in Iran by Iranian and Indian instructors.  

Peace restored

Strict Islamic laws helped the Taliban in overpowering warlords and their private militias, eliminating street crimes, rapes, drug trafficking and all other social vices and making the lawless country stable and peaceful. They came on the wrong side of the West due to the restrictions imposed upon the women, their education, dress code and liberal habits. The destruction of Bamiyan statues became another sore point. But it was the cancellation of gas and oil pipelines deal with the UNICAL which broke the camel’s back and the country was put under sanctions by the US in 1997. The Taliban would have continued to rule for a long duration had they not been forcibly toppled by the western forces in Nov 2001.

Talibanization in Pakistan

Like the word ‘Fundamentalism’ coined by the West after the takeover of Iran by an Islamic regime of Imam Khomeini in 1979, the word ‘Talibanization’ was drummed up in the 1990s when a segment of people of FATA and Malakand Division got influenced by the Taliban movement in Afghanistan. Tehrik-Nifaz-Sharia- Muhammadi (TNSM) movement under Sufi Muhammad in Malakand in the early 1990s became so threatening that the Khyber Frontier Corps had to launch an operation in 1994 to subdue them but not before agreeing to their demand of introducing Sharia in that division. Sufi’s son-in-law Fazlullah was the product of TNSM but he later on joined TTP in 2007 and turned Swat into his fiefdom and wreaked havoc.

The initial wave of Talibanization sprouted in FATA in South Waziristan (SW) under Naik Muhammad from the Wazir tribe in 2003, which was in reaction to the deployment of the army in SW. Interestingly, the first batch of regular troops was sent to SW by the then 11 Corps Commander Lt Gen Aurakzai, himself a tribesman. Naik was killed by a US drone in 2004 after he signed a peace deal in a fort in SW with Lt Gen Safdar.

Birth of Tehrik-Taliban-Pakistan (TTP)

The TTP came into being in Dec 2006 under unknown Baitullah Mehsud, hailing from the Mehsud belt in SW, which had its tentacles in all the seven agencies of FATA, and each TTP chapter under a different commander. Hafiz Gul Bahadar of the Othman Wazir tribe was commander in North Waziristan (NW). His one-legged cousin Abdullah Mehsud who had lost his leg in the Afghan Jihad was released from Gitmo after staying there for two and a half years. He too took to militancy but operated outside the zone of Baitullah. He died in a crossfire in Zhob in 2007.  

Taliban-TTP empathy

A tacit understanding was developed between the Afghan Taliban and the TTP, the former confining their battle to Afghanistan and the TTP to Pakistan. Logically, the TTP should have targeted NATO containers and CIA/FBI agents deployed in FATA and American targets to help the Afghan Taliban to achieve their mission. Instead, they targeted Pak security forces, Khasadars, police stations, government officials, schools, jails, and barber and music shops.

Once their sphere of influence spread to urban centres, they targeted ISI setups, GHQ, Naval HQ, Kamra base, Mehran naval base, FIA HQ, and many other sensitive installations apart from the wave of suicide bombings and IEDs.

The TTP came in the bad books of the people once it was recognized that their claim of establishing Islamic Nizam was a farce, and they were on the payroll of foreign agencies and had created lawlessness in the tribal belt at their behest. When Baitullah was killed by the US drone in August 2009, he had left behind more than $ one billion stashed in his in-law’s house. 

The TTP command and communication infrastructure under Hakimullah Mehsud was busted and all its leaders and fighters were pushed out of Pakistan in 2015. To stop infiltration of terrorists, over 90% of fencing of the western border has been completed and border management vastly improved.

Although the Afghan and Pakistani Taliban are of the same stock and creed, in practice there is a vast difference. While the former is not purchasable, the leaders and the led both lead a Spartan life strictly by Islamic injunctions, and have been fighting for a just cause to free their land from the illegal occupiers and to get rid of the collaborators, the latter is devoid of scruples and they fought for dollars and are playing into the hands of adversaries of Pakistan.

Views of moderates in Pakistan

With high prospects of the Afghan Taliban returning to power, fears are being expressed in certain quarters about the possibility of re-emergence of the phenomenon of Talibanization in the Pashtun belts of KP and Baluchistan.

The moderates in Pakistan brand the two entities as two sides of the same coin and strongly feel that both have been operating in unison with common goals. Their suspicion has increased since the Taliban who are now in control of 85% of Afghanistan’s territory including most of the crossing/transit points with neighbours, so far they have not taken any step to rein in the TTP and their affiliates, all residing in Taliban dominated districts/provinces.

However, the good news is that the Taliban have given an assurance to Pakistan that the TTP will not be allowed to carry out cross border terrorism. I have a hunch that, like the call given to the estranged Baloch leaders, a similar call could be given to the TTP leaders once the Taliban hold the reins of power in Kabul.

Irrespective of the assurances, Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Qureshi stated on July 10th that, “We do not want Talibanization of our country”. The Islamists and conservatives have interpreted his statement that what he implied was that we do not want Islamization of Pakistan, and would like it to remain a secular country with Islam in name only. Sherry Rehman and NSA Moeed Yusaf attending the Senate Committee on Foreign Affairs nodded in agreement and were all smiles.

New Taliban more seasoned than old Taliban

Learning from their last offensive drive from 1994 to 1996 in which they moved upwards from Kandahar in southern Afghanistan towards other parts of the country, it had enabled the NA to fall back to Northern Afghanistan and hold on to Panjsher Valley which couldn’t be captured by the Taliban. This time they changed their strategy and focused more on northern parts and today are in control of greater numbers of its districts including Sher Khan Killi, a transit point to Tajikistan.  

With 85% territory in their control and 28 out of 34 provinces in their bag, five out of six transit points including Islam Qila opposite Iran seized and having gained dominance over the major highways, militarily they are in a very strong position and they are smelling victory.

Although they have encircled all the capital cities and major urban centres, they are in no hurry to attack and capture them since it would entail bloodshed. What they seem to be doing is to choke the cities by disallowing food and arms supplies to the defending armed soldiers and force them to voluntarily surrender. This is in line with their announced policy that they will not allow further bloodshed of the Afghans.  

Poor fight back by ANA and Taliban’s affability

The world was taken by surprise when they saw the well-trained and equipped ANA troops surrendering to the Taliban at several places without putting up a fight. The Americans had spent over $ 80 billion to prepare them to be able to fight with the Taliban on their own, but all seem to have gone to waste.

What surprised the world the most was the polite and sanguine behaviour of the victorious Taliban after every victory! They welcomed the surrendering troops, called them their brothers, treated them with respect and not a single case of killing, torture or degradation took place. In fact, they have assured the uniformed personnel that once they return to power they will be re-employed. All the administrative units, schools, hospitals etc. are functioning and none have been closed.

The Taliban have learnt a lot of lessons in the longest war and are playing their cards sensibly and are quite different to what they were during their previous rule of 5 years. The sagacity and maturity of the Taliban can be gauged from the way they kept the prongs of military, political and diplomacy in step with each other. They are in touch with all the regional countries and have assured them that the minorities’ rights will be protected. They already had prolonged negotiations with the US which resulted in the Doha agreement. They may like to maintain diplomatic relations with India, but a clear message has been given to India that clandestine operations in Pakistan will not be accepted. Another good news is that dejected India has closed six of the seven consulates in Afghanistan that were wholly involved in covert operations against Pakistan.

With their humane and sanguine outlook, the Taliban are winning the hearts and minds of the people across the country and are treating all sections of the society regardless of ethnic and sectarian divisions with respect. The neighbours of Afghanistan are also dealing with the Taliban wisely and are extending their support instead of exerting pressure.

Last-ditch effort

To bolster the sagging spirits of the ANSF and the urbanites, warlords Like Ismail Khan, a Tajik once known as the lion of Herat, are flexing their muscles and egged on by the spoilers, they are collecting their militias to recover the lost districts in conjunction with the ANA. Some processions of non-Pashtuns chanting anti-Taliban slogans were taken out. Segments of women in some cities also paraded on the streets carrying guns and shouting slogans against the Taliban. These efforts are too late in point of time and would fizzle out in the face of high momentum gained by the Taliban.  

While the spoilers are circulating their gloomy narratives painting the Taliban as barbarians and depicting the onset of civil war, India after flying out all its RAW operatives from Bagram airbase in military planes in panic, used these planes for dropping huge quantities of arms and ammunition in Kandahar where fighting is going on and Indian consulate has been closed. This shoddy effort must have displeased the Taliban and would be the last consignment from India.     

Ground realities

Americans will not return to Afghanistan, and sooner than later they will ditch the regime they had installed in Kabul. The days of the tumbling Kabul regime are numbered and in anticipation of what is likely to happen, the family of Ashraf Ghani and friends have flown to Dubai with bags and baggage. The future of the Afghan ANA is dark since it has little stomach to fight. Military morale will be key to the survival of the Ghani regime. It is pinning all hopes on Pakistan to convince the Taliban to share power. The spirits of the Taliban are upbeat, momentum is clearly on their side and they are pressing their advantage. Afghans living in major cities are suffering from fear psychosis and are keen to leave the country. The Taliban are no more isolated and they have a long list of well-wishers. Their return to power is a foregone conclusion and so is the re-establishment of the Islamic Emirate, with some modifications in consultation with the people. Islamic system and not the Republic will restore peace and order in the war-ravaged country. Attempts to capture cities might start after the exit of the last batch of foreign troops by August 31. It is to be seen whether Turkey or China sends the peacekeeping force and takes control over the Kabul airport. China, Russia, Pakistan, Iran will fill the power vacuum left by the USA.

Pakistan’s vacillating responses

Pakistan’s concerted efforts to make Afghanistan peaceful was praiseworthy and was acknowledged by the USA. However, when the pendulum swung in the favor of the Taliban, its responses became wayward. We are now saying that we have no favourites, but are more receptive to the unpopular Kabul regime which is reviled by the great majority of Afghans and is anti-Pakistan. We are singing the tunes of the defeated USA and the spoilers which are advocating a broad-based government inclusive of the Ghani-Abdullah regime and run on 2004 US-made constitution. We are in favour of the Republic over an Islamic Emirate. In the same breath, we say, the solution will have to be Afghan-led and Afghan-owned and none else and it is the people of Afghanistan who will decide which form of government they would like.

In this regard, the Taliban who are standing near the victory stand and the trophy is within their grasping reach, is promising that the future system of government will be by the wishes of the people. And yet we are trying to look saner and shrewder than the Taliban and are tutoring them as to what will be good and bad for their country for which they have given immense sacrifices.

 

 

 

 

 

Image Courtesy-Al Jazeera

 

 

 

 

 

Shah Mahmud Qureshi is expressing apprehensions over the possibility of the breakout of civil war in Afghanistan, while Moeed Yusaf lamented that Pakistan had no control over the worsening situation in Afghanistan. Fears of civil war, refugee influx, more instability and bloodshed are the narratives of the spoilers of peace that need to be discouraged rather than encouraged.

While the US utterly failed to make Afghanistan peaceful and stable, prospects of the Taliban achieving yet another milestone are brighter.

The idea of a broad-based government

If the idea of broad-based government was so good, why was it not implemented before signing the Geneva Accord as sought by Gen Ziaul Haq in 1988? Why the mighty USA couldn’t do so in its 20 years stay? Why are we so fearful of the Islamic system and that too in a neighbouring country where it was successfully implemented for five years and during that time Pakistan enjoyed the best of relations and its western border was the safest?

Need for introspection

Are our parliamentary system and Anglo Saxon laws in vogue perfect and most suited to the psyche of our people? Is it not a fact that the great majority in Pakistan strive for an Islamic system since so-called democracy has given nothing to the common people, but it has never been tried even for experimental sake? If so, how come and on what moral grounds we are giving our suggestions to the Taliban about the form of government when the US couldn’t convince them? When we admit that we have very little influence over the Taliban, then why are we meddling in their affairs by issuing imprudent and unproductive statements off and on merely to show our importance?

Have we ever objected to China, Saudi Arabia and Iran for their failings in democracy and level of tolerance? Could our leaders dare tell the USA that its policies are highly unjust and discriminatory and that it failed to honour the Doha agreement, or to remind the US that it is responsible for making the world unsafe? I am sure we are cautioning the Taliban merely to please the US. Why can’t our leaders come out of the magic spell of the untrustworthy double-dealing USA which will again betray and harm Pakistan to lessen its grief over the loss of Afghanistan? We shouldn’t rule out the possibility of the USA recognizing the future Taliban government quickly. Zalmay Khalilzad has once again been dispatched to liaise with the Taliban. The marooned Ghani might agree to climb down the high horse and give up his wish to stay as president till the next elections.

Way forward

Isn’t it time for our policymakers to sit with the Chinese, Russian and Iranian leaders and chalk out a comprehensive plan on how to keep the spoilers at bay and how to help the Taliban in overcoming the last hurdles smoothly, and how to go about developing war-torn Afghanistan? The early takeover of power by the Taliban will disperse the darkened clouds of uncertainty, will stop the rumour mills churning out false stories and narratives, and will put to rest the conspiracies of the spoilers. CPEC is the key to removing the regional socio-economic deprivations and bringing stability.

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