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Posts Tagged Taliban

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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Biden Commits To Forever War On Afghanistan by Moon Of Alabama

Biden Commits To Forever War On Afghanistan

By

Moon Of Alabama

February 24, 2021 
The forever war on Afghanistan will continue.

The U.S. and its NATO proxy force have spent nearly 20 years and a trillion dollars to “do something” in Afghanistan. What that something was to be was never clear. There were attempts to impose some kind of enlightened model of governance on the Afghan people. But anyone with knowledge of that country knew that this would never work.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bribes were handed out left and right and Afghan warlords, many of whom hold government positions, enriched themselves by scamming the occupation forces. They naturally do not want that to end. There are also Afghans who do not want to live under the heel of corrupt warlords and ignorant occupation troops. They are called Taliban and get support from Pakistan and Arab countries which the U.S. calls ‘allies’. The occupation forces tried to fight them but after nearly 20 years of wars the Taliban again rule over half of the country. Even while the warlords still have military support from the occupation forces their troops are losing in nearly every engagement.

Militarily the war against the Taliban has long been lost. Even with the 100,000 ‘western’ troops the Obama administration had sent there was no way to win it.

President Donald Trump made efforts to end the useless war on Afghanistan. He negotiated with the Taliban to remove all ‘western’ forces by May 1. The agreement also commits the Taliban to not attacking those forces and to negotiate with the warlord government in Kabul on power sharing. They agreed to that after the U.S. promised that Taliban prisoners of war, held by the Afghan government, would be released.

The Afghan government had and has of course no interest in losing power. At least not as long as still gets sponsored by ‘western’ money. It also did not want to let prisoners go as those would just turn around and again fight against it. A year ago the Trump administration threatened to withhold money should the Afghan government not follow the negotiated terms:

Facing collapse of Afghan peace talks before they even start, the Trump administration has threatened to withhold up to $2 billion in aid unless President Ashraf Ghani and his main rival put aside their political differences and open negotiations with the Taliban.

The threat was the sharpest sign yet that the Trump administration is distancing itself from its Afghan ally and moving closer to the Taliban. The longtime U.S. adversary has in effect become a wary partner as President Trump seeks to withdraw thousands of American troops before the November election and end America’s longest war.

The Kabul government is heavily dependent on international assistance. U.S. aid was expected to total $4.3 billion this year, all but $500 million of which was earmarked for training and equipping the Afghan army.

The threat worked as expected. But when it became clear that a new management would take over the White House the Afghan government again tried to stall the process. Today the talks resumed but they are unlikely to achieve any results:

Peace talks between the Taliban and the Afghan government have resumed in the Qatari capital Doha after weeks of delays, escalating violence and a change in US diplomatic leadership as the Biden administration began.Taliban spokesman Mohammad Naeem tweeted on Monday night the resumption of the talks, which were the outcome of an agreement between the Afghan armed group and the US in February 2020.

But the administration of President Joe Biden is reviewing the agreement, which was aimed at ending the longest war the US has fought.

When talks ended abruptly in January, days after they began, both sides submitted their wish lists for agendas which they now have to sift through to agree on negotiation items and the order in which they will be tackled.

The priority for the Afghan government, Washington and NATO is a serious reduction in violence that can lead to a ceasefire, the Taliban have until now resisted any immediate ceasefire.

Washington is reviewing the Doha peace agreement the previous Trump administration signed with the Taliban as consensus mounts in Washington that a delay of the withdrawal deadline is needed. The Taliban have resisted suggestions of even a brief extension.

Without financial pressure there is no chance that the Afghan government and the Taliban will ever reach a power sharing deal. Even if there would be an agreement there is little chance that it will be upheld by all sides. The conflict would likely reignite and the Taliban would win.

The obvious consequence should be to just follow Trump’s plan and to leave as soon as possible.

But Trump was bad and thus the Biden administration is discussing three options:

If the US leaves in the next three months, it’s likely the Taliban will overrun the US-backed Afghan government and once again make life worse for millions of Afghans, especially women and children.Staying in Afghanistan just a little bit longer would likely delay that takeover, but would also expend any diplomatic capital the US has left with the Taliban and keep US troops in harm’s way.

Finally, violating the terms of the agreement and remaining indefinitely will almost certainly lead the Taliban to restart its campaign, put on hold ahead of the May 1 deadline, to kill American service members in the country.

Biden could follow Trump’s agreement with the Taliban and order the troops home. He could sell that as a victory and a fulfillment of a campaign promise.

But with the blob again in power that option had little chance to survive:

The opinion editors at The Washington Post and The Wall Street Journal may not agree on much, but they are both determined to oppose bringing forces out of Afghanistan as our war there approaches its 20th anniversary, raising the specter of “withdrawing irresponsibly.” Meanwhile conservative establishmentarians like Washington Post columnist Max Boot, and his cohort on the center-left side of the dial, David Ignatius, as well as Madeleine Albright, make common cause for keeping troops in Afghanistan as Biden’s “best option.” Today’s “stay” advocates, which include Republicans like Lindsey Graham making the media rounds, may all be coming from different plot points on the Washington political grid, but keeping the United States committed to a desultory, unwinnable conflict unites them. Their messages are circulated and amplified by social media and establishment friendlies, and among big cable news outlets. Thus, a consensus is born.

The blob is usually fond of claims that “all options are on the table”. Here it was keen to take one away:

Multiple US officials told me in recent days that the administration’s Afghanistan policy review is nearing its end, with one telling me they expect Biden to make a decision “very soon.”“I don’t know which way the president will go,” said this official, who like others spoke with me on the condition of anonymity to talk freely about a sensitive national security deliberation. Another person familiar with the Afghanistan discussions told me it’s clear a full withdrawal by May 1 is “off the table.”

This again demonstrates that the U.S. is no longer agreement capable. By staying longer than May 1 the Biden administration will breach an international agreement the previous administration had made.  

It is unlikely that the Taliban will agree to a prolonged stay of any troops from such an unreliable entity. They will rescind the ceasefire and the war will again enter a bloody phase:

[F]ew think Biden will withdraw all US troops by May 1, which means he will be keeping US service members in the country with or without the Taliban’s approval. If he does it without their approval, that could lead the insurgents to attack and kill American personnel as they overtake major Afghan cities, perhaps even Kabul.At that point, withdrawing from Afghanistan would be harder, experts say, because the administration won’t want to look like it’s running away from the fight. A return to a larger war, then, would likely ensue, leading to more death and woes for the millions of Afghans who’ve already suffered tremendously.

Unfortunately the decision by the Biden administration was utterly predictable. The military-industrial complex will not allow a retreat from a profitable battlefield and Biden is way too weak to resist its pressure.

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Why Pakistan’s Vital Role for Completion of the US-Taliban Agreement? By Sajjad Shaukat

Why Pakistan’s Vital Role for Completion of the US-Taliban Agreement?

By Sajjad Shaukat

 

In the past, the US-led Western countries which spent billions of dollars in Afghanistan held a series of international conferences in order to bring stability and peace in that war-torn country with the aim of starting withdrawal of NATO forces in 2013, which had to be completed in 2014. They had agreed that without Islamabad’s help, stability cannot be achieved there. Hence, these countries requested Pakistan to play its role for initiation of peace process in Afghanistan.

 

At the same time when the US-led NATO forces felt that they are failing in coping with the stiff resistance of the Taliban in Afghanistan, they and especially America started accusing Pak Army and country’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) of supporting the Afghan Taliban and Al-Qaeda militants. Their main purpose was to pacify their peoples regarding their defeatism in that country. Despite America’s false allegations, Islamabad continued reconciliation process between the US and Taliban, emphasizing that there is no military solution of the issue which needs political solution.

 

Taking cognizance of Pakistan’s key role, since the US special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad started his efforts to convince the Taliban to have direct talks with the US, Pakistan had been playing a major role, as Islamabad succeeded in bringing the Taliban to the negotiating Table. Zalmay Khalilzad who, repeatedly, visited Pakistan and met country’s civil and military leadership admired Pakistan’s role in the US-Taliban peace dialogue.

 

It was because of Pakistan’s major role that in Doha-the capital of Qatar on February 29, this year, the US and the Taliban signed the historical agreement for bringing peace to Afghanistan. The deal was signed by Zalmay Khalilzad and Taliban political chief Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo as a witness.

 

Afterwards, Pompeo said: “To Afghanistan’s neighbours, including Pakistan, we thank you for your efforts in helping reach these historic agreements and make clear our expectation that you will continue to do your part to promote a peaceful and prosperous Afghanistan so that the country and region can reap the benefits of lasting peace.”

 

In the agreement, it is committed that within the first 135 days of the deal, the US will reduce its forces in Afghanistan to 8,600 from the current 13,000, working with its other NATO allies to proportionally reduce the number of coalition forces over that period. Implementing the agreement, America has started withdrawing its troops from Afghanistan.

 

The deal also provides for a prisoner swap. Some 5,000 Taliban prisoners and 1,000 Afghan security force prisoners would be exchanged by 10 March [2020], when talks between the Taliban and the Afghan government are due to start.

 

In his speech, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar also acknowledged Islamabad’s role in the peace deal and thanked Pakistan for “its efforts, work and assistance.”

Speaking about the deal, US President Donald Trump, who had promised to end the Afghan conflict, said on March 1, 2020 that it was “time to bring our people back home…5,000 US troops would leave Afghanistan by May and he would meet Taliban leaders in the near future.”

 

But, it is regrettable that less than 24 hours after the US-Taliban agreement, the Afghan President Ashraf Ghani had rejected prisoner swap with Taliban.

 

In this regard, Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid stated that the Taliban would not hold peace talks with the Afghan government, if 5,000 Taliban prisoners were not released.

 

Meanwhile, the political crisis in Afghanistan worsened on March 9, 2020, as Ashraf Ghani and former Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah took separate oaths as country’s president in connection with the September elections, as the latter did not recognize the election-results.

 

In the end of March, this year, US Secretary of State Pompeo’s visit to Afghanistan failed to bring the two main rival factions led by the Ashraf Ghani and Abdullah Abdullah together, leading to the US decision to cut $1 billion aid. Pompeo elaborated that the inability of Ashraf Ghani and Abdullah Abdullah to resolve their differences had “harmed US-Afghan relations and, sadly, dishonours those Afghan, Americans, and coalition partners who have sacrificed their lives and treasure in the struggle to build a new future for this country.”

 

In this connection, in his tweeter statement, Zalmay Khalilzad on April 26, 2020 called on Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and Abdullah Abdullah to set their differences aside to combat the coronavirus pandemic and advance a stalled peace agreement signed with the Taliban— should “put the interest of the country ahead of their own”.

 

However, Ghani released 550 detainees based on age, vulnerability to the virus, and time served. The Taliban have freed 60 prisoners.

 

In a recent statement, Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahed stated that the Taliban group was living up to its side of the agreement, and that it was willing to negotiate a countrywide cease-fire, including intra-Afghan talks, which have to begin within 10 days of the February 29 deal, but are still on hold because of the political bickering in Kabul.

 

Besides, the Taliban have carried out 2,804 attacks since the agreement was signed. Nevertheless, Taliban have not attacked the US or NATO troops.

 

Earlier, in his meeting with Zalmay Khalilzad and Resolute Support Mission Commander General Austin Scott Miller at Islamabad, Pakistan’s Army Chief Qamar Javed Bajwa reaffirmed country’s support for US efforts and renewed commitment to advance a political settlement to the Afghan conflict.

 

Meanwhile, Taliban stated that Afghan president is delaying the exchange of prisoners “under one pretext or another.”

In fact, Indian and Afghan rulers who are feeling the pinch of the US-Taliban peace agreement are trying to sabotage it for their collective interests at the cost of Afghan people, Pakistan and regional stability.

 

New Delhi which has already invested billions of dollars in Afghanistan, also signed a wide-ranging strategic agreement with that country on October 5, 2011. And, the then Afghan President Hamid Karzai had also signed another agreement with India to obtain Indian arms and weapons. Thus, India has strengthened its grip in Afghanistan.

 

While, Indian RAW which is in connivance with Israeli Mossad and Afghanistan’s intelligence agency National Directorate of Security (NDS) has well-established its network in Afghanistan and has been fully assisting cross-border incursions and terror-activities in various regions of Pakistan through Baloch separatist elements and anti-Pakistan groups like Jundullah and Afghanistan-based Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), including their affiliated outfits.

 

It is noteworthy that Pakistan’s Armed Forces and particularly Army have successfully broken the backbone of the foreign-backed terrorists by the military operations Zarb-e-Azb and Radd-ul-Fasaad, while ISI has broken the network of these terrorist groups by capturing several militants and thwarting a number of terror attempts. So, peace was restored in various regions of the country, especially in Balaochistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) provinces.

 

But, in the recent past, some terror-attacks in Pakistan and Balochistan show that New Delhi is trying to damage the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC).

 

Indian desperation in Afghanistan was increasing in the backdrop of growing engagements of Pakistan, Afghanistan, China and US.

 

It is misfortune that on direction of New Delhi, in the recent past, President Ghani accused Islamabad for terror attacks in Afghanistan.

 

In this respect, New Delhi and Kabul which want to prolong the stay of the US-led NATO troops in Afghanistan are exploiting the dual policy of America against Pakistan, China, Russia and Iran.

 

Afghan rulers think that in case, the US-led NATO forces withdraw from Afghanistan, their regime will fall like a house of cards owing to the assaults of the Taliban. Even, India would not be in a position to maintain its network in wake of the successful guerrilla warfare of the Taliban. So, both the countries want NATO’s permanent entanglement in the Afghan conflict.

 

Notably, regarding Indian activities in Afghanistan the then NATO commander, Gen. McChrystal had pointed out: “Indian political and economic influence is increasing in Afghanistan…is likely to exacerbate regional tensions.”

 

And the US-Taliban peace deal is likely to render Indian proxy support against Pakistan ineffective. It will suit Indian designs, if Afghanistan does not move towards peace and keeps simmering. So, Afghan people need to realize that Indian and Afghan governments which have sponsored trained and propagated all anti-Afghanistan and anti-Pakistan elements to destabilize both Afghanistan and Pakistan are attempting to thwart the US-Taliban peace agreement.

 

It is mentionable that after the end of the Cold War, America left both Pakistan and Afghanistan to face the fallout of the Afghan war 1.

 

After the 9/11 tragedy, President George W. Bush insisted upon Islamabad to join the US global war on terror. Pakistan was also granted the status of non-NATO ally by America due to the early successes, achieved by Pakistan Army and ISI against the Al-Qaeda militants.

 

Nonetheless, Washington must be aware of the coming negative developments, which could create misunderstanding between America and the Taliban, as RAW and NDS can use some terror outfits like TTP for targeting the military installations of the US and its allies to shift the blame game towards those Taliban whose leader has signed the peace deal. New Delhi and Kabul could also accuse Islamabad for cross-border terrorism in Afghanistan like the past approach, because the US and Pakistan have been promoting cordial relations owing to President Trump’s positive approach towards the latter.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

US should also note that Pakistan shares common geographical, historical, religious and cultural bonds with Afghanistan. There is a co-relationship of stability and peace in Afghanistan and Pakistan, which is also essential for American global and regional interests. Therefore, Pakistan is playing a vital role for completion of the US-Taliban agreement.

 

Now, coronavirus which has affected almost every country has also enveloped Afghanistan which has reported more than 2,894 cases infected by this deadly virus and more than 90 deaths. In America, more than 2.1 million cases have been recorded with more than 67,686 deaths. By availing this golden opportunity, Afghan rulers have delayed the implementation of the US-Taliban agreement and Washington is also not taking much interest in this respect. So, completion of the agreement could be delayed, which may create more complications.

 

Sajjad Shaukat writes on international affairs and is author of the book: US vs Islamic Militants, Invisible Balance of Power: Dangerous Shift in International Relations

 

Email: sajjad_logic@yahoo.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Prospects of Taliban-US peace talks by Brig Gen(R) Asif Haroon Raja

Prospects of Taliban-US peace talks

 

Asif Haroon Raja

 

17 years have gone by but so far there are little prospects for the longest war in Afghanistan to come to an end. Lilliputians have paralyzed the Gulliver and brought a standoff in the war. Neither side is in a position to defeat the other. Since time is on the side of the Taliban, a change is discernible in the jingoistic mindset of the US administration under Donald Trump over the last six months. Both the military and civil American leaders are talking of peace which is something new and unique since so far their outlook toward Afghanistan has been to derive an outcome of their choice by using excessive force. All these years, the successive regimes of George W. Bush, Barack Obama and Trump sought to defeat the Taliban on the battlefield, forcing them to surrender their arms, bring them to the negotiating table and then compel them to sign the US dictated peace treaty and arrive at a political settlement.

  

Governed by geo-economics interests, George Bush had initiated the war on terror after 9/11. After occupying Afghanistan in November 2001, ignoring demographic factor he installed Northern Alliance heavy regime and sidelined the majority Pashtuns. In May 2003, Iraq was occupied under trumped-up charges and a Shia regime installed. Torture dens like Bagram prison, Abu Gharaib and Guantanamo Bay functioned unchallenged. Bush used force throughout his 8-year rule and it was during his rule that the apparently defeated Taliban after regrouping had started striking the occupying forces and Afghan forces (ANSF) fiercely. Likewise, Iraqi resistance forces in league with Al-Qaeda gave a tough time to the invaders.  

 

Besides the two-front war, the US in collaboration with India and the puppet regime in Kabul had opened a third front against Pakistan which it had declared as an ally, a frontline state and non-NATO ally to fight terrorism. The US and its strategic allies had opted for a secret covert war against Pakistan to extract its nuclear teeth and make it a compliant state. When the militancy in Afghanistan was pushed into Pakistan in 2003/04, the latter had to deploy 100,000 security forces in FATA to combat foreign paid terrorists in FATA. Baluchistan was also heated up in the same timeframe. The troop numbers have now increased to about 200,000 in the northwest.

 

CIA spread its outreach to Eastern Europe and colour revolutions started in the Baltic States during Bush time. China-US and Russia-US rivalry picked up momentum. Blackwater was used in Iraq.

 

From 2004 onwards Indo-US-Afghan nexus embarked upon a coordinated and sustained vicious propaganda campaign against Pakistan to supplement covert operations through proxies. Major accusations were: Nuclear proliferation, unsafe nuclear program, Pak Army and ISI in cahoots with militant groups are rogue outfits, Al-Qaeda headquartered in South Waziristan. Later on, it was accused of not doing enough. Do more mantra was aimed at weakening Pakistan from within.      

 

Once Obama took over in January 2009, he closed the Iraq front and carried out two troop surges in 2009 under his Af-Pak policy in order to let ISAF under Gen McChrystal and ANSF to quell the Al-Qaeda and Taliban threat. ISAF strength rose to 1, 50,000. The proxy war in FATA and settled areas of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa was stepped up forcing Pakistan to launch military operations in Malakand Division, Swat, Bajaur, South Waziristan and other agencies of FATA in 2009-10. Black Water was inducted in Pakistan in 2008/09 to fan terrorism in urban centres. Quetta Shura was added in the list of accusation in 2011. Pakistan was blamed for terrorism in Afghanistan and Kashmir.

 

Obama brought in drones to target militants in Afghanistan and Waziristan. He also opened fronts in Libya, Yemen, Syria, Tunisia, Egypt, Somalia, Niger, and Sudan through Arab Spring. ISIS phenomenon took birth in Iraq, Syria and other Middle East (ME) countries in his tenure. Regime change in Ukraine was masterminded by CIA, which impelled Russia to capture Crimea and to support resistance forces in Eastern Ukraine. Russian air force stepped into Syrian war in September 2015 during Obama time. The only de-escalating step taken by Obama regime was the nuclear deal with Iran in July 2015 which averted a warlike situation in the ME. 

 

When troop casualties of occupying forces in Afghanistan doubled in 2009 and 2010, Obama was forced to announce a drawdown plan starting July 2011 and ending it by December 2014. During this period, not only the Taliban remained aggressive and maintained a dominating edge in southern and eastern Afghanistan, the ISAF faced increased suicide and post-stress disorder cases as well as green over blue attacks. Occupying troops indulged in atrocities through night raids and air war.

 

As a result, Obama initiated a political prong in 2011 and resorted to the strategy of fight and talk and to divide the Taliban. Efforts were made to separate Haqqanis under Jalaluddin and his sons from Taliban under Mullah Omar and pitch former against the latter but failed. No worthwhile results accrued from backdoor parleys because of the insincerity of the US and its allies and the insistence of USA that talks should be between the Taliban and the Kabul government only. This was unacceptable to the Taliban who viewed the Karzai and later the Ghani regimes as collaborators and illegitimate.

 

In 2011, Raymond Davis incident, followed by US Navy Seals raid in Abbottabad and Apache helicopters attacks on military posts in Salala dipped Pak-US relations to the lowest ebb, forcing Pakistan to cut off military relations and close the NATO supply lines for 8 months. Washington had to apologize to normalize the relations.  

 

In June 2013, a political office of Taliban was set-up at Doha. When the drawdown was nearing completion, the Pentagon, CIA, Israel, India and Kabul regime prevailed upon Obama and forced him to sign another bilateral agreement with the unity regime in Kabul managed by John Kerry to leave behind a Resolute Support Group (RSG) of 5-6000 to provide training, technical assistance, counter-terrorism and air support to ANSF.

 

 

The security situation in Afghanistan began to deteriorate after the departure of the bulk of ISAF troops and the Taliban gained total control over 47% of the country’s districts from where they could strike targets in all parts of the country.

 

In June 2014, Operation Zarb-e-Azb was launched by Pak Army in North Waziristan which dismantled all the bases of foreign-sponsored TTP and other militant groups totalling over 60, flushing them out of FATA. Although the major demand of USA was fulfilled, it was, in reality, a setback for the schemers as far as their ulterior designs against Pakistan were concerned.

 

In 2015, quadrilateral peace talks were initiated by the US, China, Pakistan and Afghanistan and Pakistan were asked to use its influence and make the Taliban agree to talk. When Islamabad arranged the talks in July that year and scheduled another meeting in the same month which would have surely made a breakthrough, the spoilers in Afghanistan scuttled the peace process by announcing the death of Mullah Omar. They didn’t want to negotiate from a weaker wicket.

 

Pakistan made another attempt when the Taliban were under the leadership of Mullah Akhtar Mansour. But the latter was killed by a US drone in Baluchistan in May 2016, thereby demolishing the peace process.

 

The US wants the Taliban to compromise and accept the US-drafted democracy and constitution, share power as a junior partner, disallow use of Afghan territory by foreign terrorists and to maintain friendly relations with the USA. 

 

The Taliban under Haibatullah Akhundzada have continued with their offensive drive to free their homeland from foreign occupation, regain the seat of power they were deprived of, and restore Islamic system of governance.

 

Like Bush, Obama kept its tilt toward India and visited India twice skipping Pakistan. All big deals with India like civil nuclear agreement, strategic partnership, missile deal, logistics, strategic communications and maritime security agreements were signed with India during Obama’s tenure. The two US leaders have been instrumental in enhancing the presence and influence of India in Afghanistan.  

 

When Trump took over power in January 2017, the US was no more a great country. It had lost its prestige owing to failures in Afghanistan, Iraq and elsewhere, unipolarism had given way to multi-polarism, and the USA had become the most hated nation in the Muslim world because of its anti-Muslim agenda. Instead of taking steps to call off the war on terror, he sheathed the political prong, increased the troop level of RSG to 18000, and gave a signal for a fresh military push against the Taliban to shore up ANSF.

 

At the same time, while announcing his new Afghan policy in August 2017, he put the whole blame of instability in Afghanistan upon Pakistan, and not only accused it of providing safe havens to the HN and Afghan Taliban but also supporting them. Since then, Pakistan is on notice and there is no letup in his belligerence. Punitive steps have been taken to compel Pakistan to do more. These include disinformation campaign, threats, suspension of reimbursement of CSF, putting Pakistan in the grey list, suspending military training, and directing IMF not to provide loans for repaying loans to China or for CPEC, provoking India and Afghanistan to step up hostile acts against Pakistan.

 

Trump has earned the hostility of Russia, China, Turkey, Iran, North Korea, Mexico and Pakistan, and has made NATO and EU resentful.    

         

Over one year has lapsed but the US military and ANSF have failed to turn the tide in their favour. Taliban have now started fighting battles in provincial capitals Lashkargah, Ghazni, Farah, Zabul, Uruzgan and Kunduz. Kabul and Bagram have been attacked repeatedly. They now control about 65% of the territory. While the Taliban have expressed their desire to hold talks and that too with the US only, they are not desperate for talks. They know that the wind is blowing in their favour.

 

Ashraf Ghani has been offering unconditional talks since last February and reportedly offered them control over four provinces in southern Afghanistan. Without peace holding of parliamentary elections in coming October will be problematic.   

 

The US, on the other hand, is desperate for peace since the ANSF lacking in fighting spirit and rived in discipline problems cannot defeat or even contain the Taliban, and are in disarray. The unity government is tumbling due to inner rift, inefficiency, corruption and unpopularity. The RSG is fast losing heart and is feeling insecure. The general public has now started holding protest marches asking the foreign troops to quit. Home pressure is building on Trump asking him to exit from the quagmire of Afghanistan at the earliest since it has become a drain on country’s economy. The TTP created by Indo-US-Afghan nexus to defeat Pak military is in tatters. In anger, Fazlullah was killed in June 2018. India which has been made a leading player has abstained from helping in reversing the dipping fortunes of the USA in Afghanistan. The US has lost its leverage over Pakistan after closing the taps of military aid and training. Pakistan has refused to get intimidated and is veering towards China and Russia.

 

The prospects for peace talks brightened when a 3-day ceasefire was religiously implemented on the occasion of Eidul Fitr in June. The two warring opponents mingled and embraced each other and took selfies. The effectiveness of the truce during which the Taliban laid down their arms, and then resumed fighting after the truce signalled how much control the Taliban leaders have over their fighters. 

 

It was under such distressful circumstances that the US agreed to hold preliminary direct talks with Taliban at Doha for the first time on July 28 to find a way out for restoring peace. Its willingness indicates the urgency to end the conflict. This comedown is seen as a diplomatic victory for the Taliban. The latter is no more solely dependent upon Pakistan since Russia, China, Iran, Qatar are supporting them. Moscow had invited the Taliban, US and Kabul for peace talks, but the latter two declined. Increased interest of Russia in Afghan affairs is another factor which is impelling the USA to patch up with Taliban.   

 

The second direct talks are likely to be held this month, in which the issue of release of Taliban prisoners from Guantanamo Bay will be discussed to create an amiable atmosphere. The Taliban are showing flexibility in their stance by not insisting on occupying forces to withdraw first and then hold talks. They now want a firm timetable of withdrawal and do not agree to retention of even a single military base as desired by the USA. They would certainly seek a larger role in the future government.

 

One of the major reason for Russia and Iran to support the Taliban is the presence of Daesh (Khurasan) under Wilayat Khurasan (WK) who were brought and settled in Nangarhar and married with Jamaat-al-Ahrar by CIA-RAW in 2014 to fight the Taliban as well destabilize Pakistan. Russia and Iran are also opposed to the US-led reconciliation. Central Asian Republics (CARs) are also wary of Daesh who have an international agenda.

 

Having seen the fate of Syria at the hands of Daesh, the Taliban are also desirous of peace and are seeking the cooperation of other regional countries. They are suffering since 1978 and have learnt lessons and would not like to commit old mistakes and get isolated in the world comity. They also do not want the recurrence of 1991-94 like civil war, or Syria like conditions and like to have a peaceful transition of power. They have given an assurance that unlike al-Qaeda and Daesh, they have no international agenda. They opened communications with Russia, China and Iran which enabled them more avenues of arms supplies to continue with their freedom struggle with greater vigor. But the fact is that no one wants the US to pull out abruptly and ignites another civil war.

 

Notwithstanding the desire for peace by Haibatullah, it must not be overlooked that he has opponents within the Taliban movement who are opposed to him and to peace talks. Rahbari Shura and HN have little appetite for peace talks. Quetta Shura leaders particularly WK linked with HN oppose Haibatullah. It is owing to internal strife that Haibatullah wants to consolidate his position and negotiate from a position of strength after achieving major victories in the battlefield. He aims at capturing a provincial capital. It was with this end in view that big efforts were made to capture Kunduz and Lashkargah and lately Ghazni. While the Taliban have the capability to capture a city but do not have the capacity to retain it as had been seen in Kunduz.

 

The US was at ease as long as Kabul, provincial capitals, strategic communication lines and its eight military bases were safe. Attacks on Kabul and other capitals have unnerved the military forces. What is most worrisome for the US is that it is losing on all counts and finds itself in a nutcracker situation. It can neither afford to exit as a defeated superpower nor can it stay for long. It has lost the war but is not acknowledging it and badly wants a face-saving formula. It can exit only through Pakistan and not via the northern network which is no more available to ship out heavy baggage. The US is faring poorly on all other fronts including the domestic front where Trump has become highly unpopular. Both Pakistan and Taliban are defiant and holding their ground.

 

Judging from the mood of new Pakistan in which the civil-military leadership have come on one page, it cannot rule out the fast emerging possibility of Pakistan slipping out of its hands and shifting to Russo-Sino camp, which could be joined by Iran and Turkey, both antagonist to the USA. The US has realized that the ANSF has become a liability, and Ghani-Abdullah unity government is not delivering.

 

The only tangible factor which has handicapped the Taliban from capturing and retaining the captured cities is the air factor. The US fears the possibility of Russia giving surface-to-air missiles to the Taliban to counter air threat. Ever growing Russo-US rift over Syria and Ukraine is turning the possibility into a reality. That will be doomsday for the occupiers and collaborators.

 

Last but not the least, CPEC has come up as a hissing cobra for both USA and India, which would not only smash their global ambitions and isolate them, but also strengthen their foes China and Pakistan.     

 

While Indo-US-Afghan nexus had yet to absorb the shocks of near demise of TTP, and Pakistan’s decision to repatriate Afghan refugees, the trio got another shock when Pakistan undertook the construction of 830 km fence, and over 400 border forts, along some of the world’s harshest terrain – the Pak-Afghan border last year. Work is expected to be completed by 2019. Why would Pakistan exert such monumental effort, allocating thousands of troops and required logistics for this undertaking? Perhaps Pakistan grows weary of waiting for other ‘vested’ interests to fulfil their promises. It is strange that the US, the Afghan regime and India are objecting instead of assisting to prevent the alleged cross-border infiltration from both sides. Obviously, it would block the covert war.

Finding itself cornered with very little room to manoeuvre, it appears that Washington has now decided to make one last attempt to secure its mercantile interests in the region at a low cost. To this end, it has once again appointed former American ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad in the USA as a special envoy of Af-Pak region. He served as an ambassador in Kabul for 5 years during Karzai rule and he had great influence over Karzai and his administration. Being a Pashtun, he has had access to key areas and had developed a relationship with Mujahideen leaders including Hikmatyar during the occupation of Afghanistan by Soviet troops. He has an ill reputation of inflicting extreme torture and excesses upon the Afghan Pashtuns.

 

It seems another plan has been hatched as a last resort to re-enact the reign of terror in Afghanistan. After inducting Daesh, the US is actively considering to induct Black Water in Afghanistan and hand over security duties to it and kill key leaders of the Taliban. Eric Prince has already undertaken two visits to Kabul. Blackwater was initially inducted in Afghanistan during his last tenure and he had a big hand in the persecution and slaughter of militant Pashtuns.

 

Khalilzad and Blackwater coming together once again may not be a coincidence and possibly a repeat action could be in the offing. Khalilzad wants to regain contacts with old Mujahideen leaders and also help Hikmatyar in winning the election and in paving the way for the exit of US troops and formation of a new regime. He is likely to play a role in the next presidential election and possibly in bringing Karzai and his team back in the saddle.

 

From the above, it is evident that the US is not interested in peace since it wants to extract mineral resources of Afghanistan and Central Asia and to accomplish its agenda of denuclearizing Pakistan. India is also anti-peace since it wants to retain its presence to encircle Pakistan and to gain access to CARs through Pakistan’s land corridor. The Kabul government is also not keen since it knows it will crumble and ANSF will splinter soon after the exit of occupying forces.

 

Peace talks are a ruse to throw wool into the eyes of the world. Had the US been sincere in arriving at a viable political settlement, it should have accepted the basic demands of Taliban such as freeing of prisoners, putting them off the blacklist, allowing them freedom of movement, unfreezing their accounts, curtailing human rights abuses and making them a stakeholder. Peace talks could be a deception to widen the existing rift within the Taliban and exploit it by pitching WK against Haibatullah.

 

Similarly, the US should not have distrusted and maltreated Pakistan because, without its wholehearted cooperation, peace is not possible. It should have acknowledged its huge sacrifices in a war it didn’t ask for, nor did it initiate. It should have lauded the efforts of Pakistan, the only country in the region to turn the tide against militancy – despite heaviest odds. It should not have prioritized Indian interests in Afghanistan over ours and pressured Pakistan to grant land access to India for trade with Afghanistan/CARs.   

 

The US must not forget that in the war against the Soviets in the 1980s, America spent billions of dollars destroying the region but practically did nothing to rebuild much of the destroyed basic infrastructure, forcing millions of Afghan refugees to flee to Pakistan where, according to UNHCR reports, approximately 1.38 million registered and one million unregistered remain sheltered to this day. The US callously overlooks the human and financial sacrifices Pakistan has made, including 70,000 war-related civilians and security forces injured or killed; and a financial loss of $ 120 million. 

Stable, peaceful and friendly Afghanistan is vital for Pakistan since it frees Pakistan of twin threat to its security and plays a part in dictating our relations with the US and India. It is with this end in view that earnest efforts have been made to appease the US-installed regime in Kabul which have so far borne no fruit mainly due to the role of spoilers. FM Qureshi visited Kabul on Sept 15 with the hope of melting the ice. He seems satisfied saying the visit was ‘advantageous’.     

 

Taking a cue from the frivolous statement of the US Ambassador in Kabul, Pakistan should remain vigilant that in its enthusiasm to melt the ice, it shouldn’t barter away national interests. Any concession to India regarding trade corridor should be linked with the resolution of Kashmir dispute and end to clandestine operations against Pakistan by India. 

What should be understood by Ashraf Ghani and Dr. Abdullah is that the war is unwinnable, and the only way to end the war is through a negotiated settlement with the Taliban. Pakistan can play a constructive role in the Afghan-led and Afghan-owned peace process and is in the best position to bring all sides together and work for a détente.

Pakistan’s efforts will be fruitful only if its sacrifices and good work are acknowledged and spoilers are kept aside. Except for India and Kabul regime and some hawks in US administration/Senate that have constantly poured scorn on Pakistan out of malice, the world comity including UNSC Monitoring Team, Global Terrorism Index and others have heaped praises.   

Pakistan will have to promote its counter-narrative cogently to convince the world that it played a lead role in the war on terror, was the biggest victim of terrorism, and has achieved the best results.

Pakistan should remain watchful of the designs of Indo-US-Afghan nexus, be prepared to take on the emerging threats of Daesh and Black Water, speed up fencing and return of refugees, deal effectively with internal enemies promoting foreign agenda and find ways and means to deal with the catastrophic effects of hybrid war attacking the homogeneity of the society.  

 

Factionalism within Taliban leadership and vested interests of the spoilers preclude the possibility of a big breakthrough in peace talks in 2018.

 

The writer is a retired Brigadier, a war veteran, defence analyst, columnist, author of five books, Vice Chairman Thinkers Forum Pakistan, Director Measac Research Centre, takes part in TV talk shows and seminars. asifharoonraja@gmail.com

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A Hellfire From Heaven Won’t Smash The Taliban

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
A Hellfire From Heaven Won’t Smash The Taliban
By Pepe Escobar
 
June 02, 2016 
 
So Taliban supremo Mullah Mansour’s white Toyota Corolla was rattling across the Balochistan desert just after it had crossed the Iranian border when a Hellfire missile fired from a US drone incinerated it into a charred / twisted wreck.
That’s the official narrative. The Pentagon said Mansour was on Obama’s kill list because he had become «an obstacle to peace and reconciliation».
There’s way more to it, of course. Mansour was a savvy businessman who was extensively traveling to Dubai – the Taliban’s historic clearing house where all sorts of dodgy deals are made. He was also in close connection with Jundullah – a.k.a. the hardcore Sunni anti-Tehran militia very much active in Sistan-Balochistan province in Iran.
This time Mansour was in Sistan-Balochistan on a medical visit – allegedly to eschew hospitals in Pakistan heavily monitored by the ISI [Inter-Services Intelligence]. Yet arguably Pakistan intel knew about it – so US intel also may have known about it and thus were able to track him.
But then there’s the real ace in the hole: the New Opium War.
The usual suspects in the Beltway insist that the Taliban profit handsomely from overseeing the opium trade out of Afghanistan –and now operate as a multi-billion-dollar drug cartel. That’s nonsense.
Bets can be made that Mansour’s kill will not reduce Afghanistan’s opium production – which has been steadily on the rise for years now. Mawlawi Hibatullah Akhundzada, Mansour’s former number two, has been designated as the new leader.
The fact is, poppy production in Afghanistan remains at the highest levels in provinces that are – in thesis – controlled by Kabul. More opium was produced last year – also in thesis the last year of NATO’s Enduring Freedom operation – than in any other year since the UN started tracking it way back in 2002. In 2016 Afghanistan will produce more opium – thus heroin – than the entire global consumption.
An inkling of what’s really going on in the New Opium War is provided by a recent book (in Italian) by Enrico Piovesana. He tells of shady military operations conducted by NATO in which massive quantities of opium have been sequestered by helicopter – never to be seen again.
So we’re back to the same old CIA opium rat line, which translates into control of the Afghan opium market in collusion with local police, military high brass in Kabul and the Karzai family, of former President a.k.a. «mayor of Kabul» Hamid Karzai. Doing business with narco traffickers has also handily provided liquidity – as in dirty money – to Western big banks. None of this has anything to do with the Taliban, which actually brought down opium production to near zero in 2001, before 9/11 and the American bombing/occupation of Afghanistan.
Those shadowy Af-Pak players
The first US drone strike ever in Baluchestan (another Obama «first») remains something of a mystery. A credible working hypothesis is that this was a covert US-Pakistani co-op. The hit allegedly came via the Pentagon, not the CIA. Mansour’s Corolla was something like 40 km inside Baluchestan after it had crossed the border – in an area where US drones would have been quite vulnerable to upgraded (in 2011) Pakistani air defenses.
A plausible – but unconfirmed – scenario would see RQ-170 Sentinels tracking Mansour’s Toyota, with the coordinates then fed to Reaper drones flying out of Kandahar airfield. Assuming the drones began tracking the Toyota at the Iran-Pakistan border, they would have been in action over Baluchestan air space for hours on end, undisturbed.
But then there are the incongruities. Pakistani sources mention that the Toyota – as in any real drone hit – was not totally smashed, but was still on its wheels. And a mysterious passport (Mullah Mansour’s) also showed up on the scene, unscathed.
As for the original HUMINT that led to Mansour’s trail, the notion that Washington had scored it stretches credulity. It would be more like a very well placed/rewarded asset somewhere – be it a military in Kabul or a disgruntled ISI operative.
What was Mansour really up to? He was quite savvy in playing for time. He clearly saw through the US «strategy» – which boiled down to encouraging Afghan president Ashraf Ghani to convince Islamabad to get the Taliban to the negotiating table.
Mansour though knew the Taliban could always advance militarily without negotiations; that’s why he duly announced the 2016 spring offensive – an annual Taliban ritual. At the same time he was very careful not to antagonize Islamabad so Taliban safe havens in Pakistan would not be compromised.
As far as what Islamabad is up to, that’s way hazier. Islamabad’s man in the Taliban succession was actually Sirajuddin Haqqani. After the death of his notorious father, Haqqani leads the homonymous network – which is very cozy with the ISI, arguably closer than the traditional Kandahar/Quetta Shura, a.k.a. the historic Afghan Taliban.
The new Taliban supremo will now have a handy window of opportunity to consolidate power. By early 2017 there will be a new US president, a new Pakistani army chief but the same Afghan so-called National Unity Government still disunited. The Taliban know what they want; be part of the government in Kabul, and get their cut in case the fractious Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) pipeline will ever be built. The more things change in Afghanistan, the more they hark back to two decades ago, during the second Clinton administration.
Meanwhile, former CIA asset, former pal of Osama bin Laden and still one of the US’s Public Enemies, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, defined by Washington as a «global terrorist» and the leader of the Hezbi Islami organization, is about to close a deal with Kabul.
Hezbi Islami is the second largest «insurgency» in Afghanistan. Most of the top brass have defected to the Taliban. Hekmatyar lives in exile somewhere in Pakistan; the ISI, of course, knows all about it. So if Ghani in Kabul can’t bag the Taliban, at least he bags a currently much smaller fish, Hekmatyar. Does it help? Not really. It will fall eventually to the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) – as in Russia-China joint leadership – to solve the Taliban riddle. Certainly not to Operation Enduring Freedom Forever – no matter the size of their kill list
 
 
 

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