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Posts Tagged US-India-Afghan Nexus

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. [email protected]

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Mullah Mansour’s Reported Death By Asif Haroon Raja

Mullah Mansour’s Reported Death

Asif Haroon Raja

The US-India-Afghan government (govt) nexus has been the root cause of Afghan instability. While the US initiated war on terror in October 2001 to defeat and eliminate terrorism from the face of the earth, and utterly failed to do so, the trio has also been outwardly pleading for peace since 2011 when force failed to cow down the Taliban. Pakistan has been the biggest victim of instability in Afghanistan which started in December 1979 with its occupation by former Soviet Union. Pakistan has taken the brunt of Kalashnikov and drug cultures, sectarianism, religious extremism, and now terrorism ignited by foreign sponsored TTP, Baloch rebel groups and MQM.

The US and its puppet govt of Karzai which ruled Afghanistan for 14 years at a stretch, followed by current unity govt of Ashraf Ghani and Dr. Abdullah have been constantly blaming Pakistan for their failures and has been pressuring Pakistan to convince the Taliban to come to the negotiating table for talks and work out a political settlement so as to end the war in Afghanistan and restore much needed peace. From 2002 till 2009, the US held Al-Qaeda, allegedly based in FATA responsible for stoking terrorism in Afghanistan and pushed Pakistan to deal with it. Between 2009 and 2014, the ISAF unceasingly complained that Pakistan was responsible for militancy in Afghanistan. Sirajuddin Haqqani led group based in North Waziristan (NW), which the US named as Haqqani Network (HN), was their main target. Pakistan’s military was accused of harboring and supporting HN. Admiral Mike Mullen went to the extent of saying that the HN was the strategic arm of ISI.  Gen Petraeus stated in 2011 that it will not launch the grand offensive against Kandahar until and unless the NW safe haven was eliminated.











The ISAF comprising Army contingents from 48 countries including 28 from NATO, and 260,000 ANSF duly trained and equipped by the US-NATO instructors kept losing battles and ceded control over 80% Afghan territory to the Taliban. Pakistan Army on the other hand single handedly and with meagre resources kept winning battles against foreign supported TTP from 2009 onwards and by end 2014 recaptured all the 18 administrative units in the northwest that were in control of TTP and its affiliates. The most difficult operations were against Swat, Bajaur South Waziristan (SW) and NW. The Operation Zarb-e-Azb launched against the last and strongest bastion of TTP in NW that by then had brought over 50 militant groups under its wings was launched in June 2014 and by May 20, 2016 the whole of tribal agency including the treacherous Shawal Valley, right up to zero line on Afghan border, was cleared and writ of state fully established. Theses victories were not easy; security forces suffered over 6000 fatalities and injuries to thousands to fight and oust the most hardy and valorous fighters in the world and that too on their home ground.

Pakistan Army’s feats stunned the whole world and was heaped with praises. Pak Army was rated as the best Army and Gen Raheel Shareef the best commander among the top ten of the world. What had surprised the world was that while on one hand the US led ISAF with abundance of resources and high technology had utterly failed to defeat rag-tag Afghan Taliban, Pak Army and paramilitary forces managed to rein in terrorism after clearing FATA of the bases, network, and command & communication centres of terrorists. Their feat became all the more impressive because of the well-known fact that the TTP was fully funded, armed, equipped by foreign agencies and was even provided intelligence and sanctuaries in Afghanistan. The ISAF made no contributions towards Operation Rah-e-Nijat in SW and Operation Zarb-e-Azb in NW in accordance with the agreed upon policy of anvil and hammer. It never provided the anvil across the Durand Line by establishing check posts and getting hold of the fleeing terrorists into Afghanistan. Rather they were facilitated to establish bases in Kunar, Nuristan, Nangarhar and Khost to carryout cross border terrorism against Pakistan under the direct supervision of RAW and NDS.

While Pak security forces kept hoisting victory flags one after the other and never encountered a failure and kept up the momentum with utmost zeal and efficiency, the ISAF and ANSF remained webbed in multiple problems. These ranged from Post Stress Disorder (PST), to suicides, discipline, green-over-blue attacks, drug addiction, homesickness, demoralization from 2011 onwards. Reason put forward was that foreign troops had been recycled two to three times in war zones. They forgot that every unit in Pak army has been recycled for three to four times and the pay a soldier draws when compared with US-NATO soldier is peanuts. The later draws $7,500 per month salary and gets cooked hot food flown from Dubai daily. There has been no case of suicide or PST in Pak Army.  

Finding that the 130, 000 string ISAF cannot defeat the Taliban despite having used massive force, inhuman torture and trickery to divide and weaken Taliban, the US had to quit in December because of mounting home pressure and heavy burden on economy. It has left behind a huge mess. It could not achieve any of the stated or hidden objectives for which it come and spent billions of dollars. Before departing, it propped up a unity govt of two chief antagonists Ashraf Ghani and Dr. Abdullah, handed over security to ANSF and left behind a Resolute Force Group (RSG) of 12000 troops essentially meant to train ISAF, extend technical assistance and air support, and to fight Al-Qaeda only. As per bilateral security agreement signed between Kabul and Washington, the RSG was to stay put in 8 military bases till December 2016 and was to be reduced to half in December 2015. The need for the RSG was felt because of utterly weak position of unity govt engaged in power tussle, poor governance and weaknesses of ANSF that were not fit enough to take on Taliban change at their own. The US knew that without its military backing and $8.1 billion aid package, the unity govt will fall and ANSF will splinter within a year of ISAF departure and Taliban would takeover.

As is known, the US had begun to acknowledge the strength of Taliban by 2010 and in 2011 it had initiated a political prong to engage Taliban. A political office was opened at Doha in June 2014. To appease Taliban, Obama declared that they were insurgents fighting for their rights and not terrorists. The RSG was also mandated to fight Al-Qaeda only. Efforts had been made to win over HN but when Siraj refused to Part Company with Mullah Omar, HN was declared a terrorist outfit.

With regard to its policy on Pakistan, the US has all along opposed peace talks with TTP. It has been making use of drones as a choice weapon in Af-Pak region. Shamsi airbase remained in use of CIA till December 2011. So far 391 drone attacks have been carried out, mostly in FATA and bulk in Waziristan. Four strikes were launched in settled areas of Khyber Pakhunkhwa. No drone attack came in Baluchistan. Several key Al-Qaeda leaders and TTP leaders have been droned to death. These include Nek Muhammad, Baitullah Mehsud, Mullah Nazir and Hakimullah Mehsud. They were killed when they got inclined to sign peace deal.

Drone attacks have watered down after commencement of Operation Zarb-e-Azb. The most recent drone strike was conducted in Baluchistan on May 21, 2016. It was claimed by the US that in all probability Afghan Taliban head Mullah Akhtar Mansour with his driver had been killed near Chaghi in Noshki district close to Afghan border while he was on his way in a hired jeep from Taftan. His death is still to be confirmed since the papers show him as Wali Muhammad from Qila Abdullah. John Kerry informed PM Nawaz and Army Chief after the attack. Not only the attack is sheer violation of Pakistan’s sovereignty since the target was hit 40 km inside Pak territory, it has derailed ongoing quadrilateral peace talks for good. While Pakistan has protested strongly, Kabul has expressed glee. Pakistan might have taken a sigh of relief had when most wanted terrorists Maulana Fazlullah and Khalid Khurasani had been droned, who are enjoying complete freedom of action right under the nose of the US and Afghan authorities in Afghanistan.  

The question being asked is as to why the US targeted Mullah Mansour when it was all this time making efforts to hold peace talks and blaming Pakistan for not doing enough in this regard. This act has once again laid bare the evil intentions of the US and its double game it has been playing in this region since 2002. It has also exposed the intentions of Afghan govt which is a puppet in the hands of the US and India.

Following in the footsteps of ISAF and Karzai government, the unity government after a brief spell of friendship with Pakistan which stretched from November 2014 to June 2015, Ashraf Ghani changed his course and started speaking the language of Karzai and the US. It is singing the old tunes and blaming Pakistan for all its failures. It is making allegations even after Pak Army snatched its trump card of HN by pushing it out of NW. This bold act was acclaimed by both Kabul and Washington. Trouble started when peace talks were deliberately disrupted by the spoilers in July 2015 and water was poured on hard work of Pakistan. The latter had with difficulty convinced Mullah Mansour, the defacto commander since 2013, and other important Taliban leaders to attend July 7 peace talks at Murree which was attended by representatives of the US and China as observers.

Next meeting was scheduled on July 31 at the same venue and that would have made a headway towards a political settlement. The spoilers led by India thought that a breakthrough in talks brokered and managed by Pakistan will prove highly detrimental for Northern Alliance and the US interests and will make the position of Pakistan and Taliban strong. Based on this self-assumed hypothesis, the spoilers initiated the story of death of Mullah Omar on July 30. They thus achieved their sinister objectives of scuttling peace talks, spoiling Pak-Afghan relations and dividing Taliban. By making Mullah Mansour controversial and pitching several Taliban leaders against him they thought it would be easier to bring them to negotiating table and talk to them from position of strength.

Their ill-intentioned plan backfired and Mullah Mansour not only refused to take part in peace talks unless his demands were made but also demonstrated his strength by achieving series of victories on the battlefield. In concert with IMU, the Taliban made gains in Northern Afghanistan including Kunduz, Helmand province in southern Afghanistan and attacked Kabul and Bagram airbase. While son of Mullah Omar Mullah Muhammad Yaqub and brother of Omar, Mullah Manan reconciled with Mansour, Mullah Ghulam Rasool has not reconciled but is in hiding and has insignificant following.

It was owing to continued Taliban offensive that the need for Pakistan’s support was once again felt by the US as well as the unity govt. Quadrilateral talks were initiated which comprised of members from the US, China, Pakistan and Afghanistan. No headway could be made because of the absence of Taliban that had put forward fulfilment of their demands as a precondition to take part in talks. These were: a. Putting Taliban leaders off the UN/US terrorist lists. b. Unfreezing their accounts abroad. c. Removing restrictions on travelling. d. Freeing their prisoners. f. Giving cutout date of withdrawal of foreign forces, and lastly, tailoring Afghan constitution in accordance with Sharia. More importantly, they didn’t want to talk to unity govt which in their view was helpless and a puppet of the US. Not a single demand has been met which indicates their insincerity.  

The deadly Taliban attack on Kabul in last April shook the RSG, Unity govt, ANA and NDS. Not knowing what to do, they found Pakistan as a convenient scapegoat and put the whole blame on Pakistan. For the achievement of momentary relief from their pains, HN was again described as the most deadly outfit and Pakistan was blamed for not doing enough to crack it up. In their view HN is still using Angoor Adda as a crossing point in SW to strike targets in Afghanistan. They ignore the fact that HN has since long made Khost, Paktia, Paktika as forward bases from where it is striking targets all over Afghanistan. Pakistan was also blamed for not playing its part in convincing the Taliban and bringing them to negotiating table.

Ignoring that they had disrupted peace talks, they don’t agree with Pakistan’s stance that it cannot twist the arm of Taliban. They do not agree that while Pakistan has gone out of the way to address Kabul’s anxieties and security concerns, and has taken practical measures to manage the porous border, the other side has not. Over 3 million Afghan refugees which have become a major security hazard are not being accommodated by Kabul. It is creating hurdles in the way of fencing of critical points along the border. Control of Angoor Adda crossing point has been handed over to Afghan Army as an appeasement measure. On Pakistan’s persistent pressure, Taliban had relented and were getting inclined for talks.

The unpopular unity govt instead of inducing and appeasing the Taliban recently hanged six Taliban prisoners to death and one of the sons of Jalaluddin Haqqani, Ans Haqqani is on death row. Indian military is now actively supporting ANA in its fight against the Taliban. Daesh is being secretly strengthened at Nangarhar and married up with TTP runaway leaders by RAW to use it against irreconcilable Taliban and against Pakistan. The other development upon which both Kabul and Washington are feeling upbeat is the patch up with Gulbadin Hikmatyar. His eleven demands have been met.     

The US after expressing its satisfaction and appreciation for some months has reverted to its ‘do more’ mantra and is now openly browbeating Pakistan. It is espousing the stance of Kabul and is blaming Pakistan for not doing enough against HN and in bringing Taliban to the negotiating table. It wants Pakistan to fight Afghan Taliban in the same manner it has been doing against TTP. This is in contravention to its official stance that dialogue and not force will restore peace. Other grouses of Washington against Pakistan are tactical nukes, release of Dr Shakil Afridi who had helped in locating Osama bin Laden’s family residence in Abbottabad through his false polio campaign. In Pakistan’s eye Afridi is a traitor but the US consider him a hero.  

If it is true that Mullah Mansour has died, it is to be ascertained whether he had undertaken a journey from Taftan since Iran has denied it. If so, did he have a connection with Iran and since how long and what was the level of cooperation. Is it that he didn’t measure up to the expectations of Iran and he was given up to please Afghan Northern Alliance and USA? Or were it RAW tentacles that had passed on the information to Washington? It is no secret that Iran has been maintaining secret contacts with Taliban and supplying weapons to them. Reportedly, Taliban have an office in Mashad. (Wall Street Journal report). If the US had gathered the information, why did it allow him to travel a long way well inside Pak territory and then kill him and why not inside Iran or on Iran-Pakistan border? Why Washington is once again trying to embarrass Pakistan govt and Army chief, as it had done in May 2011, by asserting that the two had been informed before the attack?

Does Washington, Kabul, Delhi think that his death will result in serious leadership crisis, permanent divisions within rank and file of Taliban movement, and it will be much easier to bring the reconcilable to the negotiating table and making them agree to their dictated power sharing formula, while isolating and destroying the irreconcilable with ease? Will this act restore peace in war torn Afghanistan?

These assumptions in my view are presumptuous and at best wishful. In all probability, Mansour’s death will not break the Taliban movement. Taliban Rahbari Shura is already in a meeting to elect the new Ameer and five names are under active consideration. Mulla Yaqub, Sirajuddin and Qayyum Zakir are the top contenders. Within next 24 to 48 hours the successor will be announced who will carry forward the baton as had happened after July 31, 2015. This time, the Taliban under new leader will renew ongoing spring offensive with utmost ferocity and in the process Afghans will suffer a lot. The period from June to November will be critical. It is still to be seen how Hikmatyar plays his cards. Will he join the unity govt and pick up fight with the Taliban? I have my doubts. What is confirmed is that chances of peace returning to Af-Pak region have been blown to pieces and it will remain turbulent for decades as already predicted by Obama. As long as India remains in Afghanistan and US maintains its interest in Afghanistan, peace will remain an elusive dream.  

What will now be the stance of Pakistan government? Will it continue to follow its self-defeating policy of appeasement and be contented with a protest against the US intrusion? When will our policy makers define our national interests and accordingly formulate our national, foreign, defence and media policies which guard our core interests and self-esteem of the nation? When will we differentiate between friend and foe and pick up moral courage to take a firm stand against all those inside and outside Pakistan working against national interests? Why are we so apologetic and defensive on the issue of peace talks? If the US, Northern Alliance and India want a regime of their choice in Kabul, why not Pakistan that has paid the heaviest price and has suffered the most on account of pro-India regimes in Kabul?

Pakistan’s adversaries are India, pro-India Afghan regime, double dealing USA, Israel, TTP, BLA, BRA, BLF and not Afghan Taliban whom Pakistan ditched in 2001 and yet it never picked up arms against Pakistan. Even MQM is an adversary since it is on payroll of RAW. These countries and groups have taken the lives of 60,000 Pakistanis and caused a financial loss of $ 107 billion. Why can’t our leaders comprehend that the US is arming India to teeth so as to pulverize Pakistan? Why can’t our leaders understand that terrorism was a ruse to capture the resources of the Muslims and neo colonise them? Terrorism is being stoked by USA, Israel and India.

Why have we not been able to strike down drones when Iran and people of NW could do it? Will we continue to impotently let others violate our sovereignty, play about with our honor and dignity? How long will we seek aid from USA which is always tied to humiliating conditions? The politicians are so heavily engrossed in amassing ill-gotten wealth that they seem oblivious to Indo-US-Afghanistan plans to strategically encircle Pakistan and then denuclearize and balkanize it. Modi and Ashraf Ghani are in Tehran to give final shape to their sinister plan. Plans of Indo-US navies are afoot to nuclearize Indian Ocean. Are our leaders unaware of these developments, or are dumb, or lack moral courage? All stances are criminal and inexcusable. I reckon, enough is enough! Our leaders will have to wake up to the already emerged threat to the security and integrity of Pakistan and take practical measures to ward off the threats. We have to respond to drone attacks and have to put a stop to sickening ‘do more mantra!’

The writer is retired Brig, war veteran, defence analyst, columnist, author of five books, Director Measac Research Centre, Director Board of Governors Thinkers Forum. He delivers lectures, takes part in TV talk shows and is active on facebook. [email protected]




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