Can Obama's Afghan Surge Succeed?
President Barack Obama has announced plans to send another thirty thousand American soldiers to Afghanistan, bringing the total US troops strength to 100,000 there in the ninth year of the Afghan war, already the longest in US history. This troops surge is part of the latest U.S. attempt to improve the security situation in Afghanistan, defeat the Al Qaeda and the Taliban militants, and to transfer security responsibilities to an Afghan national force to be trained by the Americans by mid-2011. Are these goals achievable? To answer these questions, it is important to understand a few facts and myths about Afghanistan, Pakistan, Al Qaeda and the Taliban.
Afghanistan Facts: 1. Afghans are fiercely independent. They have rarely been colonized in their entire history. The British occupied the country for brief periods of time but they could never maintain their rule. Unlike the neighboring states of India and Pakistan which became their colonies, the British did not build any western-style state institutions, or railroad systems, or road network, or electricity grid or telecommunications network or other similar systems in Afghanistan. 2. Although no foreign power has been able to gain and keep control of Afghanistan for any significant length of time, it has not stopped them from trying to increase their influence via proxies. During the British Raj in India, for example, both Britain and Russia fiercely competed for influence in the country. The last several decades have seen the India-Pakistan rivalries played out in the resource-rich landlocked nation. Others, including China, have an interest in Afghanistan, as demonstrated by the Chinese contract for a multi-billion dollar Aynak copper mining project. 3. Contrary to the impressions of many Americans or Europeans, Afghanistan is not comparable to either Iraq or Pakistan or any other nation in the region. The country is not a modern nation-state by any stretch of the imagination. It has almost no history of strong central government and working institutions such as functional bureaucracy, central government tax collection and revenue service, effective police or strong national army, capable of asserting national authority over the entire population. It has been ruled by a weak central authority dependent on the goodwill of the various local tribal chiefs, and warlords with their private militias. 4. During the Communist era starting in the 1970s, the army split into government-backed soldiers and Mujaheddin rebels. By 1991, the military of Afghanistan became dysfunctional, dissolving into portions controlled by different warlord factions when President Mohammad Najibullah was forced out of power and the mujaheddin rebel groups took control of the country. This was later followed by the Taliban take over, who established a military force on the basis of Islamic sharia law. 5. It is among the poorest, minimally urbanized, and least developed countries in the world with very low levels of human development. There is an extremely small middle class in the country. 6. It is a tribal society with its mostly rural population widely dispersed over a large area and extremely difficult terrain. 7. The last several decades have been devastating for Afghanistan because of constant warfare, first against the Russians in the 1980s, then amongst the multiple ethnic/tribal factions led by various warlords in the 1990s, then the Taliban rule characterized by relative peace through ruthless central control imposed by the Mullahs, and finally the American invasion and occupation since 2001. 8. Afghan public spending has historically relied on foreign assistance because of the consistently low level of domestic revenue collected by the central government. Revenue generation had always been a problem for the government. Between 1939 and 1972 revenue grew by only 26 percent after discounting for inflation. Although revenue grew much more quickly between 1978 and 1982, the 170-percent increase in revenue could not keep pace with the hike in spending. Afghanistan's ratio of total domestic revenues-both tax and nontax-to GDP (only $400 per capita--one of the lowest the world) was about 19 percent, considered by observers to be relatively low. Government revenues remained comparatively small because of the low level of taxation. The country's tax administration depended, as did that of all central governments, on a monetized tax base. In Afghanistan, however, much of national production was subsistence agriculture production largely beyond the reach of tax collectors.
|Afghan Ethnic Groups|
Al Qaeda Facts: 1. Al Qaeda was an organization with central leadership, command and control located in Afghanistan prior to 911. But that is no longer true. According to former State Department official Mathew Hoh who served in Afghanistan, al Qaeda is an elastic, amorphous entity, one based not on geography but ideology. “Al Qaeda is a collection of ideas, of independent, autonomous cells,” Hoh says. “They don’t need a lot of funding. They need an apartment with an Internet connection.” 2. Even the 911 hijackers were not all recruited and trained in any one country. They came from different nations and were educated and trained mostly in the United States and Western Europe. What they shared in common was an ideology rather than a geography. 3. Hundreds of al Qaeda members, including many top leaders, have been captured or killed by Pakistani and US military in the region since 911. 4. There have been multiple reports of al Qaeda popping up in several countries around the world, confirming Mathew Hoh's arguments that al Qaeda is not confined to a particular geography in central or south Asia. Pakistan Facts: 1. In spite of some regional radicalization promoted to fight the Soviet menace in the 1980s, Pakistan is a moderate Islamic state where the religious parties have had little public support in multiple elections organized since the nation's independence from Britain in 1947. 2. Although democracy has not thrived in Pakistan, the country does have a significant and growing middle class, an active civil society, vibrant mass media, an array of political parties, elected government and parliament, functioning bureaucracy, judiciary and police, and a powerful national military armed with nuclear weapons. 3. There were no religious militants or incidents of suicide bombings in Pakistan before the US invasion of Afghanistan in 2001. 4. There was practically no presence of the Taliban or al Qaeda in Pakistan prior to 911. But in recent years, thousands of Pakistani soldiers and civilians have died fighting, killing or capturing the militants who fled into Pakistan from Afghanistan. 5. There have been thousands of casualties from high-profile terrorist incidents in Pakistan. Both the government and people of Pakistan have greatly suffered as a major terrorist target in recent years after joining the US war on terror. 6. India-Pakistan rivalry continues to play itself out in Afghanistan, close to the Pakistani border, with each nation building alliances there to serve their interests. Since returning to Afghan after US invasion in 2001, India has done its own surge with thousands of diplomats, intelligence agents and workers into Afghanistan and pumped hundreds of millions of dollars to build its presence along the Pakistan border in Afghanistan. All of these Indian activities make Pakistanis justifiably suspicious, creating a sense of siege in Pakistan. Many Pakistanis see the rural-tribal Pashtun supporters of the Afghan Taliban as counterweight to India's growing influence threatening Pakistan's western borders.
Afghan Taliban Facts: 1. According to Maximilian Forte, the Taliban expert Ahmad Rashid points out that the core and founding leadership of the current Taliban movement did indeed form part of the anti-Soviet mujahidin struggle. 2. The Taliban are all local Pashtuns with deep roots in Afghanistan and the border region of Pakistan. In the 1980s, President Ronald Reagan invited some of those who later became founders of the Taliban movement to the White House and hailed them as "moral equivalents of America's founding fathers". 3. None of the 911 hijackers were Afghans, or Pakistani, or the Taliban. They were all Arabs, who were educated in the West and trained to fly planes in the United States in preparation for their terror attacks. 4. The Taliban now control most of the territory in Afghanistan with the acquiescence of the Afghan population, afraid of the Taliban or disenchanted with the corruption and incompetence of the Karzai government, which is seen to be supported by the United States.
Conclusion: Given the above facts, the chances of success of the Obama strategy of immediate surge with 30,000 troops followed by exit from Afghanistan beginning in 18 months appear to be remote. The best that US and NATO can hope for is to fight to a stalemate in Afghanistan. The goal of training a national Afghan army and transfer of security is almost impossible to achieve, as the Soviets learned more than twenty years ago, when they were defeated. The US surge in Afghanistan and expansion of drone attacks in Pakistan will simply increase fighting, causing more US and Afghan casualties and it will push more fighters into Pakistan. This strategy will result in higher death toll in Pakistan and further destabilization of the entire neighborhood, a far more dangerous prospect for the whole world that the current situation in Afghanistan. The biggest obstacles in the efforts to achieve peace in Afghanistan and security for the United States are the corrupt and incompetent Karzai government, the brutal and unscrupulous Afghan warlords, and the continuing India-Pakistan rivalry playing itself out in the region, and destabilizing nuclear-armed Pakistan.
Recommendation: The best course of action now open for the US is to use the 18 month transition period to reach a direct accommodation with the Afghan Taliban that guarantees that they will not permit any one to launch terrorist attacks against any nation from the Afghan soil. The US military withdrawal from the region should begin immediately after such a peace deal with the Taliban backed by regional guarantors, including Pakistan and China. Beyond Afghanistan, the global terrorist threat from al Qaeda needs to be met with a coordinated international effort that relies on carrots and sticks to give the insurgents a stake in maintaining world peace.
Related Links: FATA Faceoff Fears US, NATO Fighting to Stalemate in Afghanistan Interview with Mathew Hoh Why is US Losing in Afghanistan? Why We Should Leave Afghanistan Is Pakistan Too Big to Fail? China's Growing Role in Afghanistan Taliban or RAW-liban? Twentieth Anniversary of Soviet Defeat in Afghanistan Feudal Slavery in South Asia The State, Religion, Ethnic Politics: Afghanistan, Iran and Pakistan
The back-to-back visits to Pakistan this week by China's Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi and the Russian president's special envoy for Afghanistan, Zamir Kabulov, are rich in political symbolism and strategic content.
The consultations came at a time when Pakistan is reeling under pressure from the United States, the future of Afghanistan remains complicated and regional security is in flux.
The timing of the consultations will draw attention - since they were sandwiched between the summit of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) in Chicago on May 20-21 and the forthcoming summit of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) in Beijing on June 6-7. Afghanistan is a burning issue for both international groupings.
Yang underscored that China will unwaveringly pursue the policy of further strengthening its friendship with Pakistan and is willing to work together to deepen practical cooperation and strengthen the strategic coordination and elevate the partnership to new heights.
Xinhua news agency reported that China and Pakistan have agreed to "strengthen multilateral coordination and to safeguard the common interests of both sides." The reference seems to be to Pakistan's role in the SCO, whose forthcoming summit in Beijing will be attended by Zardari.
While Yang's official visit had a broad-ranging agenda, Kabulov's consultations were focused and purposive. He came to Islamabad primarily to discuss the situation in Afghanistan and the forthcoming visit to Pakistan by Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Kabulov is Moscow's ace diplomatic troubleshooter on Afghanistan. The Pakistani accounts quoted him as saying to Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani that "enormous commonalities" existed between Russia and Pakistan on regional issues and bilateral cooperation. Clearly, the reference is to the situation surrounding the Afghan problem, where both Russia and Pakistan have been seeking a bigger role while the US selectively engages them for specific roles.
Putin's visit to Pakistan, which is expected "soon", will be the first by a Russian head of state in the six-decade long history of relations between the two countries. It will consolidate the remarkable makeover in the two countries' relations in the past two to three years.
The fact that Putin picked Pakistan to be one of his first visits abroad after taking over as president in the Kremlin itself testifies to the "mood swing" in the geopolitics of the region. Many trends need to be factored in here.
Russia is gearing up to play an effective role in world affairs. Its assertive stance on Syria and Iran can be expected to extend to Pakistan and Central Asia. Russia kept its participation over the NATO summit on a low-key and saw to it that none of the Central Asian leaders who were invited - from Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan - attended either. Meanwhile, Moscow also hosted a summit of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO). Putin is undertaking visits to Belarus, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan during the week ahead and is virtually launching his Eurasian project.
The utter failure of the US strategy in Afghanistan stands exposed in terms of its exceptionalism and the stark absence of a regional consensus. Yang and Kabulov could and should have been the US's best allies in urging Pakistan to work with the international community for an enduring peace in Afghanistan. The paradox is that even in the prevailing situation of high volatility in the US's relations with Russia and China they might well have done that, but without Washington's bidding.
Along with the Taliban, Pakistan will be a massive gainer from America's troop drawdown from Afghanistan by end-2014. A top-level US official, speaking off-the-record, has told Business Standard that Pakistan will get first call on all the American military equipment that costs too much to be transported back to the US.
Washington believes it is obligated to Islamabad for bringing the Taliban to the negotiating table at Qatar, for discussions aimed at reducing violence in Afghanistan, which would smoothen the American troop drawdown this year and the next. Furthermore, Washington relies on Pakistan for overland transit from Afghanistan to Karachi, where heavy equipment is loaded onto cargo vessels bound for the US.
Uzbekistan, which also provides transit routes to the US, had earlier sought to buy the surplus US equipment in Afghanistan. But routing through Uzbekistan, and then over a road and rail network in Central Asia and Russia called the Northern Distribution Network, is four to five times more expensive and time consuming than transiting through Pakistan. Washington has now decided conclusively in favour of Pakistan.
An earlier report in The Washington Post had estimated that the US military would leave behind some $7 billion worth of defence equipment, one-fifth of what is deployed in Afghanistan. US military officials tell Business Standard that aircraft, heavy weapons, vehicles and equipment are likely to be repatriated to the US. Much of what Pakistan will benefit from will be ammunition, vehicles, construction material, air-conditioners, etc.
Much more could be left behind if the situation deteriorates; Taliban resistance would determine what could feasibly be transported. Sceptics in New Delhi point out that Pakistan controls the spigot of violence.
It has not been revealed how much Pakistan would pay for the equipment left behind, but US officials say it would be a fraction of the real value. Given that the US is paying billions of dollars each year to build up the Afghan National Army (ANA) and Afghan National Police (ANP), it remains unclear why Washington has not given Kabul the first call on the surplus equipment being left behind.
The cost of repatriation, says Bloomberg News, could be about $7 billion. Danish container giant, Moeller-Maersk A/S, Singapore-based Neptune Orient Lines, and German company, Hapag-Lloyd AG will ship out some 22,000 container-loads of equipment, says US Assistant Secretary of Defence for Logistics, Alan Estevez.
Former US military commander Gen (R) David Petraeus has said that during his long association with his Pakistani counterparts and interaction with ISI as head of CIA, he could never find a convincing piece of evidence which supported the alleged double game by ISI or its explicit support to elements associated with terrorism.
This statement was given by the general while answering a question during an interactive discussion session that was held at Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) in the last month during which the commander talked about wide range of issues and challenges likely to be faced by the next US administration.
During the discussion, an Afghan female student from Buckingham University asked the general about the alleged complicity of Pakistan in fomenting trouble in Afghanistan, double role played by ISI and why US was not using its influence to reign in Pakistan. The general gave an elaborate reply and talked for about 7-8 minutes. He said that during his long association with his Pakistani counterparts and interaction with ISI as head of CIA, he could never find a convincing piece of evidence which supported the allegation of double game by ISI or its explicit support to elements associated with terrorism. He said like any other intelligence agency, ISI might have had some sort of communication channels to engage with them and there may have been some degree of accommodation but the talk about explicit support or double game is more of a journalistic conclusion with no concrete evidence. He said that Pakistan Army’s campaign against the Taliban in Swat in 2009 and its subsequent progress in most of the Tribal belt under General Kayani and his successor, General Raheel Sharif, was impressive.
“Pakistan Army suffered casualties and had limited Intelligence, Surveillance & Reconnaissance (ISR) capabilities though the US did try to help and there existed enormous amount of cooperation between the two militaries. However, the unfortunate episodes of Raymond Davis and publications of book by Bob Woodward and WikiLeaks did impact negatively on this cooperation”. Petraeus added that he looked hard to establish any linkage between Pakistan Army, FC and ISI with any of the terrorist elements and did not find any supporting evidence. What Pakistani military has not been able to achieve has more to do with its capacity rather than it being complicit. He again said that the popular narrative about ISI double game etc was a journalistic thing. He said that some people refer to Pakistan as FRENEMY but again exact pinning down the blame on Pakistan for attacks on US soldiers in Afghanistan remains ‘very very difficult’.
As regards the leverage, there is a limit to what US can achieve. US did cut of all aid, stopped F-16s but it did not help and the two countries only came together after 9/11. He said that managing its relationship with Pakistan would be among the top two or three challenges for the next administration”. Considering his background as one of the top US military leaders in Afghanistan and Iraq and former head of CIA, comments of General Petraeus against the popular Afghani, Indian and Western propaganda maligning Pakistan Army/ISI is considered very helpful in setting the record straight especially considering the significant attendance of the event by people from various backgrounds. The session was moderated by Sir Peter Ricketts, Senior Association fellow of RUSI.
India must not commit the error of placing Indian troops on Afghan soil, says the diplomat who coordinated New Delhi’s secret military assistance to Ahmad Shah Massoud, the military commander of the Northern Alliance, who fought the Taliban and U.S. forces till his assassination in 2001.
For four years, between 1996 and 2000, till he left the Tajik capital Dushanbe to take up his new posting, Ambassador Bharath Raj Muthu Kumar coordinated military and medical assistance that India was secretly giving to Massoud and his forces.
It all began, says Mr. Muthu Kumar, exactly a week after September 26, 1996, when the Taliban, backed by Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), took over Kabul, shot former President Najibullah dead, castrated him, and hung his body from a lamp post. Just hours before, Indian Embassy staff had scrambled into the last plane out of a country that had begun its descent into hell.
Amrullah Saleh, who looked after Kabul’s interests in the Tajik capital, called Mr. Muthu Kumar to inform him that the “Commander” would like to meet him.
“Commander” was a reference to Massoud, the Lion of Panjshir, who made his name guerrilla-fighting the Soviets when they occupied Afghanistan for 10 years. The Indian ambassador sought instructions from New Delhi on what was to be done. The response: “Listen carefully, report back faithfully, and play it by ear.”
Over chai and dry fruits
Massoud maintained a house on Karamova Ulitse in Dushanbe. He had his own staff and Mohammed Saleh Registani looked after the affairs of his house. It was here that the Indian ambassador regularly began meeting Ahmed Shah Massoud, discussing, over endless chai and dry fruits, the bewilderingly shifting fortunes of the battles in Afghanistan where money was enough to swing fighters. The Commander did not speak English and Amrullah, who would later go on to become Intelligence Chief, interpreted for him. The Indian ambassador subsequently had his number two in the mission, Dr S.A. Qureshi on hand for interpretation.
At the first meeting, the Commander had dramatically thrown his trademark cap down on the table, and declared, that was all the space he required — the circumference of his headgear — to stand and fight for his country. He put it simply: “I need India’s support.” He then set out a list of items he needed.
What is in it for us? Delhi queried. Mr. Muthu Kumar explained, “He is battling someone we should be battling. When Massoud fights the Taliban, he fights Pakistan.”
The Commander’s wish list kept growing, and when once, New Delhi agreed to send only a fraction of the requirement, Mr. Muthu Kumar sent a message explaining Massoud’s predicament with an Ajit joke: “We have thrown him in liquid oxygen: the liquid won’t let him live and the oxygen won’t allow him to die.”
Jaswant Singh, a former soldier, and then BJP leader, who had become External Affairs Minister, read the cables the first thing. He directly called Mr. Muthu Kumar and gave him a message to deliver to the Commander: “Please assure him that he will have his requirements.”
Short of sending heavy equipment, India provided extensive assistance to the Northern Alliance — uniforms, ordnance, mortars, small armaments, refurbished Kalashnikovs seized in Kashmir, combat and winter clothes, packaged food, medicines, and funds through his brother in London, Wali Massoud. Assistance would be delivered circuitously with the help of other countries who helped this outreach.
Crossing into Pakistan was emotional for everyone.
“You know, it’s almost like there’s a road sign, ‘Stop, take a picture of Welcome to Pakistan.’ Even the crew members in the back, were like, ‘We’re in, right? Pakistan?’ And I’m like, ‘Yep’,” Englen said.
The deeper they flew into Pakistan, the more it felt like “metropolis United States,” with power lines, towers, cultural lighting. The contrast was stark: they were in a completely different country, much more prosperous than Afghanistan.
"You could see lights coming off and on,” said Englen. “You could tell that we are waking up Pakistan, because this is not normal. An aircraft flying at roughly 11:30 to midnight is not normal, because they (Pakistan military aircraft) don’t play at night as much as we do. In fact, at all, sometimes.”
While the local populace was aware something was up (and began tweeting and calling 911), the special operations aviators weren’t getting indications that the Pakistani military or the Air Force was keen on what they were doing.
“But, it’s paramilitary, so we just knew that eventually they would. We made it to the objective without really causing too much of a ruckus over the 911 calls. (But,) once we crashed the aircraft, within the first 30 seconds of the mission, then that’s when we really woke up that entire valley,” Englen said.
King Zahir Shah was the Monarch and absolute ruler of Flag of Afghanistan from 8 November 1933 to 17 July 1973. His rule was underlined by peace and stability on #Afghanistan's borders and within. He left for medical treatment in Italy in 1973...
While the King was getting medical treatment, his cousin Muhammad Daud Khan plotted to overthrow him. On 17th July 1973, Daud Khan backed by elements of Afghan Army and Communist leaning People's Democratic Party of Afghanistan, He mounted a successful Coup and took over Flag of Afghanistan.
Daoud hosted General Secretary of National Awami Party Khan Abdul Wali Khan, Ajmal Khattak, Juma Khan Sufi, Baluch militants, and others. Khan's government and forces also commenced training Pakhtun Zalmay and young Baluchs to conduct militant action and terrorism in Pakistan.
Between 27th - 28th of April 1978, communist sleeper cells inside Afghan Army were activated by PDPA leader Hafizullah Amin who had been under house arrest on Daud's orders. In "Saur Revolution" coup that followed, Daud Khan along with most members of his family were massacred.
On 30th April 1978, communist leader Nur Muhammad Taraki took over the Presidency and the control of the communist party. He quickly developed feud with fellow communist Hafizullah Amin who plotted to overthrow him because of disagreement over the power sharing formula.
On 14th September 1979 as Taraki returned from his Moscow trip, he was imprisoned on Hafizullah Amin's orders, who had him executed by suffocation while in captivity - and formally took over the Presidency.
Between 14th Sept to 27th December 1979, Hafizullah Amin tried to hang on to power, but he quickly lost confidence of his KGB handlers. KGB believed him to be a double agent of CIA due to his overtures to Washington, a mistake that would prove to be fatal.
By early 1979, 25 out of Afghanistan's 28 provinces were unstable because of armed resistance against the Amin regime. On 29th of March 1979, the Herat uprising began; the uprising turned the revolt into an open war between the Mujahideen and the communist Afghan government.
By 1979, the KGB had lost patience with Amin & KGB Gen Yuri Drozdov approved plans to have him assassinated. 2 attempts were made on his life by the KGB's which failed, so they decided to have him executed in a bloody coup to take place at Tajbeg Palace.
By early-to-mid December 1979, the Soviet leadership had established an alliance with Babrak Karmal, who was to take over after Amin had been assassinated. On 27th Dec 1979, Amin and most of his family were massacred by KGB, Spetsnaz in an operation codenamed: Storm-333.
Babrak Karmal enjoyed complete backing of the USSR when he took over the Presidency on the same day Hafizullah Amin was executed by KGB. For the next 6 years he would oversee the scorched earth campaign of the 40th red Army in his own country, killing over 2m Afghans.
As the Soviet 40th Army intensified its brutal campaign in #Afghanistan, a joint "Operation Cyclone" was launched by the CIA and the ISI. Over the next 6 years, the Mujahideen would bring the 40th red Army to its knees along with its communist Afghan military allies.
As the war in #Afghanistan turned into "Soviet Vietnam", the KGB recommended overthrow of their blue eyed Babrak Karmal and replace him with the Chief of Afghan Intelligence KHAD, Major Gen Mohammad Najibullah, who deposed Babrak in a bloodless party coup and finally took over;
The Presidency on 30th Sept 1987. Najibullah was a bona fide KGB agent and enjoyed full confidence of KGB Chief Yuri Andropov. As the head of KHAD, Najibullah oversaw the industrial scale torture and murder of Afghan prisoners. KGB saw him as a "strongman" they needed.
King Zahir Shah was the Monarch and absolute ruler of Flag of Afghanistan from 8 November 1933 to 17 July 1973. His rule was underlined by peace and stability on #Afghanistan's borders and within. He left for medical treatment in Italy in 1973...
14 April 1988 the Afghan and Pakistani governments signed the Geneva Accords, requiring the Soviet 40th Army to retreat from #Afghanistan by 15th February 1989, marking the end to a brutal civil war in the country. The future of Najibullah's communist regime became uncertain.
After the Soviet 40th Army retreated, and the disintegration process of the USSR began by 1992, all military aid to Najibullah's 300,000 strong military dried up. The Afghan Army Generals started to defect, Major cities were lost to Mujahideen and on 14th April he resigned.
Najibullah requested political asylum from India but the Indian Govt refused despite Najibullah being a long time partner of New Delhi against Pakistan. He took refuge at the UN compound until 26th of September 1996, when a new insurgent group defeated Ahmed Shah Massoud..
In the battle of Kabul and took control of the UN compound, where they arrested Najibullah and his brother, who were later executed with their bodies displayed publicly, while his wife had already fled to India. This little known group was called the "Taliban".
Personal note: The genesis of the Taliban has to be understood in the convoluted historic context of the Cold War Era politics in Afghanistan. The Communists who took over the reigns of power in an illegal coup introduced a reign of terror in Afghanistan that killed millions..
Over time, aware of the government’s vulnerable position, Afghan leaders turned to an outside source to galvanize the population: Pakistan. Razziq, President Hamid Karzai and later President Ashraf Ghani used Pakistan as an outside threat to unite Afghans behind them. They refused to characterize the Taliban as anything but a creation of Islamabad. Razziq relentlessly claimed to be fighting a foreign Pakistani invasion. Yet Pakistan could never fully out-inspire occupation. A popular tale related to me in 2018 by an Afghan government official illuminates the reality:
An Afghan army officer and a Taliban commander were insulting each other over their radios while shooting back and forth. The Taliban commander taunted: “You are puppets of America!” The army officer shouted back: “You are the puppets of Pakistan!” The Taliban commander replied: “The Americans are infidels. The Pakistanis are Muslims.” The Afghan officer had no response.
Let’s take Pakistan, for example. Pakistan is a powerful factor here. But on the battlefield, if 200 Afghan police and army are confronted with 50 Taliban or less than that, and those government forces retreat, that doesn’t have a lot to do with Pakistan. That has to do with something else.
Russian Special Presidential Envoy for Afghanistan Zamir Kabulov said last week that “Pakistan, along with Russia and almost all neighbouring countries, is interested in Afghanistan returning to normality and becoming a reliable trade and economic bridge connecting Pakistan and Eurasia.” He then added that “Sometimes it seems that when those in Kabul who are supposed to protect their land from the Taliban fail to do that, they start searching for someone to blame and always consider Pakistan to be a suitable scapegoat.”
Several days later, The Express Tribune cited its sources to report that Pakistani National Security Advisor Moeed Yusuf and Director-General ISI Lt. General Faiz Hameed told US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan that Russia is also interested in supporting the Afghan peace process and preventing the on-going civil war there from worsening. That same day, Russia’s publicly financed TASS – its most reputable English-language media outlet which only reports facts and not any interpretations thereof like RT and Sputnik do – ran a story about The Express Tribune’s report in order to raise awareness among their audience of this friendly gesture.
Taken together, these three developments are noteworthy in the sense that they show how much Russia and Pakistan are politically supporting one another on Afghanistan. The Eurasian Great Power is nowadays officially critiquing Kabul’s tendency to exploit Pakistan as a scapegoat in Afghanistan. At the same time, Islamabad is reportedly reassuring Washington of its Russian rival’s peaceful intentions in that same country. This represents a milestone in the Russian-Pakistani rapprochement since it’s the first time that both countries have supported the others’ interests in Afghanistan in the face of third-party criticism.
It’s veritably the case that Kabul regularly uses Pakistan as a scapegoat the same as Washington has previously claimed that Russia has ulterior motives in Afghanistan (e.g. last summer’s Russia-Taliban bounty fake news scandal). That said, few could have expected Russia to officially defend Pakistan from Kabul’s scapegoating just as few could have expected Pakistan to reportedly defend Russia from the US’ suspicions about its intentions. This just goes to show how rapidly Russian-Pakistani relations are improving in recent years, accelerated as they are by their shared interests in Afghanistan.
Observers also shouldn’t overlook the importance of TASS reporting on the Express Tribune’s story about how two of the top Pakistani security officials defended Russia during their latest trip to the US. The publicly financed Russian outlet was presumably so impressed that it wanted to share this good news with their audience in order to inform them of how far Russian-Pakistani relations have come in such a short time. Their story can go a long way towards positively reshaping perceptions about Pakistan and helping others move beyond out-dated Old Cold War-era stereotypes about that South Asian country.
The takeaway from all of this is that it’s time for more experts to pay attention to Russian-Pakistani relations, especially the positive impact that they’ve had on the Afghan peace process. Many influential folks have been ignoring this for far too long to the detriment of their analyses’ accuracy. Their work will always remain incomplete without incorporating this important diplomatic dimension into the insight that they share. It’s impossible for anyone of importance to ignore this relationship any longer if they have professional integrity. At the very least, Russia’s and Pakistan’s defence of one another in the face of third-party criticism is newsworthy.
"I have the proof that they have a force of over 300,000 soldiers and police. They have a modern Air Force -- an Air Force, by the way, which we continue to contribute to and to -- and to improve. They have modern weaponry; they have -- they have an organizational structure. They have a lot of advantages that the Taliban don't have. Taliban doesn't have an Air Force, Taliban doesn't own airspace, they have a lot of advantages. Now, they have to use those advantages. They have to exert that leadership. And it's got to come both from a political and from the military side"
Most of these ethnic Pashtuns are wary of a never-ending war in their region and blame both the Taliban and Islamabad for the devastation in their areas.
As the Taliban are gaining strength in Afghanistan, liberal Pashtuns fear it is just a matter of time before Islamists make a comeback in Pakistan's northwestern areas, too.
There are already reports of Pakistani citizens holding Taliban flags and chanting Islamist slogans at rallies in areas close to the Afghan border. Islamic clerics in various parts of the country are also soliciting support for the Afghan Taliban and calling for donations.
This comes amid rapid Taliban advances in Afghanistan ahead of the complete withdrawal of NATO troops by September.
Opposition to the Taliban
Progressive Pashtuns recently held a convention in Charsadda, a town in Pakistan's northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, to discuss the deteriorating security situation in Afghanistan.
They denounced the Taliban's assaults on Afghan forces.
They also condemned the United States' Doha deal with the Taliban , saying it practically legitimized the militant group.
The convention, which was composed of leading Pashtun nationalist parties, intellectuals, academics and left-leaning political workers, called for an immediate cease-fire across Afghanistan to pave the way for peace talks.
The Pashtun Tahafuz Movement (PTM), an anti-war group, has also held massive rallies in several parts of the province in the past few weeks. The PTM has condemned the Taliban and expressed its support for the Afghan government.
Support for Ashraf Ghani
Said Alam Mehsud, a PTM leader, believes that the Pashtuns in Afghanistan and Pakistan would suffer immensely if the Taliban managed to take over Kabul. "We support President Ashraf Ghani's government because it is legitimate. The Taliban are Pakistani mercenaries who want to topple an internationally recognized government," he told DW.
"The Taliban destroy schools, stop women from working, hand down inhuman punishments and kill innocent civilians. How can we support them?" he said.
On the contrary, Ghani's government, according to Mehsud, carried out several development projects in Afghanistan. The human rights situation has also improved under his administration, he added.
Bushra Gohar, a Pashtun politician and former lawmaker, agrees with Mehsud. "The PTM and other Pashtun groups are supporting Ghani because our people don't want to see the return of the Taliban's barbaric rule," she told DW.
She said that, despite Taliban advances, Afghans are revolting against Islamists. "We see an uprising against the Taliban in Afghanistan. People are taking to the streets to show support to their government and the security forces."
Samina Afridi, a Peshawar-based political analyst, says Pashtuns on both sides of the Afghanistan-Pakistan border want education, human rights and democracy, but the Taliban are against that.
The 'Taliban project'
Pakistani authorities have long accused liberal Pashtun groups, including the PTM, of destabilizing the country at Afghanistan's behest.
The PTM has gained considerable strength in the past four years, drawing tens of thousands of people to its protest rallies. Its supporters are critical of the war on terror, which they say has ravaged Pashtun areas in both Afghanistan and Pakistan.
The PTM movement envisions an alternate relationship between citizen and state.
Perhaps, the only slogan borrowed from older iterations of Pashtun nationalism is that of ‘Lar-o-bar Yaw Afghan’ (All Afghans are one). This slogan particularly evokes insecurity within the Pakistani state because it implies the fracture of the country. It can also evoke either making a separate Pashtunistan (a homeland for the Pashtuns) or joining with Afghanistan. The propaganda and suppression tactics surrounding this slogan, it can be argued, form the basis of Afghan support for the PTM. But this slogan expresses the cultural, historical and linguistic identity of Pashtuns as transcending the borders of Pakistan and also as participants in the project of the Pakistani nation as a people having their own identity and culture.
This charge of separatism also comes with the charge of an exclusively ethnic movement. This charge erases the conceptualisation of the particular versus the universal. It raises questions around collective self-expression and how it can be done in a participatory, ethical way.
A national consciousness is very different from the kind of nationalism which creates an essential category of a ‘nation’. That national consciousness takes stock of race- or ethnicity-based oppression. Rather than essentialising the ‘nation’, this consciousness seeks recognition in a framework of the universal. The crucial concept is that a particular race or ethnicity shouldn’t become universal and collaboration should be sought with other groups working towards a universal movement recognising the specificity of nationhood. The universal in turn shouldn’t essentialise and erase particular communities (both go hand in hand).
In this light, the PTM can be seen as reclaiming the right of being different and simultaneously of belonging to a country through the instrument of the constitution. In the PTM’s imagination, the constitution has a life of its own, and can be called upon again and again in order to legitimise the movement. Though the constitution is not a perfect document and is open to change to reflect changing socio-political circumstances, it is a guarantee protecting against the violation of human rights and of the state’s praetorian hold. The abstractness of the articles of the constitution finds materiality in the political programme where those who see the constitution as subservient to the ‘interests of the nation’ are made subservient to the dictates of the constitution. The PTM finds solidarity from people who are not Pashtuns and are not affected by war, because the constitution has the seeds of an alternate tomorrow which can challenge the economy and war-fuelled state through the constant violation of rights of the periphery as well as of people cast as the undesirable ‘other’.
Pashtuns have a complex relationship with the Pakistani state. It is validly argued that they hold disproportionate representation in some institutions, such as in the army, with between 15 and 22 percent of officers and between 20 and 25 percent among the rank and file said to be Pashtuns.
This is partly due to Pashtuns being the largest ethnic minority of the country, the portrayal of Pashtuns as a martial race by the British Raj (continued by the postcolonial state), and a long political struggle leading to upward social mobility for Pashtuns in some areas. Despite being the largest ethnic minority, they are treated, consciously or unconsciously, as the ethnic other to the de-ethnicised Pakistan: their lands are treated as arenas of war and their people are deployed to fight proxy wars of the state. The PTM aims to disrupt this dual treatment born out of the war economy. Their program is not only non-violent, it is also anti-violence and anti-war.
The dispute is over how nationality will be designated on the new cards, with leading figures from some ethnic groups rejecting the term “Afghan”.
The controversy highlights the difficulties of reaching agreement on just about anything in the diverse, faction-ridden country and comes as President Ashraf Ghani, an ethnic Pashtun, is locked in confrontation with the powerful ethnic Tajik governor of a northern province.
Politicians from Afghanistan’s main ethnic group, the Pashtuns, say nationalities should be recorded as “Afghan”. But that is a term that in the past was used to refer to Pashtuns, and members of other ethnic groups object to its use.
“Our ethnicity is our identity and any ID card with the name ‘Afghan’ on it, will never be acceptable to us. There’s no compromise,” said Farhad Sediqi, an outspoken Tajik lawmaker.
“We’d prefer to have ‘Islamic Republic of Afghanistan’ on the identity cards and that covers everything.”
President Ashraf Ghani, who is Pashtun, has delayed the launch of the cards and called for a solution.
But tempers are running high and several sessions of parliament called to debate the matter in recent weeks have ended with exchanges of barbs and threats.
One Pashtun member of parliament, Saheb Khan, warned the assembly he would fight to the death against anyone who did not accept the word Afghan on the ID cards.
The Taliban in Afghanistan has prevented many women from attending university and suspended secondary education for girls since retaking power in 2021.