News & Views
AFGHANISTAN has been in the throes of a multidimensional civil war for over three and a half decades. With the rift between the partners of Unity Government and intensified Taliban attacks, the country is adrift to more uncertainties, chaos and anarchy. Afghan National Unity Government, instead of putting its own house in order, continues to blame Pakistan for its failures which will not help control the situation. There is record increase in violence in Afghanistan and the Taliban have expanded their influence by gaining control of at least 50% of the territory. Russia, China and Pakistan tried to persuade the Taliban to end violence and come to the negotiation table, but President Ashraf Ghani and CEO Abdullah Abdullah appear to be averse to the idea and are playing in the hands of India which is fraught with extreme dangers.
There are other developments in Afghanistan. For quite some time, efforts were being made to woo the leader of Hizb-e-Islami, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar to appease Pushtuns, and agreement to that effect was made two weeks ago. There is also a perception that Afghan government wants Hizb-e-Islami militants to take on Taliban, and in the process both become weak. Hekmatyar, in an address to thousands of his supporters in Ghazi Stadium in Kabul on Friday, recalled his recent remarks about militants and said the Afghan war is being financed from abroad in an apparent reference to Pakistan. Referring to the war in Afghanistan, Hekmatyar said: “We hate those who insist on continuing the war in Afghanistan – the war which sacrifices only Afghans and the war that is financed from abroad.” This statement belies claims of Paksitan’s chattering classes that with agreement between the government and Hizb-e-Islami Pakistan will be the beneficiary.
The Hizb-e-Islami leader once again called on the Taliban to quit insurgency and join the peace process. At the same time, Hekmatyar criticized the decision based on which the National Unity Government was formed, saying that he is in favor of a ‘centralised’ government in Afghanistan. The peace delegations of Afghan government and Hizbe-e-Islami had signed a peace deal in September last year. As part of this agreement, the first batch of the Hizb-e-Islami prisoners — which included 55 inmates — were released from Pul-e-Charkhi prison in Kabul. Last week’s agreement will give Hekmatyar and his supporters an immunity for killing thousands of Afghan civilians in the civil war that wracked the country soon after the Russian soldiers left. The problem is that President Ashraf Ghani and CEO Abdullah Abdullah do not wish to hold talks with the Taliban, as they will have to share power with the Taliban.
But this is a flawed strategy, as they would continue to see turmoil and violence. Last, month, at least 140 Afghan National Army soldiers were killed when Taliban gunmen and suicide bombers in military uniforms stormed an Afghan Army base in northern Afghanistan. Six assailants dressed in military uniforms drove in two army vehicles past the first checkpoint, according to Lt. Colonel Abdul Qahar Aram, a spokesman for the corps. At the second checkpoint, one of the suicide bombers blew up his explosives, allowing the militants to enter, take up positions and start firing at soldiers, who were leaving after their prayers and making their way to lunch. The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack through a spokesman, Zabihullah Mujahid. The Taliban spokesman said at least four of the attackers earlier belonged to Afghan National Army, which shows that the Taliban have infiltrated in Afghan forces.
Anyhow, it was intelligence and security failure, and the biggest attack after 9/11. Analysts and officials with the American-led coalition forces, who are training and assisting the Afghan forces, have been very critical of the inept leadership and widespread corruption in the ranks, which is contributing to the large number of casualties. General John W. Nicholson, the commander of the American and NATO forces, demanded a few thousand more American troops on the ground to assist and train the Afghan forces. Analysts said the repeated ability of a few militants to cause tremendous bloodshed in highly secure areas was a troubling sign ahead of the Taliban’s spring offensive. Jawed Kohistani, an Afghan security analyst, said the Balkh attack seemed to be in retaliation to Afghan Special Forces’ targeting local Taliban leaders in night raids. With this ongoing quid pro quo, peace will remain elusive.
But there are other factors such as rampant corruption and ghost soldiers in the Afghan National Army. During the last few months, the U.S. military has removed more than 30,000 names of suspected ghost Afghan soldiers from its payroll, as part of a widening corruption crackdown that a top American general estimates will save the U.S. millions of dollars each month. Major General Richard Kaiser said that U.S. military would pay only Afghan soldiers who were biometrically enrolled in their country’s army and had matching identity cards. In addition, US Commander General Nicholson had told the Senate Armed Services Committee that Russia and Iran were aiding the Taliban, accusing Russia and Iran of trying to scuttle its mission in the war-devastated country. He alleged Iran was directly involved in providing support to the militants, which may or may not be true.
Northern Alliance was opposed to Pakistan because it had recognized Taliban government. Furthermore, Abdullah Abdullah and other leaders had suspected Pakistan for suicide attack on Ahmad Shah Massoud. On September 9, 2001, two days before the cataclysmic attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon, Ahmad Shah Massoud, commander of the United Front guerrilla opposition to Afghanistan’s Taliban regime, was assassinated in the Afghan town of Khwaja Baha-ud- Din by two Arab men posing as journalists. Both of the assassins died – one in the attack itself, blown up with his own bomb along with Massoud, and the other was shot while trying to escape shortly afterwards. Ahmad Shah Massoud was unhappy with Pakistan, as he believed that during Afghan Jihad Gulbuddin Hekmatyar was given more of funds and ammunition. In fact, the US had kept Massoud and his resistance at arm’s length, perhaps because they were receiving weapons from Iran, and logistical support from Russia and the Central Asian republics.
—The writer is a senior journalist based in Lahore.