News & Views
AFGHAN National Unity Government had radiated an aura of optimism after the so-called success of Brussels’ moot and Heart of Asia Conference. Brussels’ moot was attended by 70 countries who committed donations for $15 billion for the next three years out of which European Union alone committed more than $12 billion. In the Heart of Asia Conference, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi had joined hands to lash out at Pakistan alleging its support to terrorists while inaugurating the sixth Heart of Asia ministerial conference in December 2016 in Amritsar. The theme of the conference was ‘enhanced cooperation for countering security threats and promoting connectivity in the region. According to Times of India report, President Ashraf Ghani had opened the conference by snubbing a $500 million pledge from Pakistan for development projects in Afghanistan, which was done to appease Indian prime minister.
He went on to say: “Afghanistan suffered the highest number of casualties last year. This is unacceptable… Some still provide sanctuary for terrorists. As a Taliban figure said recently, if they had no sanctuary in Pakistan, they wouldn’t last a month.” Instead of acknowledging Afghan government’s failure to rein in the Taliban, it continues with the blame game, which will not help control the situation.
On the political front, the turmoil continues; Parliament impeached seven ministers last year including the Foreign Minister. Besides earlier division between Ashraf Ghani and Abdullah Abdullah, the turf war has started between President Ghani and the first Vice President Abdul Rashid Dostum. Afghan leaders are under stress in view of the election victory of Trump and fear a change in policy towards Afghanistan. To add to their woes, they are washing their laundry in public by accusing each other of ethnicity and nepotism. First Vice President is under criticism for abducting and sexually harassing former Jowzjan governor Ahmad Eshchi. Presidential Palace has announced that the NUG will investigate claims of assault by First Vice President General Abdul Rashid Dostum and his men. Mohammad Akbar Bai, head of Turkmen Tribal Council of Afghanistan, has called President Ashraf Ghani’s recent remarks about justice and implementation of law equally as a bluff.
In fact, Afghanistan is in the throes of a multidimensional civil war, and with the rift between the partners of Unity Government and intensified Taliban attacks, the country is adrift to more uncertainties, chaos and anarchy. In an August 11, 2016 speech in Kabul, Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah had criticized President Ashraf Ghani for taking unilateral decisions on various issues including the appointment of ministers. He accused President Ashraf Ghani of not implementing the power-sharing arrangement, his failure to hold a Loya Jirga and amending the constitution to create the position of prime minister. The deadline for implementation of political agreement brokered by Secretary Kerry that formed the current coalition government was September 21. But nothing has so far been done in this regard. President Ashraf Ghani perhaps feels that with the amendment of the Constitution, he will become only figure head of the government.
According to reports, the Taliban control 36 of Afghanistan’s 407 districts. Islamic State has also increased its attacks. At this point in time, when the Taliban groups are uniting, and ISIS is gaining foothold in Afghanistan, the conflict between the Unity Government partners is fraught with dangers. To make things worse for Afghan government, the Mullah Dadullah Front of the Taliban rejoined the Taliban. Mansoor Dadullah had developed differences with the Taliban leaders after he had opposed the installation of Mullah Akhtar Muhammad Mansoor as Taliban emir after announcement of Mullah Omer’s death. He was killed during clashes with the Taliban in Zabul province last year. Several Taliban leaders that had parted ways with the Taliban following the appointment of Mullah Akhtar Mansoor as emir have rejoined the Taliban. All the family members of Mullah Dadullah and mujahideen of the front have already pledged allegiance to Islamic Emirate’s emir Sheikh Haibatullah Akhundzada.
The reality is that the Taliban control large swathes of land in Afghanistan, and according Pajhwok News the Taliban are collecting land rents from the growers in some areas including Batikot district of eastern Nangarhar province. It means that Unity Government has not been able to establish the writ of the state. Afghan government cannot succeed if it continues to pamper India and blame Pakistan for providing sanctuaries to Haqqani group militants. Of course, a number of Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) militants have joined the ranks and files of Daesh in Afghanistan. And Afghan government has not taken measures to decimate them. After the launch of the Zarb-e-Azb, militants from Pakistan had fled to Afghanistan, and Pakistan claims that they were provided sanctuaries. Even special cards for movement without any check were issued to them. Reportedly medical facilities and ration, etc., were also provided to them.
Anyhow, Taliban leadership’s confidence was remarkable when on November 29, 2016 it vowed to protect a new natural gas pipeline, a copper mine, and upgrades to highways and railways. A Taliban statement released by the group’s spokesperson, Zabihullah Mujahid had said Taliban leadership does not oppose development projects that benefit the Afghan people and will work to guard projects from harm. “The Islamic Emirate not only supports all national projects, which are in the interest of the people and result in the development and prosperity of the nation, but are also committed to protecting them,” according to the Taliban statement. The problem is that the Taliban leaders are emboldened because of the rift in the Unity Government and reputation of the government functionaries who are accused of corruption and nepotism. Unless there is real unity in the Unity Government, it cannot resist the onslaught of the Taliban.
—The writer is a senior journalist based in Lahore.