Siege of Ghazni and beyond

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Akbar Jan Marwat

HISTORICALLY speaking, the city of Ghazni has always been considered a gateway to Kabul. That is why the recent siege and latter take over of Ghazni by the Afghan Taliban, in which hundreds of people were killed and Afghan forces completely collapsed to protect the city, rang major alarm bells in Kabul. The latest bloodshed in Ghazni, and widespread violence in the whole of Afghanistan, speaks volume about the unwise American policy in Afghanistan and total lack of capacity of the Afghan forces to defend their cities and towns. Since 2014, when the US announced the end of its engagement in direct fighting in Afghanistan, its claim of local Afghan forces being capable of handling the insurgents on its own has been belied many times. The repeated take over of the city of Kanduz in the north by the Afghan Taliban is the prime example. US’s ramp up of air strikes in support of Afghan forces has also not yielded any positive results.
Ever since the violent fighting erupted more than 500 lives have been lost in the battle. Important infrastructure has been damaged and meager food supplies and critical stock of life saving medicines exhausted. The main Ghazni hospital has been with out electric supply and water since the battle of Ghazni began. As Ghazni’s residents were looking for their dead and injured in rubble of the city; Kabul’s Shia – populated suburb of Dasht-i-Barchi was devastated by a suicide attack killing more than fifty people. These heart-rending events including the falling of military bases, visibly contradicts the US claim of their progress in the conflict in Afghanistan. Civilian casualties in Afghanistan hit an all time high in the first term of this year, which has became a very sensitive and emotive issue not only in Afghanistan but internationally also. As mentioned before American claim that local forces are capable of thwarting insurgents’ attack, has proved to be hollow. Successful insurgent attacks all over the country, have proved how fickle the defences of the local forces are.
The reality on the ground implies that Trump’s “South Asia Strategy” has been a singular failure in Afghanistan. According to this strategy Trump administration has deployed more troops and given field commanders more latitude to quell the insurgency. These measures have, however, had no positive effect for the US and its ally the Afghan government forces. If any thing, the indiscriminate American bombing has had an opposite effect, and hardened the resolve and will of the Taliban forces to fight back. In a drawn out siege of Ghazni, a smaller number of insurgents outgunned and out maneuvered about 1,500 government troops having American Weapons and air support. These setbacks to the Afghan troops have raised embarrassing questions about American armaments and the quality of their training.
In wake of the Ghazni debacle, Ashraf Ghani the Afghan president removed the national security adviser Mohammad Hanif Atmar. Afghanistan’s Ambassador to the US Hamdullah Mohib replaced him. The next day, the interior Minister Wais Ahmed Barmak, the defence Minister Tariq Shah Bahrami and intelligence chief Masoom Stanekzai also resigned in face of severe criticism. The President, however, declined to accept their resignation and asked them to continue with their duties, and improve the security situation as well as bolster the defences of the country and its major urban centers. Pakistan has long been supporting an inclusive Afghan lead reconciliation process for the end to the war in Afghanistan. These Pakistani efforts have, however, not fully echoed with the Afghan government. There have been issues of lingering doubts and mistrust between the two countries. Afghanistan believes that sustained pressure from Pakistan could force Afghan Taliban leaders, many of who have families in Peshawar and Quetta to come to the negotiating tables.
The desire for an end to hostilities is very strong in the civilian population of Afghanistan. Recently a group of intellectuals, teachers and citizens from different walks of life have started a march by foot, for the end of the war. These marchers are planning to march bare feet without shoes, to impress upon warning sections, to end the hostilities. Recently a new framework of bilateral negotiations between Afghan Taliban and the Americans has been established. Pakistan should now also completely depart from the remnants of its old Afghan policy, and give a helping hand towards the success of the negotiations. Being a next-door neighbor, Pakistan stands to benefit tremendously from a sustainable end to hostilities brought about by Afghan led negotiations.
The Afghan Taliban, the Americans and the Afghan Government fully realises in their hearts, that if a sustained end to hostilities is to take place, it has to be through the negotiating table and not the battlefield. The world community and the regional powers also fully endorse this position. It is high time that all parties to the Afghan conflict sincerely work towards a negotiated settlement of on-going hostilities in Afghanistan. The long-suffering Afghan people deserve no less. President Trump and his close advisors must realise that force and brow beating are not the only way to peace.
—The writer is author, senior journalist and entrepreneur based in Islamabad.

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