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Results of the First Round of Talks Between the USA and the Taliban

By Natalya Zamarayeva – New Eastern Outlook – 11.02.2019

January 2019 saw the conclusion of the first round of talks between the USA and the Taliban, which took place in Qatar. The Afghan Taliban and the official representatives of the USA reached preliminary agreement on three key issues:

– the withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan within 18 months;

– an exchange of prisoners;

– the lifting of the travel ban on Taliban leaders, and their removal from the UN’s blacklist.

In turn the Taliban agreed, among other things, not to allow terrorist organisations, including Al Qaeda and DAESH or any other armed grouping to carry out attacks on Afghan civilians or authorities, the USA, or any of its allies.

The second round of talks is scheduled for the end of February 2019. The USA and the Taliban plan to sign an official agreement on the above points. The agreement is expected to be fairly strict. The Taliban delegation will be headed by its lead negotiator, Abdul Ghani Baradar.

After the above steps have been completed (in 2021), Afghanistan will embark on an internal regulation process, which will involve two stages:

– the entry into effect of a general ceasefire between the opposing sides;

– the formation of a temporary government, to be elected for a term of three years: the Taliban will nominate its own representatives for election to this body;

– the Taliban propose a reform of the Afghan police, including local police authorities (which have been accused of being extremely corrupt and of intimidating the public).

The Taliban’s leaders have declared that they are renouncing their claim to exclusive power in Afghanistan and that they recognise that peace in Afghanistan needs to be an inclusive process. They also promise to seek ways to involve the Afghan government in the peace and reconciliation process, and also to act in conjunction with existing authorities (whereas, during the period of the so-called Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, from 1996-2001, they imposed a strict form of Sharia law).

The talks between the USA and the Taliban (December 2018- January 2019) are a small part of the larger Afghan dialogue process, which has, traditionally, involved four parties: the Taliban, the USA, the Afghan National Unity Government, and Pakistan.

In addition to the US troops and the armed opposition, made up of Taliban militants, there is a third party in the Afghan conflict: the Afghan national security forces, which seek to protect the country’s constitution and its head of state, President Ashraf Ghani.

But for the whole duration of the anti-terrorist campaign in Afghanistan, from 2001 to date, the Taliban have refused to take part in any direct talks with representatives of the National Unity Government, which they consider to be illegitimate. Ashraf Ghani has been highly critical of this stance, which has forced him and his government into the position of an onlooker, while the Taliban and the USA determine the country’s fate between them.

Washington has declared that its strategic goal, in its talks with the Taliban, is to get the Taliban and the Afghan National Unity Government to sit around the negotiating table together. In other words, to “force” the Taliban to accept the country’s Constitution and current state institutions. According to the White House, this process will take 18 months, and will be accompanied by the progressive withdrawal of US troops.

According to the White House’s roadmap, with the beginning of the dialogue, Afghanistan will enter into a new phase: an internal regulation process. Which raises the obvious question – will that process actually take place, and, if so, when, and under what circumstances? The Pushtuns are a hospitable people, but they keep their word. The lack of any direct dialogue between the Taliban and the National Unity Government will result in either an extension of the US military presence in Afghanistan, or the outbreak of a new civil war like that in the early 1990s.

The talks have also revealed certain specific characteristics relating to the armed opposition in today’s Afghanistan. In general, that opposition is made up of the Taliban. But there are other forces operating in the country, including militants from Al-Qaeda, DAESH, Uighur separatists from the Xinjiang region of China, militants from the Pakistani Taliban, and various armed groups from the Central Asian countries and the Caucasus. The Afghan Taliban, which dominates the armed opposition, has been able to persuade the Al-Qaeda militants to pledge their loyalty to the Taliban’s leader, Hibatullah Akhundzada. As a result, in recent years the Taliban has been reinforced by Al-Qaeda militants serving in its ranks. This helps to explain how the Taliban is now able to control 60% of the country’s territory and carry out almost daily attacks on Afghan security forces and government officials.

As for DAESH, its leaders remain subordinate to their Emir and refuse to accept the leadership of Hibatullah Akhundzada, which results in a split within the armed opposition in Afghanistan.

The fourth party in the dialogue process is Pakistan. As one of the organisers of the talks between the USA and the Taliban, Pakistan has received assurances from the Afghan Taliban that, in the future, the latter will cut its links with Pakistani Taliban militants based in Afghanistan, insurgents from the Pakistani province of Balochistan and the militant group Lashkar-e-Taiba, and that it will refrain from acting against Pakistan’s interests.

The talks between the USA and the Taliban demonstrate that the two parties are serious about bringing an end to the internecine conflict in Afghanistan. But it is also evident that all the parties are determined to stick to their initial positions. The parties exchange spoken declarations, but they show no will to take any constructive steps or even move towards a compromise.

Natalia Zamarayeva, Ph.D (History), is a Senior Research Fellow, Pakistan section, Institute of Oriental Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences.

February 11, 2019 Posted by | Aletho News | , , , | Leave a comment

US Caught Helping ISIS Commanders Escape from Prison in Afghanistan

Tasnim News Agency | January 28, 2019

Kabul – A large number of prisoners, all of them senior members of Daesh (also ISIS or ISIL) terrorist group, broke out of a Taliban prison in northwest Afghanistan after US troops helped them escape through a covert operation.

According to Tasnim dispatches, American forces operating in Afghanistan carried out a secret military operation in the northwestern province of Badghis two weeks ago and helped the Daesh inmates escape the prison.

The report added that 40 Daesh ringleaders, all of them foreigners, were transferred by helicopters after American troops raided the prison and killed all its security guards.

Abdullah Afzali, deputy head of Badghis provincial council, confirmed the news.

Informed sources have given a detailed account of the US operation to rescue the Daesh forces and the developments that helped Americans pinpoint the location of the prison in the mountainous areas.

Aminullah, a man from Uzbekistan, was one of the Daesh commanders held captive in the Taliban prison. His success to escape from the prison led to the dismissal of the Taliban prison guard and his punishment.

January 28, 2019 Posted by | War Crimes | , , , , | 1 Comment

Taliban Praises Recent Talks With Washington as ‘Very Helpful’

Sputnik – August 13, 2018

The Arch enemies entered into talks following the successful implementation of a three-day ceasefire in June for the Muslim holiday of ‘Eid al-Fitr.’

A Senior Taliban official has described peace talks held last month with the US as “very helpful” in envisaging a path out of Afghanistan’s seventeen year old war.

The leader, from an organisation within the Taliban called ‘Quetta Shura,’ has been quoted as saying that both sides intend to hold the next round of talks in September, and that these “will be more specific and focused on key issues.” He also added that, “once the breakthrough is started it will be stunning for all.”

The comments come on the heels of a string of reports since the end of July, which describe an unprecedented face-to-face meeting held in the Qatari capital, Doha, between a Taliban delegation and officials from the US State Department, led by senior diplomat Alice Wells. Representatives from the Islamist insurgency were quick to laud discussions at that time too, describing them as “very positive.”

While Washington officials with detailed knowledge of the negotiations remain tight-lipped, Taliban delegates who were in attendance let a few of the specifics loose: allegedly, a key US demand is for Washington to maintain a military presence in Afghanistan while peace talks are ongoing. While initially hostile to such a suggestion, reports suggest that the insurgency’s leadership council has since suggested that it could be open to the idea on the condition that the US plays an active political role in the peace process.

The Taliban has long refused to hold discussions with Ashraf Ghani’s government in Kabul until it is given the opportunity for direct talks with the US. However, leading talks for reconciliation between the central government in Kabul and the Taliban has long been anathema to Washington, which has maintained that it would not heavily involve itself in “Afghan-led, Afghan-owned” negotiations. Echoing that sentiment in early July, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo proclaimed that the Trump administration would “support, facilitate and participate in peace discussions, but peace must be decided by the Afghans and settled among them.”

Yet, as time has ticked by, reports suggest that President Donald Trump has grown impatient with the tactical stalemate on the ground and NATO’s inability to retake chunks of territory controlled by the Taliban. According to the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, as of January 30 2018, approximately 56.3% of Afghanistan was under the Taliban’s sway. Frustration at such a reality may have culminated in the US president’s decision to dispatch envoys to Afghanistan in early July to open up channels for backdoor diplomacy.

The US’ sudden willingness to sit down with the Taliban has likely been bolstered by the group’s apparent commitment to extirpating foreign terrorist groups from Afghan territory — namely Daesh. This month, a Taliban onslaught reportedly caused 200 Daesh fighters to surrender in the North of the country. Additionally, the group are advancing on a Daesh stronghold in the eastern province of Nangarhar, where a large-scale battle is expected to take place.

Despite the optimism among the Taliban’s echelon, fighting with the Afghan Security Forces continues unabated. In the early hours of Friday, the group’s fighters launched an assault for control of the eastern city of Ghazni. According to the country’s 1TV television station, so far 100 people have been killed. In an effort to repel the advance, the US Air Force launched a series of air strikes on Taliban positions, raising questions as to how likely it is that these old foes are ready to sit down at the negotiating table.

August 13, 2018 Posted by | Illegal Occupation, Militarism | , , , | 1 Comment

Taliban cross the Rubicon

By M K Bhadrakumar | Indian Punchline | August 12, 2018

The Uzbekistan Foreign Ministry announced in a terse statement on Saturday that a Taliban delegation led by the head of its political office in Doha, Sher Mohammad Abbas Stanakzai visited Tashkent last week and the two sides “exchanged views on prospects of the peace process in Afghanistan.”

The Taliban has been somewhat more forthcoming with details. A press statement said that the 5-day visit (August 6-11) took place on the basis of a “formal invitation” from Tashkent and talks were held with Foreign Minister Abdul Aziz Kamilov and the Special Representative of the President of Uzbekistan for Afghanistan Ismatulla Irgashev. The press release added that the two sides “discussed current and future national projects such as security for railroad and power lines,” apart from exchanging views “about the withdrawal of foreign forces and how to achieve peace in Afghanistan.”

The Uzbeks have had direct dealings in the past with the Taliban. Kamilov himself is known to have visited Afghanistan and negotiated with the Taliban government in the late 1990s. Irgashev, too, is a familiar face to the Taliban, having served as deputy foreign minister under Kamilov. But this is the first time that a Taliban delegation has been invited to visit Tashkent for formal talks at the Uzbek Foreign Ministry.

This is an extraordinary development. It significantly enhances Taliban’s regional profile and standing and is precedent setting.

The relations between Tashkent and the Afghan government led by Ashraf Ghani have been exceptionally warm of late. The bilateral exchanges intensified in the past year with Uzbek companies picking up lucrative contracts in northern Afghanistan. The US has actively encouraged such collaboration. Most certainly, Washington promoted the Tashkent Conference on Afghanistan on March 27, which was attended among others by Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and the US Undersecretary of State Thomas Shannon. The event was intended to marshal some degree of regional consensus behind an “Afghan-led, Afghan controlled” peace process without any preconditions regarding the presence of US troops in Afghanistan.

As a gesture of gratitude, President Donald Trump rewarded Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyoyev with an invitation to visit the White House on May 16, the first-ever visit of that kind. Indeed, things have been going splendidly well in the US-Afghan-Uzbek triangle. During a visit to Kabul on July 9 Kamilov discussed with Ghani several big investment projects such as a free trade zone spread over 3000 hectares on the Uzbek-Afghan border, a $500 million railway project to connect Mazar-i-Sharif with Herat (linking northern and western Afghanistan), establishment of 6 textile factories in Afghanistan by Uzbek companies and so on.

However, the Uzbeks have a reputation for making their foreign policy moves very cautiously and therefore, the meeting in Tashkent last week should not be seen as signifying a shift in the Uzbek policies toward Afghanistan.To be sure, Tashkent has closely coordinated with Kabul and Washington. Interestingly, Kamilov also had made a phone call to Lavrov on July 31. The crisply worded readout from the Russian Foreign Ministry merely said that the two ministers “exchanged opinions on topical bilateral matters and cooperation between Russia and Uzbekistan on the international agenda.” Quite obviously, consistent with the Uzbek style of diplomacy, Tashkent touched base with Moscow before the Taliban arrived.

Ostensibly, therefore, Tashkent is following up on the offer made by Mirzoyiev after the Tashkent conference in March when he had said: “We stand ready to create all necessary conditions, at any stage of the peace process, to arrange direct talks between the government of Afghanistan and Taliban movement.” Clearly, Washington has encouraged Tashkent to be a peace broker between the Afghan government and the Taliban. Following the first-ever direct talks between the Taliban and US officials at Doha last month, a second round is expected in September. The meeting at Tashkent comes in between.

However, it is highly improbable that the Taliban will accept Ghani as its interlocutor. Tashkent must be quite aware of the strong undercurrents in regional politics as well. Therefore, trust Tashkent to have made its own calculations in self-interest, too.

The point is, there is dire necessity today for Tashkent to maintain a direct line to the Taliban. The security situation in the Amu Darya region bordering Uzbekistan is steadily deteriorating. The growing presence of Islamist State-Khorasan (ISK) in northern Afghanistan worries Uzbekistan, since its ranks have a preponderance of fighters drawn from the radical Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, which is sworn to establish an Islamic Caliphate in Central Asia.

Meanwhile, Ghani’s ill-advised standoff with the ethnic Uzbek leader in Amu Darya, Rashid Dostum (who was forced into exile in Turkey for a year and was prevented from returning. Dostum’s prolonged absence seriously destabilized the northern region, which also worked to the advantage of the ISK. Ghani finally made peace with Dostum and beseeched him to return – and eventually went overboard by giving him a grand ceremonial welcome on arrival in Kabul last month. But the ground realities in northern Afghanistan have changed phenomenally. The old stability that Dostum provided has disappeared.

There was a time in the 1990s when the Uzbek leadership of late president Islam Karimov had regarded Dostum as its Praetorian guard in the Amu Darya region. He used to be lionized and lavishly funded by the Uzbek intelligence during his regal visits to Tashkent. But Tashkent summarily dumped him once the US moved into Afghanistan in 2001 and co-opted him as their warlord. (The US too subsequently dumped him.)

In sum, Dostum is today a freewheeling entity available to the highest bidder and is no more the uncrowned king of the Amu Darya. And yet, he is still locked in a blood feud with the Taliban dating back to 2001 when in a bloody massacre he slaughtered a few thousands Taliban fighters who had surrendered in the northern provinces following the US intervention and were assured of safe passage to Pakistan.

Tashkent seems disinterested in Dostum. On the other hand, the Taliban have emerged today as the most promising counterweight to the ISK in the Amu Darya region. In such murky situations, Tashkent never loses clarity of purpose. Realism always prevails. Conceivably, Tashkent is beginning to see the Taliban as the most meaningful Afghan interlocutor for today and tomorrow  – and, perhaps, forever.

Of course, for Taliban, this is like hitting the jackpot. The invitation from the foreign minister of an important neighboring country to hold direct talks is a novel experience. It is a game changer, no doubt. The Taliban have crossed the Rubicon in their long search for gaining international legitimacy.

August 12, 2018 Posted by | Aletho News | , , , , , | Leave a comment

US expects India to engage Pakistan in Kashmir talks

By M K Bhadrakumar | Indian Punchline | April 4, 2018

The Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for South and Central Asian Affairs in the US State Department Alice Wells is visiting India on April 3-6. This is strictly not a ‘bilateral event’, but Ambassador Wells’ discussions with senior Indian government officials are expected to cover “regional and global issues”, according to the US state department announcement. Presumably, Afghanistan will be on top of the agenda of discussion.

Ambassador Wells has emerged as the Trump administration’s key interlocutor on the Afghan problem. A career diplomat, low-key but very effective in the absence of turf rivalries, she is able to galvanize the search for a political process in Afghanistan in such a short period of time. Ambassador Wells has succeeded in building up a good rapport with the Pakistani officials who are in a position to make or mar her project. During her extraordinarily open-ended visit (for “several days”) to Pakistan last week, Ambassador Wells was received by army chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa.

Ambassador Wells’ consultations in Delhi come at a sensitive juncture. For, no matter what the Pentagon commanders might like, President Donald Trump wants the war to end before his campaign for a second term begins and Ambassador Wells’ task is cut out for her. Delhi must understand that this is not a routine visit she is undertaking for an exchange of views with think-tankers and officials on the sidelines of the US-India-Japan trilateral taking place today. In fact, the trilateral is the sideshow.

The Taliban is tiptoeing toward the negotiating table and Ambassador Wells’ persuasiveness and diplomatic skill has made all the difference. (For the uninitiated, let me introduce to them her masterly briefing on March 9 at the US Institute of Peace in Washington – Signs of Hope for Afghan Peace Talks.)

The traffic on the diplomatic track has become dense lately since the meeting in the White House in Washington between Pakistan Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi and the US Vice-President Mike Pence on March 17. The international conference in Tashkent on March 26-27 has served the purpose of generating a modicum of regional consensus. The Russian daily Kommersant reported quoting “sources” that although no formal invitation was extended to the Taliban to participate in the conference, “at the last minute, they expressed a desire to come to Tashkent.”

Be that as it may, Taliban was surely eavesdropping outside the conference hall and would have noticed from the Tashkent Declaration that there is not a single voice in the international community that disapproves of the Afghan government’s unconditional offer of peace talks. Ambassador Wells proceeded to Kabul after the Tashkent conference and then moved on to Islamabad last Thursday.

Interestingly, Pakistan handed over a “terror dossier” to Kabul last Thursday containing evidence of terrorist sanctuaries on Afghan soil. It is a veritable action plan for the Afghan side and their American mentors as to what Pakistan expected them to do by curbing the terrorist activities from bases within Afghanistan. And, four days later, The Pakistani Foreign Secretary Janjua, accompanied by the Director General Military Operations Maj Gen Shamshad Mirza and other senior officials travelled to Kabul for downstream talks. These talks are expected to prepare the ground for the visit by Prime Minister Abbasi’s visit to the Afghan capital on April 6. (Abbasi is proceeding from Kabul to China on a 3-day visit.)

We may expect Abbasi’s visit to Kabul on Friday to be a watershed event. It is entirely conceivable that in a not-too-distant future the Taliban may announce its formal response to the Afghan government offer for peace talks. The coming days and weeks, therefore, are of critical interest.

Meanwhile, the Afghan government announced on Sunday the dates for the long-delayed parliamentary elections and the first-ever local council elections – October 20. Of course, there is a big question mark about the feasibility of holding elections in Afghanistan in the prevailing circumstances with roughly half the country contested by insurgents.

On the other hand, it is the Taliban’s participation in these elections that can make a world of difference, giving them the legitimacy they badly need and providing the country’s democratic process the traction that it never could really acquire in the past decade or more. The US’ allies are extremely keen that the political legitimacy of the Afghan political system is enhanced. The speech made by the European Union foreign and security policy chief Federica Mogherini at the Tashkent conference was particularly notable for being a stirring call to the Taliban to rise to the momentous occasion in their country’s history.

Suffice to say, any Pakistani-Afghan consensus to put a moratorium on cross-border terrorism will be a major development. The US is actively promoting it. So is China. Pakistan can be expected to reciprocate. But we aren’t quite there, yet.

The Pakistani Foreign Ministry spokesman Mohammad Faisal told Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty, the US government-funded media organ, that Islamabad and Washington are yet to find “common ground” on a range of issues. Faisal didn’t specify the problem areas, but it stands to reason that a principal one will be Pakistan’s tense relations with India.

Quite obviously, we should anticipate that the Trump administration hopes to bring India on board. Put differently, the Trump administration’s “regional approach” for Afghanistan demands that India-Pakistan tensions do not complicate the path of peace and reconciliation in Afghanistan.

Ambassador Wells is likely to meet with the Foreign Secretary and NSA Ajit Doval while in Delhi. Significantly, on the eve of Ambassador Wells’ departure for India on Monday, the US state department amended its designation of Lashkar-e-Taiba, identifying Milli Muslim League and Tehreek-e-Azadi-e-Kashmir as LeT affiliates, making it impossible for them to register as political parties in Pakistan.

Clearly, the Trump administration hopes that Delhi will appreciate this as friendly gesture, underscoring that Washington is receptive towards India’s genuine concerns in regional security. It doesn’t need much ingenuity to figure out that Ambassador Wells would also have taken Pakistani officials into confidence that capping the political ambitions of Hafeez Saeed can be an important confidence-building measure at this point.

Now comes the big question: How does India respond to the totality of the emergent situation surrounding Afghanistan? Sadly, the explosive violence in Jammu & Kashmir just at this juncture will make things very difficult for Delhi to rise to the occasion and optimally align the Indian foreign policies with the broader trends leading toward peace and reconciliation in Afghanistan.

On the other hand, the bottom line is that India is a stakeholder. Clearly, a leap of faith is needed. The Modi government would chaff at the very idea of holding talks with Pakistan, facilitated by Washington and under close US monitoring, when the 2019 poll is sailing into view.

But in politics and diplomacy, there may be moments when drinking from the chalice of poison is necessary – to borrow the memorable words of Iran’s Spiritual Leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini in an analogous situation in his country’s contemporary history when he allowed himself to be persuaded to agree to a ceasefire against the Iraqi aggressor who had bled his country white in the 8-year war (1980-1988.)

Given the complete policy breakdown in Jammu & Kashmir, what is the alternative? And, the crisis in J&K is only deepening; the wounds are threatening to turn gangrene.

April 4, 2018 Posted by | Aletho News | , , , , | 3 Comments

US lights up pathway to Afghan peace

By M K Bhadrakumar | Indian Punchline | March 6, 2018

The Principal Assistant Secretary of State in the US state department’s Bureau of South & Central Asian Affairs, Alice Wells gave an extraordinary briefing in Washington on March 5 on the Trump administration’s outlook on the Afghan peace talks and reconciliation. The fact that the briefing was on record is itself of significance, underscoring the cautious optimism that the 4-way contacts and below-the-radar discussions between Washington, Islamabad, Kabul and the Afghan Taliban have gained traction.

Wells has touched on all aspects of the situation and they are almost entirely in consonance with my own assessments contained in the opinion piece, which appeared in The Tribune newspaper on March 5. (Joint gains from Afghan Peace, The Tribune, March 5, 2018 )

The most significant thing will be that Wells has forcefully, unequivocally – even euphorically – backed Afghan President Ashraf Ghani’s peace offer on February 27 to the Taliban, and has pledged that Washington intends to promote the process, no matter what it takes. Equally, Washington estimates that the Taliban has not yet “officially responded”, various media reports attributed to Taliban spokesmen notwithstanding. Wells pointedly urged the Taliban to accept the peace offer.

The Trump administration expects Pakistan too to put its weight behind the Taliban leadership to bring them to the negotiating table. The Pakistani Foreign Secretary Tehmina Janjua arrived in Washington on March 5 for talks. Pakistan is confident of taking the process forward. Wells said,

  • We’re certainly not walking away from Pakistan. There will be very intensive dialogue through both our military and our civilian channels to discuss how we can work together. I mean, Pakistan has an important role to play in helping to stabilize Afghanistan.

Second, the Afghan peace process is not taking place in isolation but forms part of the broad framework of Pakistan-US strategic relationship.

From the Indian perspective, the salience of Well’s briefing lies in the US’ acknowledgement of Pakistan’s centrality in the Afghan peace process and, notably, Pakistan’s “legitimate concerns”, which Washington intends to address. This is how Wells framed the US policy:

  • Pakistan has a very important role to play in a peace process. We believe that Pakistan can certainly help to facilitate talks and to take actions that will put pressure on and encourage the Taliban to move forward towards a politically negotiated settlement. And our engagement with Pakistan is on how we can work together, on how we can address Pakistan’s legitimate concerns and Afghanistan’s stability through a negotiated process as well. Obviously, as Pakistani officials have underscored, they see a variety of issues, whether it’s border management or refugees or terrorism that emanates from ungoverned space in Afghanistan, as important issues, and we would agree that all of these need to be resolved during the course of a reconciliation process.

Two vectors that are going to shape the agenda of the forthcoming peace talks are: a) Washington accepts that Taliban has “legitimate grievances… (that) will have to be addressed at the negotiating table”, and, b) the US does not “preordain” any factions or elements within the Afghan Taliban movement to be “irreconcilable.” The latter means, plainly put, that it is entirely up to the Haqqani network to bid farewell to arms and join the peace talks and reconciliation. Wells chose her words carefully:

  • I think there are always going to be elements and factions that do not participate – the irreconcilable, so to speak. I think a political process defines who is reconcilable, who is prepared to come to the negotiating table, who is prepared to adhere to an agreement that is negotiated through a political process. And so rather than preordain who is irreconcilable, let the process determine that. But certainly, we would anticipate that there will continue to be elements, not just Taliban elements, that will pose a terrorism threat and will need to be taken care of by the Government of Afghanistan with the support of its partners.

Of course, it is unthinkable that the Haqqanis will defy the Pakistani diktat and continue to pose a terrorism threat. It is hugely significant that at one point, Wells went out of the way to openly acknowledge without caveats as to what is it that distinguishes the Taliban from the ISIS – simply put, Taliban is a legitimate Afghan entity:

  • I think all of us recognize that while the Taliban may be – represent an insurgency, they stand for and are Afghan nationalists of one type. ISIS is a nihilistic force that is bent on the very destruction of Afghanistan. And so there is a seriousness, an extreme seriousness of effort, in defeating ISIS.

Then, there is the tantalizing question of the fate of the US military bases in Afghanistan. Here, Wells parried, pleading evasively that it is entirely up to the future government in Kabul to decide whether continued US military presence is needed or not. But then, en passé, she added meaningfully, “No one is precluding any formula…” To my mind, there is going to be some sort of trade off.

Indeed, it may suit Pakistan too that there is continued US military presence in Afghanistan. For one thing, there is the searing experience of the Mujahideen takeover in Kabul in 1992 and the ensuing anarchy. Fundamentally, Pakistan has always sought that Taliban enjoyed US recognition, and, in the given situation, it is in Pakistan’s interests too that the US remains a stakeholder in the post-settlement era in Afghanistan. For, that would inevitably translate as US/NATO dependence on Pakistani cooperation, resuscitation of Pakistan’s role as a “non-NATO ally”, US interest in strengthening the strategic partnership with Pakistan, a US mediatory role in India-Pakistan issues, and, most importantly, the US as a guarantor that what has been shored up by way of an Afghan settlement doesn’t get undermined by other regional states that might harbor revisionist tendencies. The bottom line is that the Pakistani elite cannot think of a future for their country without an enduring strategic partnership with the US.

Unsurprisingly, Wells singled out Russia in almost adversarial terms. What emerges is that the US approach is to try to forge a regional consensus at the forthcoming Tashkent conference this month, which would pile pressure on Russia to fall in line. Evidently, Washington proposes to bypass Moscow and deal directly with the Central Asian capitals to create a regional consensus and support system for the peace process leading to a settlement.

Finally, Washington is still keeping its fingers crossed that Pakistan rises to its expectations, which is not surprising, given the backlog of distrust. Wells said,

  • We’ve not seen decisive and sustained changes yet in Pakistan’s behavior, but certainly we are continuing to engage with Pakistan over areas where we think they can play a helpful role in changing the calculus of the Taliban.

Once bitten, twice shy? At any rate, the Trump administration has no alternative but to take Pakistan at its word. Despite the bravado about the US military strategy making headway, Pentagon would know that the Taliban cannot be defeated through air strikes and this is a hopeless stalemate what needs to be addressed on the political and diplomatic track. Wells said,

  • We’re certainly not walking away from Pakistan. There will be very intensive dialogue through both our military and our civilian channels to discuss how we can work together. I mean, Pakistan has an important role to play in helping to stabilize Afghanistan.

All in all, Wells’ briefing augurs the opening of a new page in the chronicle of the Afghan war. It signifies that that the war is most likely drawing to a close and the ending is going to be like how all insurgencies in history rooted in native soil finally ended – via reconciliation with the insurgents. The full transcript of Wells’ briefing is here.

March 7, 2018 Posted by | Illegal Occupation, Timeless or most popular | , , , , , | 1 Comment

Afghan Ghani takes on the ‘King of the North’

By M K Bhadrakumar | Indian Punchline | December 20, 2017

The simmering political feud between Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and governor of Balk province in the north of the country Atta Muhammad Noor peaked on Monday. Ghani sacked Noor and claimed the latter ‘resigned’. Noor cries murder, saying he didn’t resign.

Noor, popularly known as the ‘King of the North’, is also the head of the Jamiat-i-Islami, the predominantly Tajik party wielding influence in the eastern, northern and western provinces, which traces its pedigree to Ahmed Shah Massoud and Burhanuddin Rabbani. Noor fought as a Jamiat commander during the jihad against the Soviet army in the 1980s and later was a key figure in the Northern Alliance during the anti-Taliban resistance under Massoud.

Noor is a hugely influential Tajik leader who, Ghani senses (rightly so), harbors presidential ambitions. The elections are due next July (ie., if Ghani chooses to hold them.) The ensuing power play in the recent months has led to this week’s showdown. Ghani is worried that a political alliance that Noor formed a few months ago is gaining traction. The other leading figures in the alliance include influential ‘warlords’ such as the Uzbek leader Abdul Rashid Dostum, Hazara leader Mohammed Mohaqiq, Tajik leader from Herat Ismail Khan and so on.

Ghani had thought that the Noor-Dostum-Mohaqiq alliance would unravel, but surprisingly it has not only held together but is also expanding its reach to the southern region. Ghani is determined to stay in power confident in the knowledge that so long as he serves American interests loyally, he has nothing to worry. But all the same, as the election draws closer, he is getting goosebumps.

The point is, Ghani is finding himself between the rock and a hard place. On the one hand, a powerful coalition is assembling to challenge his candidacy if elections are held next year. On the other hand, former President Hamid Karzai has raised the demand that a loya jirga should be convened instead to review the security policies and Afghanistan’s relations with the United States and also to select a new leadership in Kabul. Ideally, Ghani would like to avoid both – elections and loya jirga – and simply remain in power. But then, Karzai’s proposal is steadily gaining broader acceptance as it becomes increasingly clear that the likelihood of Ghani risking an election is indeed very low.

Of course, Ghani knows that a loya jirga would dump him without batting an eyelid. Which of course is Karzai’s agenda, too. Karzai somehow wants to get rid of the Americans and bring to an end the US occupation of his country. But on the pathway lies Ghani. The Americans themselves are horrified at the very mention of Karzai and loya Jirga, as they know that the groundswell of ‘anti-American’ feelings may surge if they are allowed to have their way. The US agenda is minimal – willy-nilly retain the military bases in Afghanistan.

An American puppet in Kabul is, therefore, an absolute prerequisite. Ghani has become irreplaceable. The recent Pentagon report to the US Congress beautifully puts across the paradigm – “We have a willing and able partner in President Ghani.”

Then, there are sub-plots. Jamiat has taken exception to Ghani’s sacking of Noor. It has alleged that Ghani’s move contravenes the understanding that led to the creation of the present National Unity Government after the disputed presidential election in 2014. The Jamiat has called for ‘civic action’ to protest but has warned that ‘if the aggression and threats increase against us, then we can use other options.’

The big question is where Chief Executive Officer Abdullah Abdullah stands in all this. Notionally, he is a Jamiat leader. If Jamiat decides to withdraw its support to Ghani, the decent thing to do is for Abdullah to resign. But will he? For one thing, he is also under the American thumb and if he quits now and brings the roof down on the Ghani government that the Americans built, it will annoy Washington.

Abdullah’s single-minded agenda is to replace Ghani. In effect, he would like to replace Ghani as the next American puppet. So, Abdullah finds himself in a quandary. ‘To quit, or not to quit,’ that’s the question. In all probability, he won’t quit since there is no guarantee either that Jamiat will field him as a presidential candidate when Noor has already voiced interest in Ghani’s job.

Ghani has matured as a first-rate manipulator. His tactic is to divide and rule. He has already caused split in Dostum’s party Jumbish; he is propping up one faction of Hezb-e-Islami, which doesn’t accept Gulbuddin Hematyar’s leadership; he now hopes to create havoc in the Jamiat camp as well. But things can spin out of hand. If these fractures and ethnic tensions get reflected in the Afghan state structures, especially the army and police – which they will (if not already) – new possibilities arise – such as coups and counter-coups and so on.

Meanwhile, the political vacuum in the north following Noor’s dismissal can only work to the advantage of the Taliban and the Islamic State. The developments have been sufficiently worrisome that German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel flew into Kabul today evening to meet Ghani and urge him to hold the elections on schedule next July. Gabriel offered that Berlin will defray the cost of the elections. The German contingent is based in Mazar-i-Sharif and Noor has been a valuable local ally. Above all, Berlin will have a problem dealing with the government in Kabul beyond July once it loses the last bit of legitimacy it can claim to have to continue in power.

What emerges is that the Trump administration was lying through its teeth when Pentagon presented a rosy picture of the Afghan situation in its six-monthly report to the US Congress in December. The chilling reality is that Afghanistan is heading south – in the direction of where the former South Vietnam found itself in the 1960s.

 

December 20, 2017 Posted by | Illegal Occupation | , , , , | Leave a comment

Afghanistan is ripe for proxy war

By M K Bhadrakumar | Indian Punchline | August 20, 2017

Russia has hinted in the past that the United States is covertly sponsoring the Islamic State in Afghanistan. On Thursday, the Russian Foreign Ministry spokesperson raised the bar by alleging that “foreign fighters” who were transferred by “unknown helicopters” have perpetrated a massacre of Hazara Shias in the Sar-e-Pol province in northern Afghanistan. The spokesperson said:

  • We can see attempts to stir up ethnic conflict in the country… Cases of unidentified helicopter flights to territory controlled by extremists in other northern provinces of Afghanistan are also recorded. For example, there is evidence that on August 8, four helicopters made flights from the airbase of the Afghan National Army’s 209th corps in Mazar-i-Sharif to the area captured by the militants in the Aqcha district of the Jowzjan province. It is noteworthy that witnesses of these flights began to fall off the radar of law enforcement agencies. It seems that the command of the NATO forces controlling the Afghan sky stubbornly refuses to notice these incidents.

From the above, it appears that sections of the Afghan armed forces and the NATO command (which controls Afghan air space) are hand in glove in these covert operations. No doubt, this is a very serious allegation. The attack on the Hazara Shias must be taken as a message intended for Tehran. Historically and culturally, Iran has affinities with the Hazara Shia community in Afghanistan. Possibly, the Trump administration, which has vowed to overthrow the Iranian regime, is opening a ‘second front’ by the IS against Iran from the east.

Interestingly, the Russian Foreign Ministry also issued a statement on Friday on the alarming drug situation in Afghanistan. It pointed out that:

  • A sharp increase in drug production is expected in Afghanistan this year and one-third of the country’s population is now involved in cultivation of opium poppy.
  • The geography of the Afghan drug trafficking has expanded and now reaches the African continent.
  • Tonnes of chemicals for processing narcotics are illegally imported into Afghanistan – with Italy, France and Netherlands “among main suppliers”.
  • The US and NATO are either unwilling or incapable of curbing the illegal activity.

Russia and Iran cannot turn a blind eye to the hostile activities by the US (and NATO) in their backyard, transforming the anti-Taliban war into a proxy war. They cannot but view the Afghan conflict through the prism of their deepening tensions with the US.

What are Russia’s options? The Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said at a meeting with the top brass in Moscow on August 18 that the Afghan conflict poses a threat to Central Asia’s stability. He said that Russia plans to hold joint military exercises later this year with Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan. Russia has military bases in Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan.

Again, Ambassador Zamir Kabulov, Russian presidential envoy to Afghanistan, said recently that if the Afghan government and the US are unable to counter the IS threat, Russia will resort to military force. Kabulov disclosed that Russia has raised in the UN Security Council the air dropping of supplies for the IS fighters in at least three provinces in northern Afghanistan by unidentified aircraft.

Of course, it is inconceivable that Russia will put “boots on the ground” in Afghanistan. But if the IS breaches the borders of the Central Asian states, it becomes the “red line”, Russia will hit back. Russia is reinforcing its bases in Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. Significantly, in a joint military exercise with Tajikistan in July, Russia tested its Iskander-M short-range ballistic missiles, one of the most advanced weapons in the Russian arsenal, with a range of 500 kilometers and a payload of 700 kg. Iskander is equipped with terminal guidance systems with the capability to overcome missile defences. Iskander’s accuracy could be better than 10 meters. (Russia has deployed the deadly weapon to Syria.)

With the exit of White House strategist Steve Bannon, an inveterate anti-war ideologue in the Trump administration who wanted the Afghan war to be brought to an end, the generals now have the upper hand in controlling the US policy. Defence Secretary James Mattis and National Security Advisor HR McMaster favour deployment of additional troops to Afghanistan. The ‘known unknown’ is John Kelly, whom Trump recently appointed as his chief of staff. But there are enough indications that Kelly (a retired Marine Corps general and father of a fallen Marine, 1st Lt. Robert Kelly, who was killed in Afghanistan in 2010) almost certainly shares the opinion of Mattis and McMaster.

The more one looks at it, President Donald Trump’s real challenge is not about winning the war against the Taliban, but the high risk he’ll be incurring, by taking his generals’ advice, to put his imprimatur on a full-fledged proxy war in Afghanistan against Russia, Iran and China.

August 22, 2017 Posted by | Deception, Ethnic Cleansing, Racism, Zionism, False Flag Terrorism, War Crimes | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Taliban says foreign troops must go before peace talks as US plans 4,000-strong surge

RT | June 23, 2017

In an annual address to followers, the Taliban’s leader warned against sending additional foreign troops to Afghanistan, saying that only after all foreign soldiers leave can peace be negotiated.

Maulvi Haibatullah Akhunzadah spoke on Friday on the occasion of the Eid al-Fitr festival, which ends the holy Muslim month of Ramadan. He reiterated that Afghanistan must be free of foreign occupation.

“The occupation is the main obstacle in the way of peace,” he said, referring to the presence of NATO troops in the country.

“The more they insist on maintaining the presence of their forces here or want a surge of their forces, the more regional sensitivity against them will intensify,” he added.

The remark apparently refers to reported US plans to deploy 4,000 additional troops to Afghanistan to support its crumbling national army. The majority of the force would be used in train and assist missions, but some would be involved in counterinsurgency operations, according to AP.

Akhunzadah insisted that peace negotiations with the government in Kabul would only be possible after “the occupation comes to an end,” adding that a “completely independent” Afghanistan would live under an Islamic law and distance itself from foreign players, neither supporting them nor allowing their interference.

“We don’t permit others to use the soil of Afghanistan against anyone,” he said.

He also urged Taliban fighters to avoid civilian casualties in their attacks on government forces.

The call comes a day after a truck bomb attack on a bank in Helmand province in which 34 people were killed, according to Afghan officials.

On one of its Twitter accounts, the Taliban claimed credit for the suicide bombing in the provincial capital Lashkar Gah, saying it had killed 73 members of the security forces, a figure that conflicts with the official report. Omar Zwak, spokesman for the provincial governor, acknowledged that there were police officers and national army soldiers among the victims, but insisted the majority of them were civilians, who wanted to withdraw money for Eid al-Fitr celebration.

The Taliban leader also boasted that the movement is winning more respect from “mainstream entities of the world.” The apparent attempt to bolster Taliban credibility came amid competition from rival extremist group Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL), which has been winning allegiance of some armed groups previously loyal to the Taliban.

Some nations, including Russia and China, voiced concern with IS gaining a foothold in Afghanistan.

June 23, 2017 Posted by | Illegal Occupation | , , | Leave a comment

A NATO summit for the Donald Trump era

By M K Bhadrakumar | Indian Punchline | May 24, 2017

If the expectation was that US President Donald Trump would outline his strategy toward Afghanistan at the summit meeting of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization in Brussels (May 25-26), that might not be the case. Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg in his customary pre-summit press conference at the alliance’s Headquarters, in fact, said the summit’s agenda will focuse on two issues: a) Stepping up of NATO’s contribution to the fight against terrorism. The NATO will not undertake combat missions and its role is to “deal with the root causes of terrorism, training local forces is one of the best tools we have”; and,  b) “Burden sharing”, which meant meeting the pledge that the member countries had made in 2014 to stop the cuts in military budgets, and “gradually increase and move towards” spending 2% of GDP on defence within a decade.

This is essentially a summit to get acquainted with Trump. The US’ allies fervently hope that Trump will give decent burial to his famous description of NATO being “obsolete” and, in particular, pledge loyalty to Article V of the alliance’s charter on collective security. There is bound to be some unease because Trump can be very unpredictable.

Stoltenberg was circumspect about Afghanistan, saying,

  • But the security situation remains challenging. We have recently completed our regular review of our training mission. And our military commanders have asked for a few thousand more troops. We are currently in the process of force generation and I expect final decisions to be taken next month.

It appears that Trump is yet to take a final decision on the US troop level in Afghanistan and/or his strategy toward the war.

Interestingly, during the Q&A, Stoltenberg distanced himself from the allegations in the US media (attributed to senior Pentagon commanders) that Russia has been giving covert support to Taliban to undermine the NATO operations. He said, “We have seen reports, but we haven’t seen fine proof of direct support of Russia to the Taliban.”

Importantly, Stoltenberg added, “We urge Russia to be part of an Afghan-led peace process” to reconcile the Taliban. This is a significant remark, because the NATO secretary-general usually takes his cue from Washington. Can this remark be taken as Stoltenberg’s premonition of some sort of US-Russia cooperation sailing into view over Afghanistan in a near term? It is a plausible assumption, if only because, below the radar, US-Russian cooperation over Syria at the military-to-military level is gaining momentum in the fight against ISIS. The US, it seems, is taking a leap of faith, finally.

Earlier today, addressing the upper house of the Russian parliament in Moscow, Defence Minister Sergey Shoigu made the stunning disclosure that the Russian and American militaries are engaged in discussions about the Syrian situation in a “round-the-clock mode” and are preparing a “joint project” on the hugely controversial southern zone of “deconfliction” where the competing interests of various external protagonists — Israel, Jordan, Iran, US and Hezbollah —  threaten to bring the roof down. (See my earlier blog US, Iran run into each other in Syria.)

To quote Shoigu,

  • We did not halt contacts and cooperation with them (Americans), this is also happening almost in a round-the-clock mode, we are talking with them during the day and the night, and we are meeting at different venues. A great work is underway with them. We would like it to be completed and presented as a project ready for implementation. But we are working with them and working, naturally, on the southern zone of de-escalation.

The “great work” in progress on Syria can stimulate similar cooperation in Afghanistan as well. Indeed, the US and NATO snubbed repeated Russian overtures over the years for cooperation in Afghanistan, including at the level of the Moscow-led Collective Security Treaty Organization. But Trump is perfectly capable of deciding that Russian help is useful and necessary in Afghanistan in the fight to defeat the ISIS and to bring the war to an end through a negotiated settlement with the Taliban.

By the way, Stoltenberg’s 48-minute press conference in Brussels today was free of any of his past rhetoric against Russia. It will be interesting to see what, if any, Trump will have to say tomorrow on “Russian aggression”, which had been the leitmotif of such high-level NATO events in the recent years during the Barack Obama administration. The video of Stoltenberg’s press conference is here.

May 24, 2017 Posted by | Aletho News | , , , , , | Leave a comment

SIGAR Report Notes US Failures in Afghanistan

By Salman Rafi Sheikh – New Eastern Outlook – 23.03.2017

A report of Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR), especially prepared for the US Congress and the Trump administration, finds what should be called a magnanimous failure of the US in achieving any of its major objectives in Afghanistan even after spending almost 16 years in the country. Ironic though it may sound, this report, along with its list of grave threats that the US needs to tackle, endorses the war as, what Trump himself has called, totally “disastrous” for the US. While the actual intention behind the preparation of this report seems to be to impress upon the president and the Congress to sanction more funds, commit more US troops and continue the rehabilitation programme (read: Trump has vowed to end the programme), it ends up enlisting the US’ multiple failures in Afghanistan, ranging from eliminating the Taliban completely to restoring even a semblance of peace and establishing a strong security force in the war torn country. Hence, the question: will commitment of more resources (funds and troops) to Afghanistan make any difference, especially when the proposed increase is nothing compared to what the US had committed and continued to utilize for years after it invaded Afghanistan in 2001?

It is worth recalling that since 2001, around 2250 US military personnel have died and over 20,000 wounded in Afghanistan and the war is not over—yet. Apart from it, as the report notes, the US has spent more money in Afghanistan than it collectively spent to reconstruct the whole Europe after the Second World War, marking this the “largest expenditure to rebuild a single country in our (US) nation’s history.” Given the scale of the loss, it cannot be gainsaid that it is also the greatest failure the US has suffered ever since. And as the report highlights, “after 15 years the task is incomplete.”

Afghanistan, for the US, remains a “high risk” territory—something that warrants, the US policy makers think, a long-term military presence. Despite spending a whopping US$70 billion on establishing Afghan security forces—almost half of the reconstruction budget going to this particular sector of national reconstruction— the report finds that Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) remain acutely incapable of tackling the war on their own.

While the report places the onus of responsibility on Afghan forces for ceding territory to the Taliban, the fact remains that the US forces have not left the country either and remain militarily engaged.

According to the US-Afghanistan Bi-Lateral Security Agreement (BSA), the very purpose of retaining a significant strength of US troops and military personnel is to “enhance the ability of Afghanistan to deter internal and external threats against its sovereignty.”

However, despite the fact that two years have passed since the agreement was signed, no major progress has been seen in terms of the Afghan forces’ ability to recover territory from the Taliban. On the contrary, as the SIGAR report notes, “approximately 63.4% of the country’s districts are under Afghan government control or influence as of August 28, 2016, a decrease from the 70.5% reported as of January 29, 2016.”

What this indicates is that the US has been unable to achieve, so far, its publicly stated objectives. According to the SIGAR report, the other “high risk” areas include corruption, sustainability, on-budget support, counter-narcotics, contract management, oversight, strategy and planning.

Curiously enough, SIGAR does not mention the rising threat of the Islamic State in Afghanistan and the threat it is posing to the regions surrounding this country. The regions surrounding Afghanistan include Central Asia, South Asia and China.

Were the Islamic State to be allowed, by not taking action against it, to spread in Afghanistan and be able to set foothold in this region, it will spread utter devastation—something that will directly serve the US interest against Russia and China. Not only will it jeopardize China’s ‘One Belt, One Road’ project but will also cause a manifold increase in the threats of ISIS finding support in China’s Xinjiang province and in Central Asia states i.e., Russia’s “under belly.”

No wonder, the US doesn’t see ISIS as a “real threat” to their interests in Afghanistan because it is not, as yet, posing any direct threat. For the US, the primary threat remains the Taliban and the imperative of silencing their movement remains the primary objective.

It is for this reason that both China and Russia have found a justifiable reason in establishing contacts both with the Afghan government and the Taliban in order to prevent ISIS from gaining foothold in Afghanistan. While China has already started to conduct counter-terror operations in co-operation with Kabul, Russia is equally setting itself up to lead the peace process by holding a global peace conference on Afghanistan in Moscow.

What are Trump’s options for an un-winnable war?

Given the dark scenario depicted in the report, it seems that the US military is deeply interested in raising troop levels in Afghanistan. But the question is: will sending more troops do any good when 16 years of war have led only to deterioration? What it will do is intensify the war with the Taliban and provide ISIS a ready-made scenario to gain strength.

It is obvious that the US cannot win the war against the Taliban. As a matter of fact, the question of actually winning the war has lost whatever significance it previously had. Therefore, the new question that must be raised and duly addressed is how to prevent Afghanistan from becoming another Levant?

It is again self-evident that ISIS doesn’t figure as a threat in the US officials’ calculation. Therefore, China and Russia must step up their efforts and help negotiate a peace settlement with the Taliban. Pakistan’s role is crucial in this regard and fortunately enough, both Russia and China are on good terms with Afghanistan’s immediate and most important neighbour.

Therefore, the best option for the US/the Trump administration is to engage with countries that can actually pave the way for settlement. On the contrary, were the US to continue to walk the lonely path in Afghanistan, it will continue to progressively lose space and momentum to China-Pakistan-Russia nexus just as it lost space and advantage in Syria after Russia started its own military campaign in September 2015. As such, with Russia and China willing to facilitate a peace settlement, the US needs to tap into this opportunity and turn the “disastrous war” into a meaningful settlement.

Salman Rafi Sheikh is a research-analyst of International Relations and Pakistan’s foreign and domestic affairs.

March 23, 2017 Posted by | Illegal Occupation, Militarism, Timeless or most popular | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Kabul heading for night of the long knives

By M K Bhadrakumar | Indian Punchline | September 29, 2016

There is, understandably, a degree of triumphalism in Delhi that Afghan President Ashraf Ghani lost no time to follow India’s footfalls and relay to the SAARC that he too cannot attend the planned summit of the grouping in Islamabad in November. But his explanation will raise eyebrows.

Ghani explained that the security situation in his country is acute. Fair enough. But then, he went on to add that that he will be “fully engaged” due to his “responsibilities as the Commander in Chief”. Ghani at least seems certain that he will continue to be the C-in-C six weeks hence. That is, perhaps, the only ray of hope at the present juncture when political uncertainties loom large.

The 2-year term of the Afghan National Unity Government (NUG) headed by Ghani is expiring today. From tomorrow, Afghanistan enters unchartered waters. The compromise deal on co-habitation between Ghani and the present Chief Executive Officer Abdullah, which was literally imposed on them by the US Secretary of State John Kerry two years ago, envisaged that Afghanistan would make political transition to a parliamentary system latest by today on the basis of a new constitution and electoral laws.

But with Ghani and Abdullah caught in the cobweb of factional politics, NUG got paralysed and could not fulfil the expectations placed on it during its 2-year life span. Meanwhile, elections have not been held for the Afghan parliament either, despite its term ending over a year ago. With the executive and the legislative body lacking legitimacy, a constitutional deadlock arises.

What happens now? When the US state department spokesman Mark Toner was asked about the fate of the NUG and whether Obama administration (which is entering lame duck phase) would undertake any further mediatory mission on a constitutional transition, he was evasive, saying,

  • I’m not going to predict what role (US will play), except to say that we’re – we remain committed to working with the Afghan Government and leadership in trying to continue along the reform agenda that they’re working on, but also, as you note, to ensure the smooth democratic transition to the next government.

The US seems to look away from the legitimacy question that hangs above the Ghani government beyond today and prefer to cast its eye on the horizon toward a “smooth democratic transition to the next government”. But, how will the transition be possible? (See the RSIS commentary The Coming Political Crisis in Afghanistan.)

But, by a curious coincidence, today has also been fixed as the date for the formal signing of Ghani’s peace deal with the famous Mujahideen leader Gulbuddin Hekmatyar (‘Butcher of Kabul’) at a ceremony in Kabul. Hekmatyar himself will participate in the ceremony via a video conference from his undisclosed location in Pakistan.

Hekmatyar is not taking chances – nor his Pakistani mentors. After all, you only live once and there is no knowing whether Hekmatyar will be physically safe in Kabul, where his sworn Tajik enemies from Panjshir and various other assorted old Mujahideen war horses who would have old scores to settle with him, are present.

For a start, it will be interesting to see what brave face Abdullah puts on the Ghani-Hekmatyar deal. He is between the rock and a hard place. On the one hand, he knows the deal is intended to get political space for Ghani who lacks a power base of his own. Also, he will be savvy enough to know that Hekmatyar’s entry, a Mujahideen leader who was more than a match for Ahmed Shah Massoud himself in many, is bound to change the Afghan calculus radically and his own prospects of realising his overvaulting presidential ambitions recede significantly.

On the other hand, former Afghan President Hamid Karzai is waiting in the wings to be invited by any Loya Jirga that may be convened, to head the interim government. Abdullah seems to have weighed his options and decided that it is tactically prudent to allow the NUG to limp along for a while, given his congruence of interests with Ghani (as well as with Uncle Sam) to somehow keep Karzai out in the cold.

However, the known unknown is going to be Hekmatyar’s role in the power structure. It is all very well to say his group Hezb-i-Islami will be allowed to function as a political party and the US and UN are preparing to delist him as a dangerous terrorist. But politics, for Hekmatyar, is about power.

And it is improbable he can be kept waiting in a ‘safe house’ in Pakistan for long. He will insist that his due place of habitation is the presidential palace in Kabul; at the very least, he will expect a position that is on par with Abdullah’s (who was after all only Massoud’s English-language interpreter when he himself was the iconic figure of the Afghan jihad who was lionised by both Pakistan and the US.)

To be sure, Hekmatyar’s re-entry will evoke strong feelings among Afghans who see him as an agent of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence. There have been demonstrations in Kabul against Ghani’s Faustian deal with him. Afghans have not forgotten the savagery with which Hekmatyar pursued power.

The widely-held belief among Afghans is that Hekmatyar killed more Afghan Mujahideen than he cared to kill Soviet troops. He incessantly lobbed rockets into Kabul City from the surrounding mountain tops and systematically reduced the capital to rubble in his bitter struggle for power with Massoud in the early nineties after the Mujahideen takeover. ((See an excellent piece by Terry Glavin at the National Post, The rehabilitation of Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, the Butcher of Kabul.)

How could the Mujahideen forget that Hekmatyar waded through a river of Afghan blood? The Afghans will expect an answer to the big question: If Hekmatyar is okay, why not the Taliban, too?

The thought seems to have occurred to Karzai already, who remarked two days ago that if the Taliban control territory in Afghanistan, he doesn’t see anything incongruous because it is, after all, their country, too.

September 29, 2016 Posted by | Aletho News | , , | Leave a comment