Category Archives: US Troops in Afghanistan

Strategic Pact and Uncertainties

Outlook Afghanistan op-ed published May 08

President Obama’s short stay in Kabul was more of a symbolic political visit on the eve of Osama bin Laden’s first death anniversary. Addressing Americans from Afghanistan before launching reelection campaign, President Obama reminded them that he sent the Navy SEALs to kill Osama.

He said the tide of insurgency has turned and the Taliban’s momentum has been broken. He spoke to Americans with a victorious tone, about a situation that is more of a quagmire of uncertainties for us in Afghanistan. It shows the sophisticated reach and strength of the Taliban who were successful to launch an attack in Kabul as soon as President Obama’s arrival was breaking news on Afghan media. Several, including some foreign security guards were killed when some insurgents breached the high-security zone of Kabul and attacked Green Village, a compound where foreign aid workers and diplomatic staff live.

Talking about the security transition and Afghan forces taking control, he mentioned the decrease in size of Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) in 2015, a plan proposed by the Obama Administration to reduce the burden of military costs on the US and its NATO allies. Details of the plan might be endorsed in the NATO Chicago Summit next week.

The size of ANSF is projected to reach 352,000 before October this year, of which 195,000 number of Afghan National Army has already been completed. The Obama Administration is considering a plan to downsize ANSF to 230,000, reducing a third of it starting gradually from 2015 to 2017. It is estimated that the current strength of ANSF will cost annually about $10billion. But the reduced size of ANSF has an estimated $4.2billion annual cost. The United States is urging its NATO allies to contribute about 1 billion Euros to this, while Washington would channel about $3 billion. But among NATO allies, only Britain has pledged $110million annually. It is expected that Afghanistan add about $500million to $1billion annually to the cost of its security forces.

However, Afghan security officials have been critical of the Obama Administration’s plan to heavily downsize the ANSF. Afghan officials say the plans are a conceptual model based on certain assumptions of improved security and a possible deal with insurgents for a political settlement.

Presidents Obama and Karzai also signed the US-Afghanistan Strategic Partnership Agreement (SPA). After two years of contentious negotiations on Afghan-control of US-run prisons in Afghanistan and the limits of Special Forces’ night raids agreed in the Memorandum of Understanding on the Transfer of US Detention Facilities and the Memorandum of Understanding on Afghanization of the Special Operations, the announcement of SPA was expected to bring a sigh of relief.

But the SPA is a general framework short of specifics. It talks about the generals of US-Afghanistan relations after ISAF withdrawal in 2014. Details of the US military presence and commitment to Afghanistan will be part of another Bilateral Security Agreement to be finalized by next year.

Domestically, the SPA has been criticized. We could not expect more than this from the ruling circle who have made sure to secure their domestic narrow-interests in the SPA. President Karzai at the press conference next day was saying the SPA clearly rejects change of system in Afghanistan.

One instance is the intentional wrong translation of some terms in the English, Pashto and Dari versions of the SPA. At the end of the text, it is mentioned that all three translations are equally authenticated. The original SPA text in English says “Afghanistan shall strengthen the integrity and capacity of its democratic institutions and processes, including by taking tangible steps to further the efficiency and effectiveness of its three branches of state within its ‘unitary’ system of government, and supporting development of a vibrant civil society, including a free and open media.”

In Dari and Pashto versions, they have replaced ‘unitary’ with ‘central’ (markazi). All major political opposition blocks are calling for decentralization of power, with more administrative authorities to local governance bodies and parliamentary form of government. They are strongly criticizing this part of the SPA. But the fact is that our visionless rulers with narrow-interests are playing domestic politics with the strategic agreement between Afghanistan and the US.

It must have been push by the Palace negotiators to avoid a single mention of the Taliban in the SPA. It glosses over by mentioning “Al-Qaeda and affiliates” avoiding the name of Taliban or other insurgents, keeping room for manipulations of Karzai and Co’s power-sharing designs to strike deal with elements of the Taliban and Hizb-e-Islami after 2014.

But the question is, why should Afghanistan’s system of Government be mentioned in a strategic partnership agreement with any country? It is a matter of constitutional and internal affairs that can be changed on popular demand, not a concern for our strategic relations with the US.

Amrullah Saleh says by avoiding mention of Taliban, some Palace elements are furthering the agenda of their neighboring foreign patrons to ignore the safe havens of insurgents and their leadership across the border. He adds that after ten years of ruling, the Palace has no definition of national security for Afghanistan and a vision for enemy and friend.

Besides all these, the NATO summit in Chicago was supposed to come up with concrete security plans and commitments after its fundamentals were to be detailed in the US-Afghanistan SPA, but uncertainty seems to loom for another year.

The US and NATO are in rush with an exit formula, but without a concrete post-withdrawal strategy. It is not clear how many US troops will stay in Afghanistan. There are no clear US commitments on military and economic support to Afghanistan in the SPA, and it will not be any clear in the NATO Chicago Summit too. NATO countries should come up with clear pledges of continuation of aid to Afghanistan.

The decrease of ANSF strength should be based on ground realities and conditions of improved security. Long-term stability and security should take precedence over cutting costs in determining US support for ANSF. It cannot be based on assumptions of success in talks with Taliban and better cooperation from Pakistan. There is no Plan B for a scenario when insurgency will increase much deadlier after 2014 while Afghan forces will be reduced to half and the bulk of US and NATO troops will withdraw.

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Kandahar Massacre: Their Disregard and Our Hypocrisy

Much have been written and said about the Kandahar massacre. The American soldier Robert Bales has been officially charged with 17 counts of murder, six counts of assault and attempted murder. In an interview to a US radio, the journalist told me Bales’ lawyer wants to visit Panjwai and “investigate” family members of those murdered. He says actions of his “clients” were not premeditated, and Bales has history of brain injury and does not fully understand the allegations against him.

Family members of the victims have been paid ‘assistance’ money of $50,000 for each of the slain, and $11,000 for injured by the US. The Afghan Government had earlier compensated the victims with $2000 for each murdered, and $1000 for those injured. A Government delegation visited the families and offered condolence. They came under a Taliban attack briefly in the area. I happened to see a video of the incident, in which an angry local villager was asking an ANA soldier to give him his weapon to fight with those who had attacked. The delegation included two brothers of President Karzai, Chief of Army Staff and other senior Government officials.

The US military and civilian officials have responded irresponsibly to this tragic incident. Regardless of the controversy that Robert Bales was alone or it was a group of soldiers who went to the houses and killed 16 people, it would have been proper if some senior US officials had joined the Afghan delegation to offer condolence to elders of the area during the funeral. I wonder what the cultural and religious advisors of the US military do. Later a group of area elders and family members of the victims were invited to Kabul by President Karzai. The US military and Embassy officials did not bother to meet them for a formal condolence offering. It might sound ridiculous from an ordinary Western perspective, but it got symbolic and traditional importance in our part of the world, when the guilty side visits the victims during funeral and offer sincere apology.

In contrary, the US officials and media were talking more about reaction and protests across Afghanistan, rather than looking into the human side of this tragic incident. My friend Ahmad Shuja puts it in the following words:

The debate following the Kandahar massacre shows that Americans at home and in Afghanistan still don’t quite understand the meaning of events in that country. Domestically, the calls for a swifter withdrawal is not only divorced from the realities of logistical constraints but also display a reckless disregard for the negative consequences of a hasty pullout on Afghans. In Afghanistan, an instinct of fear pervades the US and ISAF reaction, which leads them to ignore the grief of the victims.

This approach is precisely the wrong one because disregarding the human suffering and concentrating on “Afghan anger” and threat of a “backlash” dehumanizes the people affected by this incident and paints them not as victims but as potential aggressors. From a practical standpoint, it is especially counterproductive that the mission charged with protecting the civilians is taking the fear approach, because it separates them from the population and prevents a more human connection with the population in grief.”

The ignorance is not exclusive to the US military and civilian officials and political elite. Another friend Josh Shahryar has summarized the disregard of the victims of Kandahar by the mainstream US media in following words:

What disgusts me as an Afghan is the degree to which the victims of this massacre have been ignored. Imagine if this was a serial killer who committed this crime in a suburb of Chicago? By now, you’d have pictures of every victim, published in neat collages in every major newspaper in the US. The US mainstream media has people on the ground in Afghanistan. They also have access. Yet they have not documented names or pictures or stories. Afghan tragedies have been left for Afghans to cover, even when that tragedy is caused by an American.”

Josh points to an editorial on the Kandahar massacre published by the National Review Online referring to Afghans as “primitive”, and says:

“An American soldier goes to Afghanistan and massacres 16 civilians inside their homes, then burns their bodies. And we are the ones who are primitive”.

Almost a week after the incident, Wall Street Journal has been the only US media outlet to have interviewed the victims in Panjwai. Seeing the way mainstream US media have covered this massacre, I am not surprised that Robert Bales’ lawyer actually wants to visit Afghanistan and “investigate” family members of the victims for his “client”. There is little doubt Bales’ action were not premeditated. But his lawyer will try best to prove that Bales has mental problems and should go away with 16 murders.

In Afghanistan, people have been patient and there were no riots as feared by US officials and media pundits. But Afghan media should highlight the hypocrisy of our political and religious leadership and ordinary people regarding our reaction on such issues.

Taliban kill civilians every day. A day after the Panjwai massacre, an IED by the Taliban killed 5 women and 4 children in Uruzgan. The next day a blast killed several innocent people in Helmand. Taliban blow up mosques, they are responsible for majority of civilian casualties, but I remember only few cases in which people took to streets chanting against Taliban atrocities. If only President Karzai would have invited victims of any of the daily Taliban atrocities, media had highlighted in the way they reported Panjwai massacre, and people had protested like the riots after Quran burning, Taliban would think twice before sending a suicide bomber and killing civilians. If the US officials and media have shown utter disregard and ignorance, our hypocrisy has not been less in degree. Rather our collective hypocrisy has been more harmful than their disregard.

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Ally or not Ally

Outlook Afghanistan op-ed Dec 01

The US-Pakistan relations seem to be well on its way of eventual demise after an ISAF airstrike across the border that killed 24 Pakistani soldiers last week. In reaction, Pakistan has blocked the NATO supply from Torkham and Chaman, asked the US to vacate the Shamsi airbase in Balochistan and announced to boycott the Bonn Conference next week.

Earlier in May when the SEALs killed Osama bin Ladin in military town of Abottabad, Pakistani officials demanded the US to vacate Shamsi, but this time with the deadline of December 11, the US is reportedly preparing to leave the base. CIA ran the drone operations from there targeting militants in the tribal areas. However, the base is no longer in use as it ceased in April, and the closure will not affect militarily.

Blockade of the NATO supply route might continue for weeks given the extreme Pakistani reaction. Currently, only 48 percent of NATO supplies come through Pakistan, and 52 percent through the Northern Distribution Network (NDN). The US plan is to transit 75 percent of all non-lethal supplies through the NDN. And 30 percent of the supplies, mostly lethal weapons, come by air through Pakistani airspace. They have not placed restrictions of overflights.

Prime Minister Gilani rejected a personal request by President Karzai in a phone call on Tuesday, saying if Afghanistan officially condemned the ISAF airstrike, Islamabad might reconsider the boycott decision on the Bonn II. There is a fuss about this boycott in the international media, calling it a blow to the entire process. The question is what if the ISAF strike had not happened and Pakistan was in Bonn? Would it make the chances of a breakthrough in the peace process with Taliban more plausible? Of course not! The fact that Pakistan has significant influence over the Taliban leaders makes it an important player in the process, but there was no progress in the US efforts to persuade Pakistani military in this regard. Both countries have contrary objectives for the endgame in Afghanistan. Pakistani military is against long-term presence of US troops beyond 2014, which will be approved in a US-Afghanistan Strategic Partnership Agreement, supported by a Traditional Loya Jirga recently.

Though reconciliation with the Taliban was high on the agenda of Bonn Conference, no breakthrough was expected. Pakistan’s support and cooperation is indeed vital, as the Afghan Government or the US cannot approach militant leaders who are hiding in Pakistan. Rawalpindi has significant influence on the Haqqani Network and Quetta Shura. But they have not indicated to cooperate on this, and mere participation in Bonn will not ensure that.

The conference is not a debate forum to last for days. Agenda and decisions are taken behind the scenes following the Istanbul Summit. Pakistan gains nothing by boycotting a German-hosted and Afghan-chaired conference attended by representatives of about 90 countries to make pledges on the arrangements of post-2014 Afghanistan. Pakistan would rather isolate itself further with this boycott. Instead they could use the forum to raise their concerns.

Let me come back to the airstrike that caused the final blow to a relations based on lies and deceit between two so-called allies. There are conflicting and disputed reports based on claims from both sides. Pakistani military say the airstrike was unprovoked. While ISAF and Afghan officials say they received fire from the Pakistani side first. If there was no firing from the Pakistani side of the border, either insurgents or from the check posts, it would be beyond understanding why Afghan and ISAF commandos would ask for air support. Pentagon has appointed an Air Force Brigadier to investigate the incident. ISAF has said all future engagements on Durand Line have to be approved from their Headquarters in Kabul.

But such incidents are inevitable in future if militant incursions continued from across the border. Militants come to fight in Afghanistan and when the US troops chase, they retreat on the other side. It’s a daily business for them to move back and forth on the border.

Top Pakistani military officials have said they have “no expectation” from the ISAF inquiry. And it is expected that Islamabad will make further blowing decisions to reduce cooperation with NATO in Afghanistan after a joint session of parliament.

Now what?

The closure of Shamsi airbase does not debilitate overall drone operations, as it is based in Afghanistan. It’s likely that the supply routes will be restored. But the US should now increase focus on the Northern Distribution Network.

It is time for the US and Pakistan to put the game of distrust and deceit aside, get honest to each other and put their options clear on the table. There are two scenarios. Pakistan might continue the supply blockade and cease the limited intelligence and military cooperation with NATO. And eventually reduce ties with the US. In this case, we should expect increased suicide bombings in Kabul, and mass incursions of militants from across the border. In scenario two, if the US does not get tough on Rawalpindi, it will be business as usual after more concessions to tone down their overreaction. Pakistani Defense Minister said yesterday the supply routes will be restored if NATO apologizes.

If Pakistan decides to officially uncover the reality of this relation and cease their limited cooperation in the war on terror, the US should stop the military aid—$20 billion since 2001–and strengthen civilian supremacy in Pakistan. A small part of the military aid that the US gives to Pakistan Army could raise a Special Border Force in Afghanistan enough to be deployed all over the Durand Line to fight militant incursions. If insurgents have no Jihadi recruits, and weapon supply from across the border, it will not take long to wipe out the terrorists.

The ‘peace plan’ suggested by Pakistani military for the endgame in Afghanistan is simply not acceptable for Afghans and the international community. They want a big share in power for Haqqanis and Quetta Shura saying militants represent Pashtuns. Pakistan’s main objective is full withdrawal of US troops. They are against the US-Afghanistan Strategic Partnership agreement that allows presence of US troops long beyond 2014. Pakistani military has its reasons. They fear US military intervention from Afghanistan against their nuclear capabilities.

It’s time for both countries to stop lies and deceit and decide they are allies or not. The US should ensure Pakistani military that their presence in Afghanistan is not a threat. Washington should offer Rawalpindi a vital role in the peace process with Taliban exclusive among the US, Afghanistan and Pakistan. Pakistan should persuade the Taliban to come to table talks and give up violence and help the US and Afghanistan to eliminate those who continue terror. Similarly, the US and Afghanistan should assure Pakistan about their legitimate security and strategic concerns on the endgame in Afghanistan. But for this, General Kayani would have to compromise his current ‘peace plan’.

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Jirga Resolution and Strategic Partnership Agreement with the US

My op-ed on Outlook Afghanistan Nov 23

The Traditional Loya Jirga has issued a 72-article resolution with recommendations regarding the US-Afghanistan strategic partnership agreement and talks with insurgents. There is nothing new or unexpected in the long resolution than what President Karzai has already said. As discussed in my previous op-ed on this page, President Karzai’s inauguration speech made it clear what the Jirga resolution will look like. Overall, they have unanimously supported presence of American troops in Afghanistan beyond 2014. It comes to the utter displeasure of Tehran and Rawalpindi, who are against the strategic partnership between Afghanistan and the US. Pro-Tehran elements in Kabul have launched an intense media propaganda campaign to influence public opinion against the presence of US troops beyond 2014. One could see the Iranian displeasure in the way their media reported the Jirga resolution.

Though most of the Jirga demands are repetition of the “conditions” declared by President Karzai in his inauguration speech, some recommendations need to be debated, not because they come from the illegitimate and staged Traditional Loya Jirga (TLJ), but since these points are making the rounds in media as “Afghanistan’s demands” from the US regarding the strategic partnership agreement.

The conditions called “Afghanistan’s demands” by Karzai Administration, without any consultation in the parliament or a debate on it in the TLJ, need to be thoroughly debated in the Lower House and Senate. What seems to be the top of these demands is the call for end to night raids. How practical is it? Though the TLJ mentions it conditionally saying night operations should be “Afghan-led”, the question is, if insurgents continue attacking civilians, target Afghan and international security forces beyond 2014, and a peace process fails to make a breakthrough by then, why to end the night-raids? If night-raids do not cause civilian deaths, but eliminates terrorists in the surprise of the night, it should continue. Osama bin Ladin was killed in a night-raid. Many important militant leaders have been killed or captured in operations conducted at night. Afghan Special Forces could be trained to join the US troops for such night-raids.

Some of the conditions are in contradiction to other demands. For instance, President Karzai in his inauguration speech said the US should pursue terrorists in their safe havens and hideouts outside our borders–clearly referring to Pakistan. But at the same time, they demand that the agreement must mention that the US forces take no action outside borders of Afghanistan.

In article 19 of the Jirga resolution, it is recommended that the strategic partnership agreement between the US and Afghanistan should be “registered with the United Nations”. These conditions make it sound as if Afghanistan is gaining nothing and all goes to the US. It is more in the interest of Afghanistan that the US troops remain in our country than that of America’s. Why our geniuses of the Jirga think it’s important to make the UN privy of the agreement between the two countries? It’s not an strategic partnership agreement between Afghanistan and the world.

However, the TLJ was very specific in its recommendations on talks with militants. After all-out efforts of President Karzai to reach to Taliban, he finally admitted failure after assassination of Ustad Rabbani. His statement to stop the peace process had made quite a thunder, but as usual, he changed the rhetoric a week later. Stuck in his failed attempts that has led to nowhere, President Karzai particularly emphasized on “advice” and “recommendations” about the peace process from the TLJ, something that he did not mention regarding the agreement with the US, and declared the conditions in his inauguration speech before the Jirga participants know what they were supposed to talk about. The TLJ resolution has detailed articles on peace talks with militants. Following are the important lines:

  • In order to get durable peace and solve problems in Afghanistan and the region, the Afghan Government should seriously talk with Pakistan.
  • There should be clear definition of friends, opponents and enemies so that the process will be implemented accordingly.
  • Negotiations should take place with those individuals who have Afghan identity, their address is clear and who want political solution in the country through a legitimate political process.
  • All know that insurgent leaders live in Pakistan and specific networks [read it ISI] have close relations with them. There is a need for peace efforts in Afghanistan and for honest cooperation of Pakistan in this regard. Jirga members ask Pakistan to change its policy towards Afghanistan and honestly cooperate in eliminating security challenges.

The recommendations of the TLJ cannot be referred to the parliament because TLJ is not a legitimate body with constitutional status. President Karzai wanted to give the decision of strategic agreement with the US a cover of national support, which he could easily get through the parliament, but a show of the Jirga was staged for reasons beyond getting popular support. It was a sideshow of the political bargaining and agenda of setting ground for future manipulations.

Insurgents, who tried their best to disrupt the Jirga with attacks, have rejected the TLJ, saying presence of foreign troops will provoke regional sensitivities. In their statements, the Taliban and Hizb-e-Islami said the Jirga was not representative of Afghans. Now those who destroy their motherland under the patronage of regional intelligence agencies are talking about “regional sensitivity”. It clearly shows where their support comes from.

Meanwhile, there was a protest demonstration by students of the Islamic University in Nangarhar chanting slogans against the endorsement of the agreement with the US. In their resolution, they were calling for Jihad against all foreign forces in Afghanistan. It has been this democratic system that ensures their right to protest, they could not dare to do such a thing under the Taliban regime. It’s more than obvious that a huge majority of our nation support the agreement with the US about presence of foreign troops in Afghanistan beyond 2014. Even if major political opposition groups were against a manipulated Jirga, they support the strategic partnership agreement with the US. All the three major groups in the opposition block—National Front, Hope and Change and the newly found Right and Justice Party—support it. There is an overwhelming support in the parliament as well. The Senate has already welcomed the resolutions of the TLJ.

To the utter surprise of those students, many Mullahs of Kabul mosques in their Friday sermons discussed the Jirga resolutions positively saying the agreement with the US is in the national interest of Afghanistan. One even said, “The greatest Islamic country Saudi Arabia has also signed agreements with the US”. Though I am glad some Mullahs of the mosques are enthusiastic and supportive about the agreement, it would be better for Afghanistan if they remained limited to their religious guidance of the people, rather than political commentary in Friday sermons. It should be the job of politicians.

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Random Thoughts on 10th Anniversary of 9/11

My Outlook Afghanistan op-ed Sept 11, 2011

Today is the 10th anniversary of 9/11 attacks when Al-Qaeda hijackers carried out the worst terrorist attack in recent history killing thousands of innocent people. Afghan and international media outlets have given extensive coverage reporting about the impact of 9/11, particularly focusing the war in Afghanistan. I have had several feature interviews, mostly recalling the personal memories and thoughts about the post-9/11 decade and Afghanistan.

On September 11, 2001, I was in Quetta city of Pakistan, the place which is infamous in the Western media as the hideout of Taliban’s “Quetta Shura”. It seemed like the entire city was talking about that huge attack, albeit in a way that mocked the US supremacy. Most people in that deeply conservative city were saying that it was a reaction to the American imperialist moves and injustices in the world.

We here in Afghanistan had experienced worse than 9/11 attacks in our everyday life during the three decades of war and crisis, particularly in the darkest era of our history under the rule of Taliban regime. For instance, just two days before the incident, a resistance leader was killed by two Al-Qaeda suicide bombers. I remember it was no less than breaking news for Afghan refugee Diaspora as tragic as that of the 9/11 for Americans and the world. Taliban had massacred thousands of people in Mazar-e-Sharif, Bamiyan and other parts of the country. We had seen much horrible scenes during the street battles in Kabul. Thousands of people were killed.

It was very tragic, but personally I have always thought 9/11 was like a blessing for the people in Afghanistan because as a consequence of this attack, the US came here and toppled the forces of evil known as the Taliban regime. I don’t mean to be happy for loss of thousands of lives on 9/11, but in a way it brought attention of the world to the atrocities of Taliban in Afghanistan, only when Americans experienced a day of destruction that we had gone through for years.

We had already lost our twin towers before 9/11. World Trade Center was a symbol of American capitalism. When Taliban destroyed the giant Buddha statues of Bamiyan, we felt like our twin towers, the symbol of past-glory and civilization had been destroyed. Whenever I visit the site of destroyed Buddhas in Bamiyan, I cry for this atrocity of the Taliban. And I dream the day when like Americans, we will be able to rebuild our twin towers of history—the giant Buddha statues.

Today after 10 years, when we recall those days, life in Kabul is more than good. Despite the insecurity threats and militant attacks that keep our daily lives in a constant security fear, millions of Kabulities have a normal life, which is much better than the days of Taliban and prior to that the street battles during the factional war among Mujahideen.

Today after ten years, the worst of our worries are all about security and nation-building in this country. Nowadays with the talk of the US and NATO withdrawal from Afghanistan, people have already started fearing about return of the 90s era of civil war. We are still not certain about a genuine peace in this country. However, despite being very uncertain, I hope the international community will not let Afghanistan down once again, as the US left us on the mercy of our neighbors after supporting the Mujahideen during the resistance against Soviet Union. If the United States and the world had supported Afghanistan to get on a track of political stability after the Soviet withdrawal, we would not have seen the nightmares of civil war and dark days of Taliban, who provided safe havens to Al-Qaeda masterminds of 9/11.

We have had great achievements during the last decade in Afghanistan. Ten years ago, the entire infrastructure in Afghanistan was destroyed. But over the last decade we have had the kind of development in our economy, infrastructure and government institutions that we lacked over the last two centuries.

Afghanistan has never experienced a peaceful transition of power in its history, but we have a democratic government selected by the votes of people. We had two presidential and parliamentary elections. We have a strong number of Armed forced to defend our borders and maintain security in parts of the country.

After the Soviet invasion and civil war, all defense forces of Afghanistan had been shattered and destroyed. Today we have an Army of more than 150,000 troops, trained by NATO countries. We have a police force of similar number, trained by the coalition countries. The contribution of NATO and ISAF has been immense and great in rebuilding Afghanistan. If it was not their presence, western countries would not have contributed in the reconstruction of this doomed country.

However, there are failures in the mission which ISAF had been mandated by the UN to fight in Afghanistan. They have not been successful in eliminating terrorism and rooting out the international Jihadi terrorists from Afghanistan. With the military might and advance technology, this should have been possible by now.

As there are talks of ISAF and NATO troops’ withdrawal, with deteriorating situation, rising militancy and political instability, the future looks uncertain. If they withdraw from Afghanistan without leaving behind a management which could defend us from becoming an international terrorist harboring place, the return of 90s era is inevitable.

The situation will get out of control very quickly if there is a complete lack of interest by the international community to stay involved in Afghanistan. The biggest challenge for the future of Afghanistan is not corruption or good governance; it is religious extremism, militancy and the cancer of Jihadi terrorism. We also do not have political stability, something we did not have for the entire history of Afghanistan.

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Mullah Omar’s Eid Message

Outlook Afghanistan op-ed published on Sept 07, 2011

An Eid message on behalf of the Taliban leader Mullah Omar has been released by the propaganda website of the Islamic Emirate. The Al-Emara website claiming to represent the shadow Islamic Emirate of the Taliban has been very active with propaganda reports and disinformation. Though they are much updated about attacks, and post news reports mixing the content with some true information and more-than-half propaganda, I have rarely taken Al-Emara seriously.

They publish posts in five languages: Pashtu, Dari, Urdu, Arabic and English. I have always doubted those who are behind the online propaganda forums and twitter account of the Taliban are based across the border in Chaman or some other Pakistani city. NDS had told the media recently about many Zabihullah Mujahids, who talk with journalists and spread the Taliban propaganda regularly from Chaman city. Otherwise, how could one believe that the US intelligence agencies and NATO forces would have been unable to trace their calls and locations?

Starting with triumph tales of Taliban, the one-eyed Amir-ul-Momaneen’s Eid greetings was more of a policy speech, in which he is using a different language. There is no criticism of the Karzai Administration, talks have not been denied, and he also ‘assures’ the Taliban government will be a ‘pure Islamic system’ inclusive of all ethnic groups and segments of the Afghan society.

Apparently it sounds an all-optimistic message, but not really. The first reaction I read was from Ahmed Rashid. Recently he has been sounding more like a Taliban apologist than an analyst. Reading his blog post on New York Review of Books, one thought as if the Taliban had taken a 180 degree u-turn, and Ahmed Rashid is all-out optimistic about the process of talks.

He says, “Coming at a time when violence is at its worst and bloodshed in Afghanistan being committed both by US forces and the Taliban, this message seems a hopeful sign that talks and a negotiated settlement to end the war are a possibility.” But just a few days later, in a talk at the War Studies Department of Kings College London on Monday, he expressed different views in contradiction to his writings.

The statement on behalf of Mullah Omar was indeed their propaganda at its best. The long message is sub-headlined in different parts addressing all the people of Afghanistan, Afghan Diaspora, writers, students, journalists, Taliban Jihadis and those in Government administrations.

It tells us the ‘military’ success of Taliban against coalition and Afghan forces saying the Badr Operation this year has been the most successful, inflicting huge physical and material loss to ‘the enemy’. It doesn’t mention the Afghan Government in particular, but the word ‘enemy’ is used for the international troops as well as Afghan administration. The statement says, “the extermination of high level officials of the enemy both in north and south of the country, …give us a good news of an imminent victory and a bright future.”

It is clearly pointing to the serial assassinations of high-profile Afghan officials, including the brother of President Karzai. I don’t understand what is positive to Ahmed Rashid, when the US and Afghan Government lobbies at the UN to remove Taliban names from terrorist sanctions list, separates them from Al-Qaeda, but the response is a terror campaign of targeted-killing of the Afghan officials. President Karzai has ordered release of hundreds of notorious Taliban militants from prisons, but Mullah Omar ‘warns’ officials of the Karzai Administration to “join” and “support” the Taliban.

Mullah Omar announced “the Jihad will continue unabatedly” even after the withdrawal of bulk of US troops announced by President Obama. He added that “the presence of foreign invading troops…is the cause of current imbroglio in the country.” The esteemed Amirul Momaneen should tell us, why Taliban provided safe havens to foreign Arab Jihadis? They were invaders on this land for a large part of the population. One should ask him, why the US troops came to Afghanistan in the first place? Contrary to the propaganda that Mullah Omar wants the people of Afghanistan to believe, it was because of him that the US troops had to come to Afghanistan to fight international terrorists and their Taliban hosts.

When the Bush Administration asked Mullah Omar to handover Osama bin Ladin after 9/11, why did he reject? He is saying all those who take part in the process of approving US military presence either through a Jirga or parliament are traitors. What about those who not only approved the presence of foreign Jihadis in Afghanistan, but also provided them with free hand in using Afghanistan as a launching pad for terrorism around the globe.

Today Afghans visiting any country—including the so-called Muslim Ummah leaders who were early financiers and diplomatic supporters of the Taliban—are suspects and doubted for terrorism; we suffer all this humiliation around the world because of the deeds of Taliban and Mullah Omar.

Should we believe Mullah Omar and the Taliban, whom we have experienced for a dark era, with one statement on internet? If they are against foreign presence, Mullah Omar in his next message of Eid-ul-Azha must denounce all international terrorists in Afghanistan announcing disassociation of the Taliban with Al-Qaeda and other terror networks via a public statement, with an honest addition of apology from the nation for the atrocities we experienced under their rule. But it doesn’t exclude them from trials and accountability for the war crimes.

Today Mullah Omar is assuring us that people of all ethnicities will have share in power and the “Islamic Emirate” will have peaceful relations with regional countries and the world. How to believe this? Without the intervention and presence of foreign troops, Afghanistan would have been under an absolute and dark rule of Taliban with a graveyard peace until today, and millions of Afghan taking refuge in other countries. The American intervention in Afghanistan has been more than a blessing to get rid of a terrorist state and government, for the anti-Taliban constituency and peace loving progressive people of Afghanistan.

The people of Afghanistan never want to go through the nasty experience of a dark period under the Islamic Emirate once again. The day Mullah Omar released a statement with a logo of’ Islamic Republic’, it will be considered a change in their mindset, and we can hope for an intra-Afghan debate about a future with Taliban being part of the democratic process and system, otherwise the Eid message is nothing more than another piece of propaganda from Al-Emara websites.

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Media Darling in the West, Irrelevant in Afghanistan

My Outlook op-ed April 17.

The bravest woman of Afghanistan”, “iconic human rights activist”, “champion for Afghan woman” are titles you read in media headlines in the West about Afghan activist Malalai Joya. She is a star among the anti-war left circles of the West. Recently she made headlines because of the US visa denial, and lefty pressure-groups made loud noise calling the US State Department to “reconsider” the visa denial. Whatever the reason maybe, though Joya herself calls it political move because of her criticism of the US policies, the denial was indeed condemnable and for good reasons, the US State Department took notice and she got the visa to make tours in the States promoting her book, “A Woman Among Warlords”. However, the visa denial was good for Joya making headlines again. Some anti-war journo activists who make touristic-visits of Afghanistan for “reporting” were loud in the campaign, albeit on twitter, making noise against Joya’s visa denial. Hundreds of Afghans with legitimate application process are denied US visa on daily basis. Some of them are prominent people, some critical of the US policies, while others just simple professionals, but its only Joya’s that hits the headlines and she paints “political reasons” for it.

I have been an admirer of Joya’s courage and bravery. It was indeed a breakthrough when she raised voice against warlords in the first Loya Jirga after the fall of Taliban. And the way she spoke out needs very strong guts. However, this does not make her “the bravest woman of Afghanistan” and “iconic human rights activist”. We have many of such brave women who have not risen to stardom for some fiery and sensational remarks, but fighting against the suppression and struggling for women rights for decades, even during the war, in Afghanistan. Malalai Joya was unknown on national level in the country before that Loya Jirga remarks. After rising to stardom in Western media, she has been quite irrelevant in Afghanistan in the past couple of years. I was surprised to see her name in the TIME magazine in the 2010 list of the “Most Influential People in the World” and Foreign Policy Magazine’s list of “Top 100 Global Thinkers.” Recently the Guardian had placed her in such a list on Women’s Day. There are far more deserving, but not attention-seeking, women activists in Afghanistan, who have served their entire life struggling against warlords and for women rights. A single example is Dr. Sima Samar, who has dedicated her life educating Afghan girls and fighting for their rights in the last 30 years, but never with attention-seeking attempts to make it in any of the top lists of Western media outlets. Similarly, there are hundreds of brave Afghan women struggling across the country in many walks of life nowadays. You might accuse me of any personal dislike and prejudice towards Joya, but recently I read two of the best commentaries on Joya written by Afghan women! The one below I am quoting is written by Noor Jahan Akbar. She explains the reason which I always wonder, why Joya gets so much attention. “The majority of the people I meet in United States of America are unaware of most of the things going on in Afghanistan, which is why bold statements like that of Malalai Joya’s are taken at a face-value and herself as the representative of Afghan women. After her speeches little thought is put into doing research about how much truth they carry and even less time and patience is put into checking whether she has the credentials or the support of Afghan women to be their representative in the world.

Noor Jahan continues,

“unlike Ms. Joya, the majority of Afghan women fear the exit of foreign troops from Afghanistan for valid reasons. The Taliban regime was not only harsh and inhumane towards women, but also men, and also religious monitories or anyone who dared to question their authority. They enforced humiliating and inhumane punishments and took many lives and livelihoods in Afghanistan. Not only the educated elite, as it is sometimes imagined in West, but ordinary Afghans across the country suffered in their hands. I am not claiming Ms. Joya supports Taliban, but her emphasis on troops’ exit makes it seem like she has little care for the consequences of an abrupt exit for millions of Afghans who still have faith in international community’s commitment to Afghanistan.  Afghan women, especially the 43% of Afghan girls in schools, the women who make 30% of university students, the women who make 29% of the teachers, the women who represent 28% of the National Assembly, the women who produce 7.5% of contractual services for the Afghan government, and the hundreds of women in shelters and those who work at civil services organizations, are well aware of the horrific impacts of the withdrawal of [foreign] troops from Afghanistan and would not support Joya’s stand on this subject. Hence, Malalai Joya is not the representative of Afghan women in the world.”

Noor Jahan Akbar rightly criticizes Malalai Joya’s lack of alternative:

 “Given the weakness of the central government and the Afghan National Army, it is clear that power will lend itself to either the Taliban or the warlords or a coalition of both after the foreign troops exit the country. Ms. Joya has no clear idea of how she and others who advocate for disengagement of foreign troops in Afghanistan will be able to provide any security to the people of Afghanistan or guarantee any rights to Afghan women if the troops should exit.”

Who else better than an Afghan woman like Noor Jahan can tell who the bravest women of Afghanistan are?

”the bravest women of Afghanistan are the 23 women who recently graduated as officers for the army, the 150 women who work 10 hours a day on a saffron field in Herat, the hundreds of women who sing songs of protest everyday in their houses to remind their daughters of how much courage it takes to live as a woman in Afghanistan and the tens of women who are sexually, verbally and physically abused everyday in prisons. The bravest woman of Afghanistan is Sakeena Yaqubi who has built a school and a learning institute, or Pashtun Begum, who was a beggar and now provides small business opportunities for other widows. A woman who has lent her voice to politicians might be brave but is neither my representative nor the bravest woman of Afghanistan.”

Like Noor Jahan, there are many Afghan women who don’t consider Malalai Joya their “champion” as dubbed by Western media. Recently another Afghan woman, Nushin Arbabzada, wrote on Guardian about the anti-US rants of Joya. “without the international community’s interference, there would not have been the 2003 Loya Jerga where she [Joya] first gained international fame. Joya’s anti-US military rhetoric resonates with the leftist circles of the west who are her chief audience.” Nushin’s piece on Guardian explains the political reasons of Joya’s irrelevant “activism” in Afghanistan being used by a group of radical leftist Afghans against their rightwing Islamist rivals.

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Concerns and Prospects on Security Transition

My op-ed on Daily Outlook Afghanistan, March 23

It was not that of a surprise. A couple of days ago some from Government circles were saying that President Karzai is going to make a surprise speech on Nawroz announcing areas for security transition to be controlled by Afghan security forces. In a graduation ceremony at military academy in Kabul on Tuesday, President Karzai announced names of some cities and provinces for security transition a day after Nawroz. He didn’t attend the main Nawroz gathering at Blue Mosque in Mazar city. Actually he has not attended that national event for the past couple of years since his rivalry with Governor Atta. Second Vice President Karim Khalili visited and took part in the ceremony. He emphasized on talks with Taliban asking insurgents to lay down arms and join the peace process. I am mentioning the Blue Mosque event because it is an example of the weakness of our political leadership and fragility of the system, which is relevant in the important debate about security transition towards withdrawal of foreign troops and other related affairs. President Karzai, despite his firm control in a strongly centralized power system, is like a powerless figurehead when it comes to affairs in Mazar. Governor Atta has been a strong critic of Karzai in public and doesn’t shy from open rivalry against his President. This single example shows the leadership weakness in different fronts from internal tribal politics to the complexity of talks with the Taliban. Capability of our national security forces is not the only condition for transition process before withdrawal of foreign troops. Political stability and a national consensus on all issues from transition to talks with the Taliban are more important than the race to increase the quantity but not the quality of Afghan National Security Forces.

The announcement was not “a surprise” because the cities and provinces to be controlled by Afghan forces from mid-July are ones that have already been virtually under Afghan security control. The names include two of the most peaceful provinces Bamyan and Panjsher, which are under Afghan security control from the time when Taliban was ousted from these areas, and cities of Mazar-i-Sharif, Herat and Lashkargah, Kabul Province, expect Sarobi, and Mehtarlam, the capital of Laghman Province. Lashkargah, capital of the volatile Helmand province, which is center of Taliban insurgency, is the only area as a test for the Afghan forces. Mazar and Herat cities were already controlled by Afghan forces, and none of its districts are included in this transition plan. Afghan forces have been in control of security in Kabul since 2008, so nothing new in that.

There have been mixed reaction on this announcement. People in Lashkargah are confident about security and capability of Afghan forces, while people in Bamyan are concerned. Similarly, the officials are also divided. For instance, Governor of Panjsher says the transition announcement is very symbolic. “People know where and how much deep are the troubles,” he told ToloNews. Governor of Kunduz, a troubled province of the peaceful North, is not confident of the capability of Afghan security forces. He says, “Afghan security forces have not the logistical capacity for security transition.” Meanwhile the Governor of Helmand is confident about the transition.

Former Member of Parliament Noorul Haq Ulumi calls the move “symbolic”. The former military commander of the communist era said, “You know symbolic moves are not effective and they won’t achieve any goals. Afghan forces lack the capability and equipment to carry operations independently.” Similar concerns are shared by many Afghan intellectuals.

The transition plan and withdrawal plan of foreign troops are hasty decisions and there have not been tight scheduling for this. Since 2001, the process of training of Afghan security forces has been very slow and weak. The transition and withdrawal were not taken as a serious target in the initial years. Our troops don’t have the proper equipment. We don’t have air force, how can they would be able to carry full-fledged operations against any situation like a rise of insurgency in any particular part of these areas that have been announced for transition?

Afghan women rights activist and analyst Frogh Wazhma says, “Americans base their decisions for transition and withdrawal on the empty confidence of President Karzai, who doesn’t talk to his constituency anymore.” Wazhma is also concerned with the over confidence of President Karzai and about the lack of equipment and weapons with Afghan forces. She says “we don’t have tanks, other weapons and air force.”

Afghans have to take the responsibility of their security one day. And it would have been much better, if we had started talking about all this some years ago, when insurgency was not at its worst. The deadlines are pushing us to get alarmed to the fact that foreign forces are not going to be with us forever and the sooner we take control of our security, the better.

Former Chief of Staff in Foreign Ministry and Afghanistan’s Envoy to UN in Vienna, Wahid Munawar is also optimistic about the process. He told me,

“Although reluctant, I am content to see Helmand as part of the transition. We need to have equilibrium in our distribution of responsibility. For example in Mazar we may not need as many ANA & ANP allocated as we do in Helmand. This will balance out Afghan government’s efforts. A recent survey by BBC poll found the proportion of Helmand residents who say their security is “good” has jumped from 14% to 67% since 2009.”

Afghan analyst Ahmad Shuja says,

“The transition has more symbolic value than actual, practical significance for the Afghans. It shows that Afghan forces are willing to take over even when they are not fully trained and qualitatively ready. However, the possibility that they will be overwhelmed by the insurgents is always there.

“With removal of foreign troops from some provinces — the New Zealand PRT from Bamyan, for example — the little aid these provinces receive will dry out. And obviously, the choice of Helmand in this first phase of security transition is just confounding.”

I agree to Munawar when he says,

“while training and equipments of ANA is provided by the international community, the heart to fight for Afghanistan must come from Afghan leadership. The Commander in Chief cannot exude weakness in public that will demoralize its troops. For instance, imagine if Churchill had to weep in public that his son will be raised by Germans!? Therefore, continuous motivation to defend Afghanistan vis-a-vis Pakistan denotes utmost importance. It is also imperative that the Afghan leadership must depart from its old behavior and open the door for a shared responsibility.”

But as I mentioned in the beginning lines, the military capability of Afghan forces is not the only guarantee for a successful transition of responsibility and security control. We need a strong and committed leadership and political stability among the stakeholders of the current system. Former Deputy Interior Minister Abdul Hadi Khalid says, “the security forces would not be able to operate independently unless their leadership was reformed and the government is cleansed of ‘corrupt people’.”

In yesterday’s speech, President Karzai had some other conditions too, besides announcing the names of areas for transition. He said the international community must use the aid money through his government. He makes this wonderful demand without any progress in the fight against corruption in his administration from top to bottom.

One of the reliant conditions for a successful transfer of security control to Afghan forces is the efforts of talks to make a successful peace deal with Taliban. Suppose none of the efforts work out, and insurgency keeps growing, what will happen to the pace of transition and then withdrawal of foreign troops? Do we have an alternative plan? All Afghans are not supportive of the way President Karzai is pursuing plans of talks with Taliban. Two of his best former senior officials, NDS chief Amrullah Saleh, and Interior Minister Hanif Atmar have been the most outspoken opponent of the process. There are many in different parts of the country wary of the process. The Government has to take all segments of society on board in the whole process and form the decisions based on consensus otherwise it would be doomed to another strategy failure.

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Long-term US Military Presence in Afghanistan

Hanif Atmar, Amrullah Saleh, Aziz Royesh talking about long-term US military presence in Afghanistan. Photo Shahrwand Foundation

During the last couple of weeks, the media debate about establishment of long-term or permanent US military bases in Afghanistan has intensified. Though the US officials like Ambassador Eikenberry, Hilary Clinton and Robert Gates have denied America wants long-term presence in Afghanistan, but President Karzai after coming from the Munich Security Conference confirmed there are talks about future US military presence. And since then, it has been the debate of editorial and opinion pages of newspapers, as well as TV talk shows. I had written an op-ed on Outlook Afghanistan about it earlier.

On Friday Mar 04, the Shahrwand (Citizen) Foundation in Kabul had organized a conference “Analysis of Permanent US Military Presence and Stability in Afghanistan and the Region”. What made the conference notable and lead story of prime time news hours of TVs on Friday and headlines of Saturday papers were keynote speeches of former Interior Minister Hanif Atmar and former intelligence chief Amrullah Saleh. More than 500 people including high officials of the Government, MPs, analysts, academics and journalists attended the one-day conference.   Starting the conference, founder and head of Shahrwand Foundation Fareed Khuroush , a professor of political science and law, said the conference is to discuss what impacts would permanent US military bases in Afghanistan have for our stability. Below I am quoting key points of the speeches of prominent analyst Aziz Royesh, former Interior Minister Hanif Atmar and former intelligence chief Amrullah Saleh.

Aziz Royesh:

“When there is talk of the long-term US military presence in Afghanistan, those who view it optimistically explain two factors; first, we live in an instable region with instable neighbors who stretch their feet out of their borders. Second, the situation inside the country is instable. Maybe there are some people who strongly oppose long-term military presence of the US in Afghanistan saying we are a sovereign country, thus American should leave. I ask them, do you have guarantee for common citizens of this country to live with security? Taliban should also answer this question that if the Americans leave Afghanistan, what is the guarantee for me as a common citizen of Afghanistan that you [Taliban] won’t water your sword with my throat?

It’s clear that the US has come to Afghanistan for their interests, but our rulers have not defined our national interest from American presence. The least interest from American presence is that it assures our security and we use words instead of rocks and sticks in our parliament.”

Hanif Atmar:

“My suggestion to the political leadership of my country is that place our national interest on top. Make your talks with the Americans clear and reserve unity in this decision. My other suggestion is that make honest and friendly talks with our neighbors. At present we see that regional countries are making groupings and preparations for withdrawal of foreign troops from Afghanistan and may bring what havoc on our nation. We have seen it before, and this nation does not deserve to experience the havoc once again.

Our national interest is that we must stand against regional rivalries that cause the conflict in our country, and for that we need an international strategic ally.

Our national interest is that we must win the war on terror and fight against the terrorists and those who bring horror to our nation.”

Amrullah Saleh:

“Establishment of long-term US military bases in Afghanistan is the basic need of our country. From economic perspective, Afghanistan is not capable of launching mega projects through its national revenue, and for investment in economic infrastructure, only western countries and organizations can help us.

There has been no change in the strategy and behavior of insurgents. It’s the same Taliban, the same Al Qaeda and the same two-face Pakistan. Now if we oppose with our strategic ally America, with what guarantee? …with what strength? There is no change in the thinking and strategy of our enemy. Therefore, unless there is fundamental change, it is not in our interest to say we don’t need the Americans.

Today if America has problem in Afghanistan, it’s not because they can’t kill Taliban, not because they can’t bombard Waziristan, it is because the political front which is Kabul, and I name it the political Kabul, has created another story for itself, and has decided to become a supervising force with nothing. One day they condemn NATO, the other day Taliban, and has placed itself on the chair of a judge. It’s not viable. We must know and define our way and direction that after all, from strategic view we will remain the ally of the world or ally of North Waziristan? Its is impossible to carry both directions on one hand. Compromise with fundamentalist forces means that your political base is Waziristan, Wana and Miramshah.

President Karzai is trying to justify his plan of peace with Taliban and ignore the suicide attacks of this group and show the “positive” picture of Taliban to the people of Afghanistan by saying “the Taliban I know, do not do these things [suicide attacks]”.

The conference of Shahrwand Foundation was a great move to mobilize public opinion about the need of long-term American military presence in Afghanistan. The conclusion of all the speakers were that our national leaders and politicians should support establishment of permanent US bases as it will avoid interference of our neighboring countries, help end the conflict and continue the existential pace of current political system.

It’s not about American interests, its is our interest. The continuity of the current system depends on presence of foreign troops. Much of our bleeding in the past 30 years is because of the regional proxy wars and interferences. Regional countries, particularly our two immediate neighbors, do not want presence of American troops in Afghanistan. They eye their interests and have been dreaming “strategic depth” and influence drafting their plans of post-American Afghanistan.

The opposition leaders, tribal politicians, MPs, opinion makers and religious scholars should do what Atmar, Saleh and Royesh did, come to public and call the Government to be clear in its strategy for our national security and support and call for long-term US military presence in Afghanistan to keep the ten years of relative stability going.

President Karzai is heading towards self-prioritized narrow-sighted plans that are only for the sake of the continuity of his rule, not worrying about the future of the country. The current efforts of reconciliation with Taliban are so ambiguous that the Government itself is not confident about the outcome. They are pursuing it with the mind of just giving a try. That’s not how our decision makers should be playing with the risks to our national security and the continuity of the political system.

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1989 and 2014 Withdrawals, Permanent US Military Bases

My op-ed column on Outlook Feb 16

February 15, 1989

It has been 22 years since February 15, 1989, when the last Soviet soldiers had left Afghanistan. Lieut. Gen. Gromov, the commander of the Soviet forces in Afghanistan, crossed the Friendship Bridge on border with Uzbekistan after 9 years and 50 days of war and bloodbath in this country. Russian Ambassador in Kabul Andrey Avetisyan had written an article on this newspaper the other day saying “a Russian soldier will never set his foot on the Afghan soil.” It  shows the strong regrets of coming to Afghanistan, felt even today after 22 years of withdrawal. What a Russian diplomat should always say, Mr. Avetisyan added “wrong perceptions of the Soviet rulers, terrible miscalculation of the situation, absolute misunderstanding of the country, its traditions and the sense of dignity of its people brought tragic consequences and a lot of suffering to both nations.”

But as Afghans, we also need to review that era from a self-critical perspective.  The so-called Mujahideen “victory” is always hyped not only in the flimsy history books by veteran Jihadis, but also by our serious writers and official books. If it was not the stinger missiles & US dollars through Operation Cyclone and Pakistan’s guerilla training to Mujahideen, the situation would have been different. Like insurgents say nowadays that the presence of US and NATO troops is the root cause of conflicts, the Mujahideen were also saying the same in those days that Soviet withdrawal will bring peace. But Afghans witnessed even more bloodbath after the Soviet withdrawal with the factional civil war of Mujahideen among themselves, followed by the rise of Taliban who provided shelter and supported global terrorists making Afghanistan an epicenter of world terrorism, albeit through the proxy wars of our neighbors.

2014 Withdrawal

Nowadays there are debates among Afghan intellectuals, analysts and lawmakers on TV talk shows about the 2014 drawdown and gradual withdrawal deadline of the US and NATO troops from Afghanistan. Some Western pundits compare the collapse of Soviet Union after a decade in Afghanistan with predictions of a similar fate to the US, which is kind of a daydream in the anti-war mantra. There are two scenario comparison of the Soviet withdrawal of 1989 with 2014 of the US and NATO, though the contexts are very different. One is the anti-war mantra of Soviet collapse lesson for the US, the other, less discussed, is Afghanistan becoming an epicenter of world terrorism after a full US and NATO withdrawal, as happened after 1989 when this country was left on its own, and at the mercy of our neighbors.

For the US and NATO, a post-withdrawal unstable Afghanistan without making sure Al-Qaeda and Taliban will not be able to make a strong comeback and turn the country into a launching pad for another 9/11, is more of a serious threat than the costs and sacrifices of staying until this country stands on its feet with capability of security control. The serious debate and analysis of think-tanks in Washington about the withdrawal often underestimate the possibility of Al-Qaeda reviving in Afghanistan.

With the reluctance of Pakistan military to launch operation in North Waziristsan–the hub of Taliban, Al-Qaeda and other global Jihadis from Central Asia and Caucasus–an Al-Qaeda revival and strong Taliban comeback in Afghanistan is very possible, if the US and NATO troops start a complete and fast withdrawal from 2014.  Not all the Taliban and Al-Qaeda commanders are in safe havens of tribal areas in Pakistan, but many have gone underground in Afghanistan too.

Even common Afghans do not believe the confidence of President Karzai or our Defense Ministry officials asserting that Afghan forces are capable of security transition. Last week an Afghan woman in a televised debate about security transition asked a question from General Murad Ali, commander of Afghanistan National Army’s ground forces. “You can’t even secure the capital despite the presence of thousands of foreign forces. How will you secure the country when they leave?”, asked the woman while responding to Gen. Murad’s confidence about security control after withdrawal.

Permanent US Military Bases

Since last week, when  President Karzai after arrival from Munich Security Conference confirmed that the US is seeking to establish permanent military bases in Afghanistan, the debate of security transition in Kabul is more intense. Those asking for early withdrawal, call it a hypocrisy after the announcement of 2014 deadline. But there are about 50,000 US troops in Iraq, after the heavy drawdown reducing the troops to a lower number. That’s actually what was requested by Iraqi leaders, and the same should have been requested by Afghanistan before the US asking to stay with some permanent military bases.

President Karzai was saying his Government is negotiating with Americans about the bases, adding that “long-term relationship with the US is in the interest of Afghanistan.”  He said “the US bases will not be used against other countries and that Afghanistan is not a place from where our neighbors could be threatened.” It’s the opposite. We are threatened by the proxy wars and outside interferences of neighbors.

Permanent US military bases will not only ensure Taliban from safe havens of North Waziristan don’t make a strong comeback, and Al-Qaeda revive and use Afghanistan as a launching pad, but it also ruins the dreams of those seeking “strategic depth” in Afghanistan by keeping the options of good and bad or the “Pakistani Taliban” and “Afghan Taliban” harbored across the border in tribal safe havens. Other than groupings and areas of influence, distinguishing between the Pakistani and Afghan Taliban is misleading in broader sense. Afghanistan even being much stronger and with better security forces, cannot resist the regional interferences from outside, and permanent US military bases will do the job.

However, President Karzai said the permanent bases would need to be approved by the parliament and the Loya Jirga. Parliament is alright, but the Loya Jirga addition is more of a bargaining tactic. If the elected representatives of masses from both lower and upper houses of the parliament approve that, a Loya Jirga is not important. I doubt President Karzai might ask the US not to oppose changes in the Afghan constitution to make himself eligible for another term. The President has the traditional means of influence on the members of Loya Jirga, and they can be a used as a rubberstamp for bargaining.

Already there is increasing support. Defense Minister Rahim Wardak has supported permanent US bases saying “without doubt it ensures long-term security of Afghanistan.” Many known Afghan analysts have supported on TV talk shows. Even very conservative MPs from lower house have voiced support for permanent American military bases. MP from Kandahar Khalid Pashtun was saying, “US military bases would help prevent neighboring countries from interfering into the country’s internal affairs.” Another MP Gul Badshah Majidi has said, “Since Afghanistan is a weak country compared to Iran and Pakistan, there is a great need for foreign troops’ presence that may last long.”

The day President Karzai mentioned about the permanent US bases in press conference after returning from Munich Security Conference, the official Iranian news agency carried a report from Kabul saying “Now with the US planning to have permanent military bases here, more such deaths are expected.” The Iranian media quotes ghost Afghans talking against US military bases. A PressTV report from Kabul said, “Political experts are also of the same view. They describe the US plan as very dangerous. They want the US to quit Afghanistan immediately.” I don’t know who these nameless political experts are, quoted by Iranian media in propaganda.

Permanent US military bases are for the long-term security interests of Afghanistan. President Karzai should not make it a bargaining tool, rather urge MPs to unanimously support it.

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