Evolving security dynamics in Afghanistan

Afghanistan Regional MapBy Brig Asif Haroon Raja

Taliban insurgency which triggered soon after the invasion and occupation of Afghanistan by the US led western forces and Afghan Northern Alliance troops in November 2001 is still raging and gathering strength. Resistance forces have forced the occupying forces to exit by end December 2014. The US will be abandoning Afghanistan in disgrace and will leave behind an unstable, impoverished and ethnically polarized Afghanistan heading towards another round of internecine war. Taliban’s struggle will gain further impetus after withdrawal of bulk of ISAF. Afghan-US Barter Security Agreement (BSA) which Hamid Karzai refused to sign has been signed by the newly elected President Ashraf Ghani. It allows the US to leave behind a token residual force of 10,000 to 12,000 troops to help the new regime to achieve stability. Although the 13-year old war is seemingly coming to an end, however, presence of foreign troops would keep the resistance movement alive. BSA is designed to enable the US to keep the war on terror in Afghanistan and Pakistan inflamed and to achieve what it couldn’t accomplish in 13 years.

Looking back, one cannot avoid admiring the extraordinary grit and determination of the Afghan Taliban. Their Herculean resistance against extremely heavy odds has been at a very high price but they have once again achieved the miracle of defeating a super power. They have despoiled the status and reputation of mighty US military and NATO, caused stress disorder diseases to the tens of thousands, compelled many homesick soldiers left with no heart to fight the unwinnable war to commit suicides, debased the image of the sole super power and plummeted US economy. So much so that the US is forced to quit without defeating its opponent and achieving any of its objectives. Al-Qaeda has been badly mauled in this region but it has emerged as a strong force in Arabian Peninsula and in North Africa. Pakistan has been politically and economically weakened but the schemers have failed to disable its nuclear program, demobilize Army, detach Balochistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa/FATA and make it a submissive State. Their creations – TTP, BLA and BRA – conducting proxy war all these years have been pushed against the wall by Pak security forces.

The Afghan National Army (ANA), comprising mostly Tajik and Uzbek soldiers, trained and equipped by the US-UK military for over a decade has still not acquired sufficient prowess to fight the Taliban at its own. Although the ISAF took the major brunt, it too avoided boots on ground from 2009 onwards to avoid battle casualties and relied more on air power to checkmate surge of Taliban. It has always considered ANA a liability since it failed to live up to its expectations despite spending colossal amount on its refurbishment. The ANA took over forward line security duties from ISAF at the start of this year and has been involved in battles with Taliban in Helmand and Kunar but couldn’t make any headway. Its real test will begin from January 2015 onwards when it will be at its own. The Taliban are striking targets in all parts of the country including Kabul. Their rate of attacks will intensify in next spring in 2015 which the ANA plagued by indiscipline and desertion cases will not be able to contain.

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The residual force will remain bunkered in fortified nine military bases and besides rendering technical advice, the trainers will continue imparting training and providing equipment to ANSF from within the promised $4.1 billion annual military aid. This force will also provide back up support by way of drones, airstrikes and gunship helicopters attacks. CIA will continue with its shady works of keeping a watch over the new leadership ensuring that it remains anti-Pakistan. It will continue to monitor the activities of Al-Qaeda and Taliban and in collusion with RAW keep fueling proxy war in FATA and Balochistan to keep Pakistan destabilized. Special Forces would raid the hideouts of militants after obtaining permission from Afghan government. Efforts will remain focused on boosting the spirits of the new leaders and preventing the Taliban from capturing power. At the same time, India will be assisted in further strengthening its hold over Afghanistan and minimizing influence of Pakistan, China, Iran and Russia.

Although the charter of duties of Indo-US nexus is quite long and ambitious, it will be exceedingly difficult for the meager residual force to accomplish the said objectives when over 155,000 ground troops backed by a huge array of airpower, technology and intelligence assets of six agencies couldn’t do it under best of circumstances. Economy was vibrant and military power of US armed forces and NATO was at its zenith. Situation has changed drastically after 13 years of fighting so-called war on terror. The puny residual force would feel marooned and lonely. Occurring green-over blue attacks from inside would keep them frightened. They would eagerly wait for the completion of hazardous and torturous two-year period devoid of fun and frolic so that they could return to their homes safe and sound.

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In all probability by 2016 the ANSF after suffering series of reversals and heavy casualties would start fragmenting and their fate will be no different than the National Army trained and equipped by Soviet military in the 1980s which disintegrated within two years of withdrawal of Soviet troops from Afghanistan in February 1989 and converted into several militias under Afghan warlords. The only possibility of survival of ANSF is continuation of unity government of Ashraf Ghani and Abdullah-Abdullah and their skillful handling of the explosive situation to promote political stability and harmony between warring tribes/groups.

It is an established fact that the unity government came into being as a result of hard efforts put in by John Kerry. But forcible marriages don’t help in removing pent up bitterness and are often short-lived. This marriage of convenience and that too solemnized by foreign hands in all likelihood will breakup sooner than later since chemistry of the two power wielders doesn’t match. Abdullah has not overcome the grief of losing presidential election since he is convinced that his mandate was fraudulently stolen. He is politically sharp, has a pleasing personality, enjoys broad support among non-Pashtuns and also has some support among the Pashtuns. He is in best books of India because of his highly pro-India stance but is not good enough for USA.

Ashraf Ghani on the other hand is unassuming, lacks charisma and doesn’t enjoy much respect even among his fellow Pashtuns. His allies like Rashid Dostum in the north do not enjoy good reputation. His arrogance and haughty nature go to his disadvantage. Crutches provided by Washington may not help him in steadying the rocking ship. Unlike Hamid Karzai who managed to stay in power for 13 years, Ashraf Ghani has tough times ahead. He will have to remain watchful of Abdullah who may pull the rug from under his feet whenever opportunity comes his way. Surging power of Taliban under Mullah Omar will be his biggest test. Warlords may resurface to challenge the central authority.

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These challenges would impede his constructive initiatives to improve governance, minimize corruption, and bring improvement in law and order, and uplift the condition of marginalized sections of the society. It is yet to be seen whether he pursues his predecessor’s policy of indulging in rancor and vitriol and keeping its eastern border hot to antagonize Pakistan and please India, or will act more prudently and maturely. Since he has been installed by USA and the country is entirely dependent upon foreign aid, Ghani is likely to follow US dictated policies rather than pursuing independent foreign policy in the best interest of Afghans and the country.

Somehow the two power sharing leaders do not have the political sagacity, magnetism and maturity to gel the divided nation and pull the country out of the woods. India which by now has penetrated in every department of Afghanistan including Army and intelligence agencies will continue with its dirty work of keeping Pak-Afghan relations tense in pursuit of its regional ambitions. The new Afghan leadership must understand that Pakistan by virtue of its links with Afghan Taliban and sharing 2400 km long border with Afghanistan is in best position to facilitate an internal Afghan reconciliation. Before time runs out, Ghani should seek Pakistan-Iran assistance to renew peace process which was disrupted in Doha in June 2013 rather than depending upon untrustworthy USA and India and then putting up with another round of bloody civil war.

Pakistan Army supported by PAF is engaged in fighting a critical battle against the militants in FATA since June 15. TTP’s last bastion in NW has been uprooted and its command and control system dismantled. 90% of the areas, including two major towns Miranshah and Mir Ali, have been cleared. The TTP is factionalised and considerably weakened but still it is not down and out because of continued support of foreign agencies including Afghan RAAM and CDS and availability of safe havens in Afghanistan. Likewise the BLA and BRA in Balochistan has to a large extent been checkmated but it is still continuing to carryout acts of terror randomly because of support from Afghan soil. These anti-State outfits can be roundly defeated once for all if Kabul cooperates and agrees not to support them and also denies its soil for cross border terrorism by other agencies.

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