The Afghan Taliban Spring Offensive

Taliban OffensiveBy Sabena Siddiqui

The Afghan Taliban have started a ‘ spring offensive’, they declared they would keep fighting even if minimal foreign troops remain in Afghanistan past the current mandate, which expires at the end of this year .

The Taliban have named their offensive ‘Khyber’, after the 629 A.D. Battle of Khyber, when Muslims in present day Saudia Arabia attacked a Jewish settlement near the city of Medina.

The announcement came as Kabul was preparing a mid-June run-off vote to choose the next president. It is confirmed now that a run-off will be held between Abdullah Abdullah and Ashraf Ghani, nobody polled more than 50% of the vote. Abdullah Abdullah took 45% votes in the first round while Ashraf Ghani polled 31.6 %, six other candidates were eliminated. The two candidates will face each other in a second round on 14 June , a multi -ethnic coalition might have been the answer to Afghanistan,s problems rather than a single group of any ethnicity .

Karzai has refused to sign the bilateral agreement which sanctions the stay of limited foreign troops , saying the next government would handle it. Hamid Karzai has also been secretly negotiating with the Taliban , these undisclosed talks shocked the White House. This was said to be erratic behaviour on Karzai’s part as he refused to negotiate the agreement to keep US forces in the country. Maye Karzai intends to let the Taliban take over without much of a fight , situation on the ground is that they won’t be facing technologically advanced opponents but a few hundred thousand newly trained , incompetent local soldiers. Probably he is looking for a role as figurehead President in Taliban government and he has the experience too. This could give the Taliban the much needed international legitimacy. This would also be an important signal for other pro-US Afghans that they won’t be killed .

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The US and NATO combined never managed to defeat the Taliban and had great losses. Such failure to win is also a species of defeat , they redefined their goal as being Al-Qaeda but spent their mammoth energy in fighting the Taliban for many long years. This was the American Waterloo.

It is possible that the Taliban will wait it out till the foreign troops leave and then make the final move. The Afghan army might hold out a year or two at the most , the Taliban are better organised than they used to be, and they are battle-hardened from fighting the NATO , British and Americans. Both armies have real respect for their fighting qualities.
Eventually, the Afghan government will have only two options ; reach an accommodation with the Taliban or accept defeat at their hands.

Meanwhile , international forces prepare to leave at the end of 2014. The second round of elections will be held in the fighting season,the Taliban will make the second round a security challenge. A round of attacks has been unleashed by the Taliban , this is a tough test for the Afghan security forces. They have to prove their mettle sans foreign backup for the first time , the foreign troops are preparing to leave now. Spring brings an escalation in fighting in Afghanistan as the winter ends. 30,000 U.S. troops remain on ground in Afghanistan, the lowest number since the 2001 invasion.

“With less risk of attack from international forces, they are massing bigger groups of fighters and getting into an increasing number of face-to-face ground engagements” with Afghan forces, the International Crisis Group said in its latest report.
“Rural Afghanistan remains divided between government and insurgent spheres of influence, and the upcoming elections won’t disrupt entrenched patronage structures, International Crisis Group’s expert Smith says. “A lot of people, in rural areas especially, do not believe that democracy will deliver meaningful change,” he says. Noting the increase in violence in the most recent fighting season, he adds, “So people vote with bullets.”

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The Afghan Taliban have a new leader , they have appointed Ibrahim Sadar as military commander, this new appointment is meaningful. Ibrahim Sadar is friendly towards Pakistan like his predecessor. This is an important juncture as U.S.-led forces draw down.

The Taliban are also greatly influenced by the Haqqanis. The Haqqani network is closely affiliated with the Taliban and operates from its base in Pakistan’s Federally Administered Tribal Areas, FATA .

Haqqani operations are on the Durand Line, the border that cuts through Pashtun and Baluch tribal areas between Afghanistan and Pakistan, these operations include major attacks on NATO forces. During the Soviet occupation, the United States provided the group’s founder, Jalaluddin Haqqani, with considerable material to fight the Soviets , they were helped by the Pakistan Army and the Soviets were defeated. So these are experienced warriors , the Haqqani factor is  important as they influence the Afghan Taliban immensely .

What will be the future of Afghanistan if the Afghan Taliban manage to wrest power from the present incumbents ?
It would probably mean that Afghanistan goes back to square one , the prospect of the Afghan National Army being able to secure the whole country is bleak.

Maybe the Taliban plan to govern in a different way now , no reign of terror is needed when most of the country is willing to have Taliban rule. The Taliban will be wiser and more tolerant this time round , they have less intensity now. Would an Afghan Taliban government next door be conducive for Pakistan in the long run, could it bring fundamentalism to at least northern Pakistan? Afghan government headed by let’s say Abdullah Abdullah would have a leaning towards India. A Taliban government would not have any leaning towards India , that is for sure .

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Most of all , the future of Afghanistan depends on how well it can govern itself. The ending of the U.S. war in Afghanistan does not bring about the end of the Afghan war as Afghan troops may not have the capability to secure the entire country.

The economic drawdown of international development agencies, lesser aid and support will create an unstable investment climate. There will be flight of capital , investment risks and a shortage of reconstruction, logistics and transportation.
Stability in Afghanistan is crucial for its progress and safety of its neighbouring countries

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