By Dr Raja Muhammad Khan
In its over a decade long military operations, night raids by United States Special Forces in Afghanistan have been the most effective stratagem. Afghan masses have been infuriated most by these heartless and vindictive tactic by US and NATO forces. Afghan administration under President Hamid Karazai proved most feeble in getting rid of this practice of US forces, thus could not earn a good will of his people. While U.S has already announced a drawdown plan, but, its Special Forces are still continuing with this notorious strategy of brutal treatment against Afghan masses. Against a recent operation, where the locals of Wardak Province were ill treated and then taken away by the US Special Forces in a night raid, President Karazai reacted very strongly. On February 24, 2013, while chairing the meeting of National Security Committee, President Hamid Karazai ordered the US Special Forces to vacate the Wardak province within a period of two weeks (ending March 10, 2013).
As per the statement, issued by the National Security Committee, following the meeting, “All the Afghan national security forces are duty bound to protect the life and property of people in Maidan Wardak province by effectively stopping and bringing to justice any groups that enter peoples’ homes in the name of special force and who engage in annoying, harassing and murdering innocent people.” This statement is considered to be a significant shift in the thinking of President Karazai about US. Furthermore, it is an indication of deteriorating bilateral relationship between Karazai administration and United States.
However, despite the passage of deadline, the orders of President Karazai have not been implemented, which provoked unrest and Afghan masses even demonstrated against the US Special Forces Operations. The Afghan Ulema Council has issued a strong warning and demanded withdrawal of US forces from Wardak and transfer of the American-controlled prison at Bagram to Afghan control. As per the statement of the Council, “If the Americans once again do not honor their commitments and keep on disobeying, then this will be considered as an occupation, and they may expect to see a reaction to their action.”
There has been a meeting between President Krazai and the US Military Commander, General Dunford after the directive by Afghan President. As per Gen Dunford, “There are plans to develop a long-term security plan in conjunction with Afghan security forces to transition Wardak in a responsible, deliberate way.” He assured President Karazai of working closely with Afghan security forces to “develop a transition plan for Wardak Province.” President Karazia has changed his stance after a telephonic conversation with US Secretary of State, John Kerry. Karazai even committed that, “My recent comments were meant to help reform, not destroy the relationship.” Nevertheless, US did not vacate the strategically significant area of Maidan-Wardak. In order to avoid further deterioration in the bilateral relationship, Secretary of State, John Kerry is likely to visit Afghanistan in the next few days. Since there were some incidents of green on blue following the statement of President Karazai, therefore, US commander issued advisory to his field troops, against attacks by either Afghan masses or Afghan forces. Gen Dunford even said, “he [Karzai] may issue orders that put our forces at risk”
Whereas the night raids have been a regular feature of US forces in Afghanistan, why after all President Karazai reacted so strongly at this belated stage, once the withdrawal of US forces (at least bulk of them) is imminent. Such an approach could have earned good name for the President Karazai, had it been initiated earlier, once thousands of Afghans were maltreated and killed during these raids. Analysts feel that, with rapidly approaching 2014 Presidential election in Afghanistan, President Karazai is losing his relevance. Since he cannot contest election for the third term, thus, his statements and some other actions are merely meant to remain relevant for the Afghan masses. President Karazai would like someone among his family to contest the forthcoming elections and such statements would secure sufficient space for him and his favourite candidate.
There is yet another perception, that, United States is negotiating with Taliban and other Afghan factions directly, without involving President Karazai and his aides. These actions are creating a fear of total alienation for President Karazai, which indeed, irked President Karazai to react against its masters. Indeed, while U.S is carrying out talks with Taliban, President Karazai has a feeling that, such an approach would marginalize him. He is otherwise neither a favorite of Taliban nor his partners in the Government; the Northern Alliance. In his visualization, US collaboration with the Taliban means a lion share for the latter in the future Afghan setup. This would mean no place for Karazai or his supported presidential candidate. Whereas, negotiation with Taliban would either secure for US, an honourable exit or an understanding to retain some forces in Afghanistan after 2014, in neither case, Karazai finds a place for himself. Therefore, these belated reactions of a frustrated and alienated Karazai are natural and self-propelled. There are hardly any concerns for the security and future betterment of the war-torn people of Afghanistan by any party.
Global politics is essentially based on national interests, thus, there are neither permanent friends, nor the permanent foes. In the case of Afghanistan, Taliban, the US enemies of yesterday, can be its friends of tomorrow. If they are promised a reasonable place for them in a future Afghan setup, by all means the ongoing US-Taliban negotiation are alarm bells for many within Afghan political horizon as well as those deeply entrenched in Afghanistan in the garb of its reconstruction, but engaged in multiple roles. The worries of Hamid Karazai can be understood in the same context; a man most vulnerable and likely to lose everything, even his Indian friends, if such an eventuality is materialized. In frustration, he also has initiated negotiations with some of the Taliban, Haqqanis and even with Engineer Gulbadin Hikmityar if Hizb-i-Islami. Indeed, he is in competition with US. He desires to lead the talks himself, rather US at lead. Nevertheless, seeing his record of accomplishment, Taliban and others are unlikely to make a commitment with Karazai, indeed a dead horse for the future politics of Afghanistan.
Whereas, Karazai finds himself in troubled waters, there is no level playing ground for the United States even. It has a tough task ahead. First, can United States really persuade Taliban for a likely patch up amidst deep un-healing wounds? Second; who would accomplish the difficult task of bringing a balance between Taliban and Northern Alliance viz-a-viz other factions. Third, would US still be looking for a role for its strategic ally, India in Afghanistan? Fourth and most importantly, can US disembark itself from Afghanistan without a help from Pakistan. Then, there are Pakistani concerns including security issues, being the most effected party after Afghanistan, in these long years of Afghan war. US must address Pakistani concern viz-a-viz India and secure Pakistani interests in the region. Only a realistic, well thought-out and a balance approach would help US in overcoming the challenges, it faces currently. Pakistan, however support a negotiated settlement of the issue with all groups and factions given their share as per their population percentage.