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A Perilous State of Denial




By Imtiaz Gul

Express Tribune, December 09, 2015


The Heart of Asia Conference is about Afghanistan’s multiple pressing political and economic problems. That is why leaders from over two dozen countries gathered in Islamabad to help one another understand the possible way forward.

The United States, which provides the bulk of funding for maintaining the Afghan National Security Forces, and other major nations such as the UK, Germany and China are eagerly pursuing the reconciliation in Afghanistan. They are urging Pakistan to leverage its clout with the Afghan Taliban.  That is why US Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan Richard G Olson spent some time in Kabul, in an apparent attempt to convince the Afghan leadership to participate in the Heart of Asia conference.

Strangely though, when Olson was still in Kabul, Afghanistan’s army chief of staff General Qadam Shah Shahim blasted Pakistan’s counterterrorism policy and pulled out all invectives against Islamabad.

Consider the following excerpts from his speech reported by Tolo News: “The enemies of the Afghan people, the spy agency in the region, had decided to capture major parts of Afghanistan’s soil and create a parallel government, talk from a powerful stance and implement their nefarious ends on the Afghan nation, but they were unaware of the courage of the Afghan people, and they failed.

Waziristan’s operation was a symbolic one and you will witness such operations in future as well. Why did they not launch such operations in Peshawar, Quetta and other areas instead of Waziristan? Quite interestingly, as major powers are pushing for negotiations, Shahim told the Afghan Senate that “winter is the best time to eliminate the Taliban and other militant groups associated with Daesh”.

Shahim made the statement on the eve of the Heart of Asia, following Dr Abdullah Abdullah, the CEO of the Unity Government, who took the lead role in announcing the possible death of the Taliban chief, Mullah Mansoor.

Earlier in November, Dr Abdullah Abdullah had told a gathering in Kabul that “there are people (armed groups) who are waging war against the government, and there are people from the former political regime who want this government to collapse — maybe because some people enjoyed large privileges, but today they do not have those privileges and want this government to collapse and return to power”.

Similarly, the Afghan Minister of Interior Noor-ul Haq Olomi told the Lower House of Parliament or Wolesi Jirga in early October: “The final word is that Pakistan continues to support terrorists. After the launch of the military operation in Waziristan, Pakistan pushed the terrorists into Afghanistan, who were trained there for years.”

Amrullah Saleh, the former intelligence chief, told reporters in Kabul on November 20 that during the course of their probe on the reasons for the brief fall of Kunduz, members of the fact-finding mission were shown “material evidence” — including communication intercepts gathered by their national intelligence agency — that suggested Taliban insurgents were being directed by their “advisers” in the neighboring Pakistan.

All these statements point to a possible state of denial by Afghan leaders or is there a certain strong lobby that is opposed to reconciliation? Otherwise what do we make of the Afghan COAS General Shahim’s assertion that “winter is the best time to eliminate the Taliban?”

Also, can the Afghan army continue fighting when the rest of the world is urging negotiations? The US Special Inspector General for Afghan Reconstruction (SIGAR), released a grim reminder on the financial limitations Kabul. “It takes $4 billion to $6 billon to pay for their military and police and another $4 billion to pay for the rest of the government. We gave Afghanistan a government they can’t afford. So, what do we do now?” Sopko asked during a lecture at the Watson Institute for International Studies in Providence, Rhode Island, on November 18.

Also, a recent US Congress Research Service report spoke of India’s goals are to deny Pakistan “strategic depth”, to deny Pakistan the ability to block India from trade and other connections to Central Asia and beyond, and to prevent militants in Afghanistan from attacking Indian targets in Afghanistan. Iran and Pakistan, it said, pursue their own interests in that country — a bitter reminder of the competing regional interests playing out in Afghanistan.

But it seems a vested interest in Kabul is united against the rest of the world, which would want all Afghans to join forces for ending the state of war. Scapegoating or externalising problems never leads to solutions. Pakistan did so and suffered. Our Afghan friends should learn from this.

Imtiaz Gul is the executive director of the independent Centre for Research and Security Studies

Email: imtiaz@crss.pk