The Mess Called Afghanistan
By Imtiaz Gul
Weekly Pulse Oct 09, 2009
The October 4 daring Taliban attack on two American outposts in the Nuristan province, eastern Afghanistan that left eight Americans and several Afghans dead only underscored the gravity of the ground situation in that country.
Jamaluddin Badar, the governor of Nuristan said the attackers also seized and kidnapped 11 Afghan police officers, including the district police chief from inside the US-led compounds.Interestingly, Governor Mr. Badar identified the attackers as Taliban fighters who he said had fled the military operations in Pakistan. that country.
It was the deadliest raid on an American installation since July 2008 , when 200 insurgents stormed their small outpost in the village of Wanat and killed nine American soldiers were killed in the same province, bringing the US soldiers toll to 226 so far.
According to the “icasualties.org” website about 384 foreign troops have died thus far in 2009, raising alarm in major NATO capitals on the future engagement in Afghanistan.
In view of the spiraling violence, US General Stanley McChrystal, who commands 100,000 US and NATO troops in Afghanistan, is asking for up to 40,000 extra troops, warning that the Taliban-led insurgency is becoming more potent and that the U.S. is in danger of losing the war unless more troops are sent to turn the tide against a formidable opponent.
General James Jones, the president’s national security adviser, seemed to challenge that premise on Sunday. On the CNN program “State of the Union,” he said he did not believe that Afghanistan was in “imminent danger of falling” to the Taliban and that the presence of Al Qaeda “is very diminished.” And on the CBS program “Face the Nation,” he described General McChrystal’s recommendation for a troop increase as“his opinion” of “what he thinks his role within that strategy is.”
These relatively divergent views in Washington also form the basis of the ongoing review of the Afghan policy.
An unwanted irritant to this complex scenario has been the August 20 presidential election, still unresolved amid fraud allegations leveled at the Western-backed incumbent Hamid Karzai.
The post-election controversy has centred on corruption, fraud and abuse of power by President Hamid Karzai and his ministers, with Peter Galbraith, the former deputy head of the UN mission in Afghanistan, singled out his former boss Kai Eide for criticism, saying that he had deliberately downplayed the level of cheating in an election where in one region "10 times as many votes were recorded as voters actually cast". Anti-corruption watchdog Transparency International rates Afghanistan as the world's fifth most corrupt country, alongside its status as the
Issues such as the electoral fraud controversy, accompanied by raging violence, mounting foreign troops casualties and questions about 20 billion dollars western governments have poured into Afghanistan since late 2001 continue to overshadow all the efforts that are going into defeating Al-Qaeda led Afghan militants and putting the country on the path of stability and development.
The US military establishment’s umbrage over its Pakistani counterpart – manifested in the Kerry-Lugar Bill – and the recent loud and clear allegations by ambassador Anne W.Patterson over the Quetta Shura and the Taliban presence in Balochistan must therefore be seen in the context of failures and problems in Afghanistan.
When the going gets tough, it is easier to scape-goat failures. This is what the US army and its diplomats based in the region are doing right now. By cockcrowing about the Mulla Omar’s “command control structures” in Quetta the US diplomacy simply went over board, disregarding some fundamental realities.
Firstly, when they bring in Pakistan and its territory into play, they imply as if the Afghan and foreign troops have secured every inch of Afghanistan – which certainly is not the case. Most of Afghanistan virtually remains beholden to the Taliban – directly or indirectly.
Secondly, much of the more than 1300 kilometres border that Balochistan shares with Afghanistan, is inhospitable, poorly guarded.
Thirdly, Pakistani troops and posts clearly outnumber those on the other side of the Durand Line, and thus those areas remain open to all sorts of movement of the Taliban insurgents.
Fourthly, dozens of tribes – divided by the Durand Line – inhabit both sides of the tribal territory and thereby both offer potential shelters and protection to militants. Not only do they offer shelter but also facilitate in various capacities – as hosts, allies and as friends.
Fifthly, more than 25,000 people and vehicles cross the border at Chamman daily, whereas thousands of tribes also use irregular border crossings, without being checked by authorities on both sides of the Durand Line.
This makes the situation very very difficult, if not impossible, for the security forces to completely seal-off the borders to the militants. Identifying them, or telling a militant from a tribesman is quite a daunting challenge in an environment loaded with human beings over 90 percent of whom wear bears, turbans and the same traditional
Sixthly, the allegation that intelligence and security agencies are tolerating – if not supporting – Afghan militants and that is why they easily commute between Quetta and Kandahar is quite misplaced if we were to take into account the socio-ethnic human dimension of the situation; Most Taliban militants belong to tribes, don’t have
pictures and they all look alike. There is little to doubt that some of the intelligence and security personnel would be ideologically tainted and influenced by the Taliban and Al Qaeda and by implication would be in cahoots with the militants.
But to suggest that the state institutions as a matter of policy collaborate with all shades of militants should be far from the truth. Why would the army for instance collaborate with the TTP, which has killed more than 362 army personnel in the Swat operation since May?
Shifting the blame of failures in Afghanistan on Pakistan, or ostracizing Pakistan as the single largest source of violence in Afghanistan is quite a travesty. How can Pakistan remain peaceful if Afghanistan is on the boil. How can an instable Afghanistan, suffering at the hands of obscurantist militants and the international forces’ response to that , suit Pakistan, which itself is reeling under the Al Qaeda-style suicide bombings and ambushes?
Lastly, the international community should not deny Pakistan what it itself practices; looking after its national interest in its immediate neighbourhood. If the Americans and the Britis intervene in the region in the name of national interest, how can Pakistan jeopardise its own national interests by acting to secure the American interests. These are some of the questions that need to be highlighted in discussions about Pakistan's role in Afghanistan. It would also require a deeper and dispassionate looke into Pakistan's reservations on the Indian role in Afghanistan.
(The author heads the independent Centre for Research and Security Studies, Islamabad. And the author of a recent Penguin publication “The Al-Qaeda Connection – Taliban and Terror in Tribal Areas.”