By: Mian Sanaullah
At a recent news briefing at the Pentagon, Gen John W. Nicholson, the commander of US and NATO forces in Afghanistan claimed that the Pak-Afghan region has the highest concentration of terrorist groups in the world. Out of the 98 US-designated terrorist groups around the world, 20 were in the Pak-Afghan region. Interestingly he claimed, thirteen of these 20 groups were based in Afghanistan and seven in Pakistan. Though these is the last month of Obama’s administration, its military officials are still in a state of denial that US failed in its 15 years war against Taliban and others and continued to blame Pakistan for hosting seven terrorist groups. The U.S. Department of State Country Reports on Terrorism for 2014 & 2015, however, show decrease in terrorist attacks and related casualties in Pakistan and recognize its military accomplishments in “under-governed” areas.
Afghan and American officials are increasingly worried that deepening of ties between Russia and Taliban insurgents could complicate an already precarious security situation. Such a concern is linked to a statement of the Russian Special envoy to Afghanistan (Zamir Kabulov) (November 15, 2016) wherein he observed that there is no quick and cheap solution in Afghanistan and Taliban were a “real political force” on “the same page with Russia”.
The US commanders are seeing too many flies in the soup. General John Nicholson said in Washington that Russia had joined Iran and Pakistan as countries with a “malign influence” in Afghanistan, and Moscow was lending legitimacy to the Taliban.
Afghan intelligence and defence officials are nervous that in recent months a series of meetings with representatives of Taliban, took place in Russia and Tajikistan.
The Afghan President has hardly recovered from the Iranian confession that it has been in contact with Taliban. Afghanistan and US are concerned that Russia has called a meeting of Pakistan, China and Iran to discuss the Afghan situation in December.
Pakistan is the favorite whipping boy. On December 10, the Afghanistan Times published an article by Aimal Faizi, an aide to the former President stating “Pakistani military would never give up its policy of using terrorist groups as tool of foreign policy. It has strategic alliance with some particular terrorist groups and it supports them to wage war in Afghanistan”. Earlier five Afghan MPs and the Assembly speaker supported Ghani’s HOA outburst.
Afghanistan has been in the eye of storm for the past 15 years. Super powers along with regional countries have been vying for influence to secure direct as well as implicit interests. No wonder, Kabul has a robust history of intrigues and interventions. In view of China’s emergence as a near rival to US, Afghanistan being a neighbor has assumed a new strategic importance, bigger than in nineteen century. Now it is the turf of four major powers (US, China, Russia and India) and six neighbors (Iran, Pakistan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan and China) directly affected by the continued instability.
A study published (June 1, 2006) by the Institute of Peace rightly points out the flexibility of neighbors to “readjust their strategic approaches to Afghanistan” and rigidity that “no regional state is prepared to allow another to gain a preponderance of influence in Afghanistan.
Russia’s Ambassador to Kabul, Alexander Mantytskiy, said the other day, the statements by American and Afghan officials were an effort to distract attention from the worsening conflict. “They are trying to put the blame for their failures on our shoulders,” he told Reuters.
Taliban officials have also become very adept in using media to secure their end- goals. Confirming that Russian involvement did not extend beyond “moral and political support”, the group has had significant contacts with Moscow since at least 2007.
All stakeholders have made mistakes while handling the war in Afghanistan. When the time comes for action, each exempts its favorite terrorist group. The Afghanistan government does exactly for what it condemns Pakistan.
India is fishing in troubled water to fuel instability in Pakistan and also to convert Afghanistan into an unassailable enemy of Pakistan. Russia initially helped provide helicopters for the Afghan military to fight Taliban. Most of that cooperation fell apart as relations between Russia and the West deteriorated in over the conflicts in Ukraine and Syria.
Though the Defense Secretary Ash Carter said (December 9, 2016) that the United States would stick with Afghanistan for years to come as a new U.S. president takes over. Carter said the US couldn’t afford to give up on Afghanistan after more than 15 years of U.S. involvement, the deaths of more than 2,200 U.S. troops, and the expenditure of hundreds of billions of dollars. Donald Trump has not said if or how he will alter the U.S. course in Afghanistan, but has denounced what he calls “the US nation-building projects”. How he would recalibrate the Afghan policy will be his first foreign policy challenge.
The stark truth that all stakeholders have failed in achieving their respective goals. They must handle the war in Afghanistan differently to convert their failure into success. The forthcoming change in the US administration can provide an opportunity to Afghanistan, Pakistan and US to reset their respective current policy towards handling the perpetrators of regional instability and bloodshed. While lowering rhetoric, they can evolve new responses based on cooperation and knowledge that alone no country is in a position to get rid of the elements bleeding Afghanistan and Pakistan. Without this approach, Afghanistan’s emergence, as a regional crossroads for trade and resource sharing will remain a distant prospect. Beyond a point, rhetoric ceases to deliver. The blame game certainly reached that point long time back.
The author Mian Sanaullah is a former Ambassador, political analyst and Advisor to Center for Research and Security Studies (CRSS). He can be reached at email@example.com.