InternationalVolume 12 Issue # 21

The deteriorating situation in Afghanistan

The security situation in Afghanistan has become extremely adverse after a series of terrorist attacks in the country in late May and early June, killing more than 100 and maiming at least 500 people. In the first attack through a truck bomb inside the Kabul Diplomatic Enclave, at least 90 people were killed. Several Afghans were killed on the second day of the truck bomb attack (May 31) when security forces opened indiscriminate fire on protesting people expressing their anger at the Afghan government’s failure to protect citizens from the terrorist attacks. 20 Afghans perished in suicide attacks during the funeral of killed protestors on June 3. Noticeably, neither the Afghan Taliban nor the Islamic State, two main militant and terrorist groups most active in Afghanistan, claimed the attacks.

The Afghan intelligence agency, the National Directorate of Intelligence (NDS), blamed the Taliban-affiliate Afghan Haqqani Network for the attack. The NDS claimed that the Haqqani Network was based in Pakistan and had official patronage from Islamabad, particularly its intelligence and security apparatus. The NDS allegations have been seen by observers as a stratagem to divert attention of the Afghans and the world from the failure of the Afghan government, particularly its security establishment, including the NDS itself. While the Haqqani Network has not claimed responsibility for the above-mentioned attacks, the terrorist strikes raise serious questions on the performance of the Afghan security apparatus. The truck bomb is an undeniable proof of the failure of President Ashraf Ghani’s government to protect even the high security zone let alone common Afghans. How the truck entered such a high-security zone, is a million dollar question.

Rejecting the allegations of the Afghan NDS, Pakistan Ambassador to the United States, Aizaz Chaudhry, said that the Afghan Haqqani Network, once based in Pakistan’s North Waziristan Agency, on the Afghan border, has relocated to Afghanistan after the launch of operation Zarb-e-Azb in June 2014. Therefore, Afghanistan instead of blaming Pakistan should take care of the Haqqani Network on its own territory, if it considers the network behind the series of attacks. Chaudhry’s argument can hardly be refuted. Even Afghans do not seem to accept the tiresome allegations by the Afghan government and the NDS against Pakistan. That is why, on the very next day of the May 31 bombing in Kabul, hundreds of Afghans staged protests against President Ashraf Ghani and Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah and demanded their resignations. The official Afghan hatred for Pakistan is historic. However, it is no longer working with the common Afghans when the latter are being ruthlessly killed in unabated terrorist attacks by the Taliban and Islamic State (IS).

Here one must advise the Afghans that if they continue to shift the blame on to Pakistan, that is up to them; but this is not going to solve their problems. On its part Pakistan, which has been greatly affected by the conflict and crisis in Afghanistan, has finally reached the conclusion that neither could Afghanistan provide Islamabad the once hoped for “Strategic Depth” nor security. Therefore, it is a viable option to manage the 2,600kmlong border with Afghanistan, in order to protect Pakistan from the ill-effects of crisis and conflict in Afghanistan, as well as to put an end to Kabul’s blame-games and the international community’s canards of Pakistan pushing terrorists and militants into Afghanistan from Pakistani territory, to keep the insurgency alive in Afghanistan. Afghanistan has not been doing near enough to protect its citizens or territory from what it has alleged have been the activities of Pakistan-based and Pakistani-supported terrorist organizations.

Coming back to terrorist attacks in Afghanistan, if these have not been claimed by the Taliban, the IS and even the Haqqani Network, then who could possibly be behind such attacks? None of these groups could be blamed for the attacks because they have been claiming each and every attack, including the most deadly, carried out by them. So it would be naïve to argue that these groups shied away from claiming the recent attacks for fear of public outrage against them.

Certain quarters are linking the attacks to the recent policy shift by US President Donald Trump’s administration regarding Afghanistan. According to the policy shift more American forces would be deployed in Afghanistan and instead of curtailing US financial support to Kabul, it would be increased and annually $23 billion would be provided to the Afghan government in various sectors. The policy of President Trump’s predecessor President Obama was to gradually pull out all the US troops from Afghanistan. President Ghani of Afghanistan has been desirous of a continued and pronounced presence of US and NATO troops in Afghanistan. President Obama had wanted to place increasing responsibilities on the Afghan government and Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) to manage the affairs of the country, instead of looking towards Washington. However, President Ghani and his security establishment, seeing Kabul’s incapacity and unwillingness to take on full responsibilities of running the affairs of Afghanistan, particularly managing its economy, has been calling upon Obama and now Trump, to commit more troops and financial assistance to the Afghan administration. Trump’s national security advisers also seem to have persuaded him to increase the US presence in Afghanistan. However, within the US there is large-scale criticism of committing more US troops and dollars to Afghanistan. That is considered against what Trump promised in his election campaign, i.e., not to sacrifice American lives and money for someone else’s war. Seeing this situation, the Afghan infamous and incompetent security establishment may have contrived to rope in the US and it may itself have staged the recent terrorist attacks. Here, the attack on Kabul’s Diplomatic Enclave is quite meaningful. Through this, the Afghan security establishment wanted to create a perception that its forces were incapable to provide security even to the foreign missions, which necessitated the continued and increased presence of US forces.

By having significant presence of Americans in Afghanistan, the Afghan president, his security establishment and the Indian lobby in Afghanistan, think to keep a check on Pakistan in Afghanistan. However, this is counterproductive on their part, because as long as US forces remain in Afghanistan, peace would remain elusive. The Taliban have always taken the position that unless all the foreign forces left Afghanistan, there is no likelihood of their participation in peace talks with the Afghan government.

The unfolding situation in Afghanistan and its mismanagement by the Afghan authorities is a very serious development, particularly for Pakistan. Kabul has developed a dependency on the US and the West, which has prevented it from nation-building, controlling and rehabilitating the Afghans. Pakistan and other stakeholders are trying to keep their hands off, sensing a possible burning. In this situation there is need for the rise of a mature and genuine Afghan leadership to put its house in order before it is too late. A perpetuation of the present situation may result in the ultimate division of Afghanistan.