Afghans, Taliban, US’ Afghanistan Strategy, and Political Dynamics of Afghanistan Imbroglio
Brigadier (Retired) DR. Ahsan ur Rahman Khan
(Note. Republication and distribution of this research article is welcome, with the mention of its original source i.e. www.intrinsicoverview.com )
Analysis Theme and its Significance
The long overdue, bloody, turmoiled, and controversial parliamentary elections have now been held in most parts of Afghanistan. However, elections could still not be held on this schedule in Kandahar (later held on 27 October) and Ghazni (not yet re-scheduled). The Presidential election in the country still remains overdue (now re-scheduled in April 2019). These elections most probably appear to be the ‘last ditch effort’ by US to ‘implant’ its ‘pliant’ governance system in Afghanistan and to bring peace and stability in the country under that government.
Certain members of US’ officialdom claim that this US’ effort is finally going to succeed. However, most unmistakable ground realities, as also credible analysts, clearly reflect the failure of this US’ effort.
A very careful analysis of the evolving situation in Afghanistan, to discern the projected-timeframe possibilities relating to Afghanistan is therefore of high significance, especially in view of the currently emerging ‘geopolitical reset’ in this region involving Pakistan, Iran, China and Russia.
For a proper analysis of this theme the related aspects which must be taken into account are: (a) psyche and behaviour pattern of Afghans; (b) an understanding of the Afghan Taliban; (c) actualities of US’ Afghanistan Strategy; (d) indications from the elections in Afghanistan; (e) public pulse and evolving situation in Afghanistan; and (f) the political dynamics of Afghanistan imbroglio. The projected-timeframe possibilities in Afghanistan and the region can then be discerned from the inferences drawn from the analysis of these related aspects.
Psyche and Behaviour Pattern of Afghans
According to the report by the World Population Review (US) dated 30 September 2018 the estimated demographic composition of Afghanistan comprises of 42% Pashtun, 27% Tajik, 9% Hazara, 9% Uzbek, 4% Aimak, 3% Turkmen, 2% Baloch and 4% unspecified “other” group (1).
In this context it is worth clarifying right in the beginning that while studying the psyche and behaviour pattern of Afghans we have to focus more on the psyche and behaviour pattern of the ‘Pashtuns’ (also known as ‘Pathans’) which is the dominant race in Afghanistan and have since long ruled the country with the only exception of a nine months rule of Kabul in 1929 by a Tajik Known as Bacha-i-Saqao. Besides that, even in the history of last many centuries till now, the foreign invaders (Moghals, Sikhs, British, and Soviet Russia) were fought against and pushed out mainly by the Afghan Pashtuns. The Afghanistan Taliban now fighting the US/NATO forces are also Pashtuns, though some non-Pashtuns have also reportedly joined their ranks. Understanding their psyche and behaviour pattern is therefore vitally crucial because any form of political settlement in Afghanistan is certainly impossible without their (Afghan Pashtuns’) acceptance.
Published material on this subject abounds. There is not much information value of credence in the material published in many of the magazines of US, Europe, Russia, etc. However, the books written by those British and US officials/others who served or visited Afghanistan, as also by the Muslim authors of the same categories, are considered of use for studying this subject. But then, the observations on this matter made by the British and US’ persons, even of known historical and scholarly credence, differ a lot. Those observations range from derogatory at one extreme, to highly praiseworthy at the other. Of course, both these extremes were not matching with the known realities during my PhD thesis research on Afghanistan in the University of Peshawar in the years 1993 – 1995.
I had to search for reality-matching books of credible authors on the subject – and I did find certain such books. Besides that I was also lucky to interview many persons with credible current knowledge on the subject. Those included persons of Afghan ruling elite (some making their exit to foreign countries), Afghan bureaucrats, senior Afghan academics, Afghan Mujahedeen commander, senior officer of Soviet-trained Afghan Intelligence, and retired Pakistani officials who had served long tenures in Afghanistan, etc.
A detailed academic discussion on this subject, being too lengthy, is not required in the context of this paper. However, those aspects of the psyche and behaviour pattern of Afghans, which are directly relevant to the current Afghan Taliban’s politico-military contest with the US/NATO occupational forces and US-planted Kabul government, are briefly highlighted in the succeeding paragraphs.
Out of the negative traits of Afghans, one is their reported greed or lure of money, due to which they may ‘switch’ their support to the pay-master. In this context, certain aspects have to be kept in mind. First, this negative trait is one of the human failings in certain or many people, but not in the entire nation – as is the case with the people of any other country in the world. Second, US government has been trying since the last 17 years to capitalize on this negative trait on the Afghan ‘power-wielders’ by paying hefty bribes in a bid to strengthen US’ ‘occupation tentacles’ in the country, as published in reports (2), but it has not, and cannot work for a political settlement in Afghanistan. Third, such US’ bribe has never worked on Afghan Taliban, because they belong to that majority of Afghans who cannot be purchased due to greed or lure of money.
The other reported negative behaviour pattern of Afghans is their divisibility on tribal lines or disunity at national level. This is true if the tribes and clans are left uncontrolled. In that context Professor Rasool Amin, the then Chairman of the Department of Social Sciences Kabul University (Afghanistan), mentioned in his interview that identity of Afghan people does not rest solely on the concept of nationhood. In fact, it is the other way round. Each individual prefers his own identity, then of the family, of the tribe, and finally of the nation. No individual tolerates the domination of another individual. Similarly, domination of another family, another tribe, and a foreign nation is not tolerated (3). Professor Rsool Amin’s observation is correct (it matches with the ground reality). However, medieval and recent history has also proven that if these very Afghan tribes are controlled and led by a competent leader for a mutually acceptable cause then they factually unite to generate a formidable politico-military force – examples: one of the Pashtun tribal head Ahmad Shah Abdali united the Afghans to overthrow the foreign Iranian overlordship (the cause) in 1747 AD, established the first Afghan government in Afghanistan and then expanded his empire in the territories of Iran, Central Asia and India; and a Pashtun former Mujahedeen commander Mullah Umar united the tribes to form Afghanistan Taliban in 1994 to oust the Soviet-planted government and defeat the rogue warlords spreading tyranny in the country (the cause).
One of the much renowned scholar historian was Khawaja Naimatullah Herwi. He had served in the Afghan and Moghal courts. His most credible book on Afghans, “Tareekh-e-Khan Jahani wa Makhzan-e-Afghani” (4) was written in the year 1612 A.D., i.e., just after the fall of the ruling Lodhi (Pashtun) dynasty in India. In Part One of the book, Herwi’s efforts to bestow religious sanctity to Afghan lineage may be considered biased. However, the remaining parts of his book are really authentic (matching with ground realities). Parts Two and Three of his book provide valuable details of the events, from which salient information about the psyche and behaviour pattern of Pashtuns/Afghans can be discerned, i.e.: (a) Enterprising nature of Afghans in quickly, shrewdly and even deceitfully exploiting any situation for politico- economic gains; and (b) Their capability of collectively generating politico-military strength, if led by a strong and competent leader.
An Understanding of the Afghan Taliban
As for the behaviour pattern of Afghan Taliban (the dominating majority of Afghanistan), without whose acceptance/inclusion no political settlement in Afghanistan is possible, following facts have to be kept in mind:-
- The term Taliban basically means students of Madresahs (religious/theological schools). These Madresahs relate to one of the Islamic School of Thought which is dominant in Afghanistan. Though the students and teachers belong to different Afghan tribes, yet the faith commonality of Taliban’s ideological Islamic teachings strongly binds them together, as also their respective tribes, as a formidable collective, disciplined and united force.
- The other acknowledged factor which is the cause of strong unity of Afghan Taliban and their unflinching determination to fight at all cost against US/NATO forces and US-planted government is their (as also of any Afghan’s) deeply ingrained psyche of not tolerating any foreign occupation or foreign-planted government. They have always fought ferociously, and continue fighting generation after generation, till the ouster of the foreign occupation and its planted government.
- Many publication outlets usually portray Afghan Taliban as being rigid. However in fact they, like other Afghans, have also acted pragmatically when required – of course within the aforementioned bounds of their psyche and behaviour pattern. In that context just to quote two examples:-
First, during the Taliban government in Afghanistan an Indian aircraft was hijacked on 24 December 1999, was made to land in Afghanistan and 155 persons in the aircraft were taken hostage. The Afghan Taliban government very skillfully managed a peaceful termination of that high jacking. On 01 January 2000 (the day of the peaceful termination of high jacking) The Washington Post published a report – some excerpts of that report: the report highlighted that though India being a predominantly Hindu country had adversarial relations with the Taliban and had not recognised their government in Afghanistan, yet Taliban government acted with diplomatic pragmatism and worked hard to help the Indian foreign minister Mr. Jaswant Singh to work out India’s compromise solution with the highjackers; after the termination of the high jacking, Taliban foreign minister Mr. Muttawakil and Indian foreign minister Mr. Jaswanth Singh spoke to press together; and “Singh expressed India’s “gratitude and indebtedness” to Muttawakil and the Taliban regime, especially “to his excellence personally,” for their “support and cooperation” in ending the crisis peacefully”; Erick de Mul, the chief U.N. representative in Afghanistan, who had been assisting during the crisis, also stated “The real credit goes to intelligence, to those who used their brains in the proper way and context, especially the Taliban”; Pamela Constable, The Washington Post’s bureau chief in Afghanistan and Pakistan, also highlighted, “The role of the Taliban officials was crucial in persuading the hijackers to surrender” (5).
Second, the non-Pashtun and Tajik-led group called Afghanistan Northern Alliance was Soviet-supported and Iran-supported. It held the Soviet-backed government in Kabul, till it was ousted from Kabul by Afghan Taliban. Being pushed back further, it had its headquarters in Mazar-e-Sharif, the northern city of Afghanistan. There, according to BBC report (6) General Abdul Malik Pahlawan was widely believed to have been responsible for the brutal massacre of up to 3,000 Taliban prisoners after inviting them into Mazar-e-Sharif. When Afghan Taliban attacked and captured Mazar-e-Sharif, 11 Iranian diplomats and an Iranian correspondent were also reportedly killed. In retaliation, Iran deployed more than 70,000 troops on Afghanistan borders (7). However, Taliban held their calm and did not get provoked into a conflict, till the matter was resolved by UN mediation.
- During the period of Taliban government in Afghanistan, there were oft-published reports of the harsh application of Islamic Sharia laws by Taliban in the country. However, what was generally missed out by many reporters was the fact that because of their strict administrative Islamic Sharia discipline, the Taliban government’s efforts succeeded in getting rid of the then widespread state of lawlessness, crime and tyranny wrought on the people of Afghanistan by the warlords and renegade rogue Mujahedeen factions. The strict administrative discipline of Taliban brought rule of law, peace and stability in the country and provided the much needed relief to the Afghan masses. That is why Afghan masses fully supported Taliban’s efforts to expand their rule in the country, ousting the much better militarily equipped Soviet-backed forces of Afghanistan Northern Alliance led by Tajiks under whose governance those warlords and the renegade rogue Mujahedeen factions were operating unchecked. That fact has also been highlighted in Oxford Academic The British Journal of Criminology (UK), “The Taliban came to power because they were able to restore order to spaces terrorized by armed gangs and Mujahideen factions” (8).
Another major administrative feat of Taliban government was that with the strict application of Islamic Sharia laws and by providing economy-reviving means as an alternative to poppy-economy to Afghans, the Taliban government brought down the whooping poppy cultivation in Afghanistan to less than 10,000 hectares by the year 2001 before the US invasion and occupation of the country; but it rapidly started increasing again under US’ occupation, as shown in UN’s UNODC Afghanistan Opium Survey 2013 chart; it reached above 200,000 hectares in 2013 – BBC’s UNODC’s chart, showing opium cultivation in Afghanistan 1994 – 2013, (9). And according to UN News dated 21 May 2018 by 2017 poppy cultivation in Afghanistan under US-planted government has reached a record high – an estimated 328,000 hectares in 2017 (10).
The aforementioned socio-economic devastation of Afghanistan by the US/NATO occupation, directly and under US-planted government in the country, is a ground reality. Among many publications on this subject a well-researched paper titled ‘Impact of Soviet and US War on Afghan Society with special reference to Rural Life’ of 10 November 2012 by Dr. Imtiyaz Gul Khan history lecturer for the Dept. of Education, Govt. of J&K, is noteworthy (11). In that context, some extracts of his research paper are worth taking a note of for understanding the ground realities in Afghanistan, which will help in discerning the projected timeframe possibilities (the in-text references in the extracts are those of Dr. Imtiyaz Gul Khan’s research paper). In his paper it is worth noting that, after discussing the socio-economic devastation wrought on Afghanistan by USSR, Dr. Imtiyaz Gul Khan also explains the successful manner in which the Afghanistan Taliban government revived Afghanistan’s economy after the withdrawal of USSR from the country. In that context he asserts “No doubt, the overall economic situation stopped deteriorating in the first few years of the Taliban regime as inter-regional trade resumed in areas under their domain. Agriculture recovered and cereal production rose in 1998 to levels close to those existing prior to the outbreak of the war in 1979-80. Livestock increased due to the presence of leftover unutilized grazing lands, and horticultural production grew due to the restoration of orchards. The Taliban announced suitable measure to improve agriculture and revive industrial units. In sequence, cereal production increased to 3.85 million tons in 1998, almost 50% more than was recorded a year before in 1997. The improvement followed political stability and repatriation of the villagers to their farm lands. ——-Despite this improvement Afghanistan imported 750,000 tons of wheat to meet the food requirements of the city-dwellers. ——– Likewise, they announced concessions to businessmen for the promotion of trade as a boost to the economy. Moreover, they encouraged foreign investment in Afghanistan, in fact, this was the only option to start new projects and revive unfinished ones”. Incidentally the BBC’s aforementioned UNODC’s chart, showing opium cultivation in Afghanistan 1994 – 2013, proves Dr. Imtiyaz Gul’s assertion that the Afghanistan Taliban regime succeeded in reviving the USSR-devastated economy of their country when the US’ military invasion re-started the devastation. From that UNODC chart it is evident that the Afghanistan Taliban regime had succeeded in bringing down the opium cultivation in their country well below ten thousand hectares by the year 2001, when their regime was overthrown by US’ military invasion and occupation of the country. Obviously that huge reduction of opium cultivation had become possible only because the Afghanistan Taliban regime, through their economic revival measures, providing better economic means to Afghan masses for earning their livelihood. And then onwards, the socio-economic devastation of Afghanistan because of US’ military occupation of the country is evident from the recorded fact that opium cultivation jumped up again to about 328,000 hectares in 2017.
Actualities of US’ Afghanistan Strategy
After the 9/11 attack on the twin towers in New York, US’ President Bush declared US’ intention to invade Afghanistan terming it as ‘Crusade’ (Holy War of Christians against Muslims). However, when according to The Christian Science Monitor, President Bush’ reference to ‘Crusade’ rang alarm bells in Europe and It raised fears that it could spark a ‘clash of civilizations’ between Christians and Muslims, sowing fresh winds of hatred and mistrust (12), President Bush re-phrased the term as ‘War on Terror’. Then on 7 October 2001 US, supported by UK, militarily invaded Afghanistan.
At the time of the invasion of Afghanistan, US’ declared objectives of that ‘War on Terror’ in Afghanistan were (a) to topple the then Taliban government in the country, which US claimed to have helped in planning the 9/11 attack, and (b) to capture or kill Osama bin Laden who led Al-Quaeda, which US blamed to have planed the 9/11 attack.
For toppling the Taliban government US, along with its own and allied forces, employed the previously Soviet-supported anti-Taliban Afghanistan Northern Alliance militia (led by Tajiks); and on 14 November 2001 Afghanistan Northern Alliance militia captured Kabul toppling the Taliban government. Subsequently, US continued to bomb and devastate the areas where the remnants of Taliban were reported to have moved. The last of those was the massive US’ bombings of the Tora Bora mountain complex in December 2001 where Osama bin Laden and the remnants of Al-Quaeda and Taliban were reported to be present. That complex was completely destroyed. There were conflicting reports about Osama bin Laden. According to certain reports the ailing Osama bin Laden was killed in the bombings and buried; and in other reports he was supposed to have escaped. However, after those massive bombings he never surfaced anywhere – although US’ authorities continued claiming that he was being searched for, till on 2 May 2011 US’ authorities claimed to have killed him in a raid in Pakistan, though US’ authorities failed to prove their claim by producing his dead body or even a photograph of his dead body.
So, from all angles of ground realities, US achieved both of its announced Afghanistan War objectives by December 2001. But then, US’ government continued its military occupation of Afghanistan on the pretext of its newly fabricated objectives, one after another, like counter-terrorism, nation- building of Afghans, and stabilising Afghanistan under its planted government, etc.
Obviously all those newly fabricated US’ objectives were farcical to hide – albeit clumsily – US’ actual objective of retaining its military tentacles in, and its overlordship over, Afghanistan. Publications, highlighting the realities in that context, abound. A brief mention of some of those is:-
- BBC report dated 18 September 2001, mentioned that Niaz Naik, a former Pakistani Foreign Secretary, was told by senior American officials in mid-July (2001) at a UN-sponsored international contact group on Afghanistan which took place in Berlin that military action against Afghanistan would go ahead before the snows started falling in Afghanistan, by the middle of October at the latest, with the objective of toppling the Taliban regime and installing a transitional government of moderate Afghans in its place. And that Niaz Naik was doubtful that Washington would drop its plan even if Bin Laden were to be surrendered immediately by the Taliban (13).
- The Inter Service Press (IPS) News Agency (Italy) in its report from Paris dated 15 November 2001 mentioned about a book titled “Bin Laden, la verite interdite” (“Bin Laden, the forbidden truth”), authored by Jean-Charles Brisard and Guillaume Dasquie. They claimed that US wanted the Taliban government in Afghanistan to enable US’ oil companies to construct oil pipelines from Central Asia, through Afghanistan and Pakistan, to the Indian Ocean. However, confronted with Taliban’s refusal to accept US’ conditions, the rationale of energy security changed into a military one; and in an interview in Paris Brisard also mentioned that during the negotiations, the U.S. representatives told the Taliban, ‘either you accept our offer of a carpet of gold, or we bury you under a carpet of bombs’. The IPS report also mentioned that under the influence of US’ oil companies, the government of George W. Bush initially blocked US’ secret service investigations on terrorism. The authors of the book revealed that the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s deputy director John O’Neill resigned in July in protest over the obstruction. Besides that, Brisard claimed that O’Neill told them that the main obstacles to investigate Islamic terrorism were US’ oil corporate interests and the role played by Saudi Arabia in it (14).
c. Michael Hugh Meacher was a British Member of Parliament from 1970 until his death, and was environment minister from May 1997 to June 2003 (15). His article titled ‘This war on terrorism is bogus’ was published in The Guardian dated 3 September 2003. In that article he clarified that the conventional explanation is that after the Twin Towers were hit, retaliation against al-Qaida bases in Afghanistan was a natural first step in launching a global war against terrorism; then, because Saddam Hussein was alleged by the US and UK to retain weapons of mass destruction, the war could be extended to Iraq as well; however this theory does not fit all the facts. In fact a document, titled Rebuilding America’s Defences, was written a year before 9/11, i.e. in September 2000 by the neoconservative think tank, Project for the New American Century (PNAC), as a blueprint for the creation of a global Pax Americana. He highlighted that the catalogue of evidence does fall into place when set against this PNAC blueprint, due to which it seems that the so-called “war on terrorism” is being used largely as bogus cover for achieving wider US strategic geopolitical objectives. He also brought forth a very significant aspect in this regard that UK’s Prime Minister Tony Blair himself hinted at this when he said to the Commons liaison committee: “To be truthful about it, there was no way we could have got the public consent to have suddenly launched a campaign on Afghanistan but for what happened on September 11” (Times, July 17 2002) (16).
d. Adam Garrie, who is the Director of Eurasia Future and is considered to be a geopolitical expert, has also published his article on 20 October 2018. This article relates to the currently prevailing phase of US’ Afghanistan strategy. He has analysed the history of US’ shifting goals in the conflicts from Vietnam to Afghanistan. He asserts that by now US has realised that an Afghan insurgency is ultimately as difficult to defeat in the 21st century as the Viet Cong and North Vietnamese were in the 20th century. Hence, US’ main goals in Afghanistan are: (a) Facilitate the inflow of terrorists from Afghanistan to Pakistan in order to destabilise Pakistan’s pivot towards multi-polarity; (b) Create an Afghan base of operations in order to foment future chaos in Iran’s geographically vulnerable Sistan and Baluchistan Province; (c) Prevent Afghanistan’s integration into the One Belt–One Road network; (d) Prevent Afghanistan’s poppy cash cow from entering into the hands of anyone except for the CIA ; and (e) Disrupt and/or retard the burgeoning pan-Asian partnership in south Asia involving China, Russia, Pakistan and Iran (17). (For US’ CIA connection with Afghanistan’s poppy trade, see report in Sputnik dated 25 August 2017 (18).
A look at the Google map of Afghanistan and surrounding countries (19) confirms the validity of Adam Garrie’s assertion regarding US’ current objectives in Afghanistan. That map clearly shows that geographically Afghanistan is sort of a ‘strategic fulcrum’ of the region around it. From its politico-military stranglehold on Afghanistan, US can geo-strategically gravitate towards Iran, Pakistan, China, Central Asia, and Russia. Besides posing any sort of missile etc threats, US can also utilise this Afghanistan launch pad to create internal disorder / destability through its CIA elements in the selected areas of these countries.
Indications from the October 2018 Elections in Afghanistan
As mentioned in the beginning of this article, these long overdue October 2018 parliamentary elections were the ‘last ditch effort’ by US to show to its public that after long last a democratic governance system has started taking shape in Afghanistan. However, that US’ attempt has utterly failed. Elections in Kandahar had to be postponed, could not be re-scheduled yet in Ghazni, and the presidential elections had to be postponed till April next year. And even the elections which were held failed to make any impression of credibility even in the eyes of the Afghans.
Before going into the reasons of this failure, it is worth to have a clear understanding of the societal texture of Afghans upon whom US’ government is trying to ‘implant’ the Western-style democratic system of formation of government.
In the context of the political actions and reactions of a nation, William F. Stone has explained that the political actions and reactions of a nation are conditioned by the historical environment, political culture, current events and the immediate situation (20). This stated principle also explains the intricacies of Afghanistan’s body politic. We know that for most part of the recorded ancient and medieval history Afghanistan was the passage of the powerful invaders – Persians, Alexander, Demetrius, Kushans, and Moghals – coming from north and north-west venturing for the prized lands of India; and even from the south there were occasional invasions by Mauryas and Jaipal. And even in the later history the repeated invasions of Afghanistan continued, notably by the British, Soviet Russia, and now US. Keeping that fact in mind it can easily be understood that a people so regularly trampled over by the powerful invaders can obviously not be expected to develop a congruent national culture or leadership of their own, which essentially requires prolonged stability, prosperity and coherent political participation. Experiences of those repeated invasions rather ingrained in Afghans’ body politic the continued adherence to the fragmented tribal ways of life.
However, it is worth highlighting that even under such severe handicaps the highly resilient Afghans, within the framework of their tribal ways of life, are capable of resolving their socio-political matters including their governance system, if left to resolve such matters at their own. We should not forget that these very Afghans had a ‘Tribal Confederation’ governance system under Ahmad Shah Abdali – a Pashtun, who founded the modern Afghanistan in mid 18th Century AD; a strongly ‘Centralised’ form of government under a Pashtun Amir Abdur Rahman Khan towards the end of 19th century AD; a ‘Modern Reformist’ monarchial government by a Pashtun King Amanullah in early 20thh Century AD; and an ‘Islamic System’ government under the Pashtun Taliban from 1996 to 2001.
As for these elections in October 2018, a preview of these elections was published by DW on 18 October 2018, i.e. two days before the commencement of the elections. That preview started with the assertion, “Since the US invasion of Afghanistan in 2001, every election there has been more fraudulent than the last. Experts say that’s a consequence of the nation’s shaky democratic foundations”. It further highlighted the electoral irregularities and fraud, ballot stuffing, etc. and security issues in the previous US-conducted elections in Afghanistan, and commented, “The country’s poor track record doesn’t do much to instill confidence in the ability of Afghanistan to hold free and fair elections”.
The reports about the conduct of these elections were published by many publication outlets. Markus Potzel, Germany’s special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan and a former German ambassador to Afghanistan, while expressing his optimism about these elections, told DW dated 20 October 2018 i.e. first day of elections, “People are tired of the war, the warlords and the power brokers. They want peace. We are helping them”. However, the same DW report also highlighted, “Experts say that most Afghans have little faith in the political process, as the country’s politicians have not delivered much to the people in the past decades” (21). Another report by DW dated 21 October 2018 (second day of elections) quoted its Regional Coordinator for Afghanistan and Pakistan that Afghan voters have shown their democratic determination by voting in parliamentary elections; but it also highlighted, “But democracy looks more questionable when it comes to Afghanistan’s public officials and security forces. They have appeared incapable of and unwilling to ensure a smooth election” (22).
The much clearer picture of the conduct of these elections was provided from the reports of Afghanistan by the Afghanistan Analyst Network. Those reports clearly showed the problems which rendered the results of these elections incredible. Those problems included: “voting centres opening late, lack of voting materials, biometric verification devices not working or working only slowly or staff not knowing how to use them, voters with stickers on their tazkeras (to prove they had registered) finding their names missing from the voter lists, problems with the Kuchi ballots, with some polling centres not having any, etc.”; and the IEC (the Electoral Commission of Afghanistan) itself summed up the problems as: “ineffectiveness of IEC field staff, technical and administrative issues, polling staff – teachers – not showing up, security incidents perpetrated by insurgents and warlords and the use of force at some polling centres, lack of monitoring in some areas, late arrival of biometric verification devices, etc”. The report also mentioned that because of the widespread nature of these problems, AFP (the French international news agency Agence France-Presse) described IEC’s preparations for these ballots as “shambolic” (23).
Even about the later-held elections in Kandahar, a CNBC report dated 27 October 2018 mentioned certain similar problems. Besides that, the report also highlighted, “An independent monitoring group said voting was also marred by ballot stuffing and intimidation by armed men affiliated with candidates in 19 of the country’s 32 provinces that were voting last weekend” (24).
Though the polling process for parliamentary elections has been completed (less Ghazni) in October, yet the final results of these elections are scheduled to be announced later, may be by December 2018. All these ground realities, however, have clearly showed that this first step of US’ ‘last ditch’ effort, to somehow ‘push’ the Afghans – of staunchly tribal societal texture – to form a Western-style democratic government in the country, has failed. That is most probably the ‘final serious blow’ to US’ already fizzling out desire and design to prolong its politico-military stay in Afghanistan.
Public Pulse and Evolving Situation in Afghanistan
Most of the Western media reports present – probably for the purpose of ‘guiding’ world’s public opinion to favour US’ occupation of Afghanistan – a horrific picture of the scare and instability spread by the Taliban’s bombings and attacks causing killings of US and Afghan security personnel, embroiling also civilian casualties in the process. However, such media does not usually provide the other side of the picture, i.e. the horrendous inhuman brutalities unleashed on the Afghans by the US/allied forces and its actual effects on the pulse of Afghans, as also on the fast evolving situation in Afghanistan. A brief elaboration of those realities and aspects from the credible publications, which are also Western, is presented in the succeeding paragraphs.
One of those realities is the widespread war crimes committed by US’ military forces, US’ CIA, and US’ infamous military contractors. The Independent (UK) dated 17 February 2017 reported that Afghans have submitted 1.17 million statements to the International Criminal Court in the three months since it began collecting material for a possible war crimes case involving their homeland. The statements include accounts of alleged atrocities not only by groups like the Taliban and the Isis, but also Afghan Security Forces and government’s affiliated warlords, the US-led coalition, and foreign and domestic spy agencies (25).
In that context, it is also worth noting that the report by The Intercept, dated 12 September 2018, highlights the severity of US’ war crimes in Afghanistan, and US government’s ‘threatening’ posture to disallow investigation of these war crimes by International Criminal court (ICC), to the extent of arresting the judges of ICC. Some extracts from that report are: The 2016 ICC report makes allegations of serious crimes committed by the US, including “torture, cruel treatment, outrages upon personal dignity, and rape”; the alleged crimes “were not the abuses of a few isolated individuals”; the CIA and US military have been accused of brutalizing and even murdering prisoners held in their custody at detention facilities like Bagram Airbase in Afghanistan; and Civilian contractors working for the CIA have also engaged in the murder of Afghan detainees. Besides that, about US government’s threats to ICC, the report mentioned, “ Donald Trump’s national security adviser John Bolton denounced the ICC as “illegitimate” and expressed his intentions toward the institution in no uncertain terms. “We will not cooperate with the ICC,” Bolton said. “We will provide no assistance to the ICC. We will not join the ICC. We will let the ICC die on its own. After all, for all intents and purposes, the ICC is already dead to us.” In addition to this death wish against the court, Bolton said that the United States would retaliate against any ICC investigations into US activities by sanctioning the travel and finances of ICC officials, even threatening to prosecute them in American courts” (26).
The other reality is the massive casualties (deaths and wounded) of Afghans caused by US’ war in Afghanistan. According to an estimate over 111,000 Afghans, including civilians, soldiers and militants, are estimated to have been killed in the US’ war in Afghanistan since the year 2001 till the Google publication of that estimate; and most certainly the casualty numbers have gone further up by now. Besides that, the casualty of Afghans due to the aerial strikes by US along with its allied Afghan airforce has accelerated due to the latest US’ policy of aerial assaults. According to the CNN report dated 10 October 2018, “The UN report shows airstrikes, carried out by both US and Afghan aircraft, have killed or injured 649 civilians so far this year, 39% higher than the same first nine months in 2017, and more than the 631 killed or injured by airstrikes in all of last year. Sixty percent of this year’s casualties have been women and children, according to the report. The report also says that total civilian deaths across Afghanistan — due to various violent attacks — stands at 2,798 for the first nine months of this year, slightly up on the same period in 2017” (27).
Keeping these ground realities in view, it should not be difficult to understand as to what effect has been caused on the pulse of Afghan public by these 17 years-prolonged US’ brutal atrocities of widespread killings, wounding, maiming, torture, and devastation – very obviously it must have ingrained a very strong revengeful urge in the Afghans against US, its allies in the country, and the US-planted government in Kabul. In that context, it should also be kept in mind that one of the most binding commands of Pukhtunwalay (code of conduct of Pukhtuns/Pashtuns – the majority of Afghans) is Badal (revenge), due to which they continue fighting with the wrong-doer for taking revenge generation after generation.
Besides that, the Afghan masses have also lost the hope of any peaceful solution of the long prevailing imbroglio of their country because of the chaos spread by the mismanagement of the US-planted governments in the country – now led by the two US-planted ‘political opposites’, i.e. President Ashraf Ghani (Pashtun) and Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah (Tajik) – the non-developed and corruption-ridden state institutions, depleting Afghan security forces , and the US-bribed ‘arrogant’ Afghan warlords. Additionally, the aforementioned latest US’ failure of its ‘last ditch’ parliamentary electoral effort to somehow form a democratic governance system in the country has only added to the dismay of the Afghan masses. That extreme disillusionment of Afghan masses is valid because of the fact highlighted by US News dated 20 October 2018. It reported that Andrew Wilder, vice-president of Asia Programs at the U.S. Institute of Peace said, “The widespread reports today of confusion and incompetence in the administration of the elections … suggest that bureaucratic failures and lack of political will to prioritize organizing credible parliamentary elections may do more to delegitimize the election results than threats and violent attacks by the Taliban and Daesh” (28). That dismay and loss of hope of Afghan masses was also confirmed by a US survey. In that context The Daily Mail (UK) dated 26 October 2018 reported, “Afghans are voicing unprecedented levels of pessimism as hopes fade for the war-torn country’s future, a US survey said Friday” (29).
On the other hand, it is very significant to note, that there are almost no reports of corruption, mismanagement of public administration and justice, etc. from the areas in Afghanistan which are under Taliban’s control. In fact some of the available reports generally reflect the prevailing peace and calm in those areas. Besides that, the repeated reports from the senior US’ official In Afghanistan (SIGAR) mention that more and more areas are coming under Taliban’s control and influence. In further search for the reasons of this aspect, I found a properly researched report published by Overseas Development Institute (ODI is an independent Think Tank of UK). The complete report published by ODI is with the monogram of Embassy of Denmark Kabul. It is titled ‘Life under the Taliban shadow government’, of June 2018 (30). This research was conducted and report written by Ashley Jackson. Most recently, she was a Research Fellow at ODI, where she led a multiyear project on humanitarian dialogue with armed groups and conducted extensive research on protection, civil-military relations, governance in fragile states and displacement. Additionally, she served as an advisor to the UK Parliament on Afghanistan. Prior to this, she spent several years working in Afghanistan with the UN and Oxfam as well on disaster recovery and response for the Red Cross in Southeast Asia. She holds a BA from Sarah Lawrence College and M.Sc. from the London School of Economics (31). The summary portion of this research is also available on ODI’s website. Some of the extracts of that summary are: (a) Based on first-hand interviews with more than 160 Taliban fighters and officials, as well as civilians, this paper examines how the Taliban govern the lives of Afghans living under their rule. Taliban governance is more coherent than ever before; high-level commissions govern sectors such as finance, health, education, justice and taxation, with clear chains of command and policies from the leadership; (b) Where the government and aid agencies provide public goods and services, the Taliban coopt and control them; (c) Justice provision has also become increasingly far-reaching. Taliban taxes either coopt Islamic finance concepts or mimic official state systems; (d) the reach of Taliban governance demonstrates that they do not have to formally occupy territory to control what happens within it. Governance does not come after the capture of territory, but precedes it. The Taliban’s influence on services and everyday life extends far beyond areas they can be said to control or contest; and (e) this research has significant implications for any future peace deal (32).
In the best of my understanding and background knowledge, the researched inference of Ashley Jackson is absolutely correct that in the Taliban governed or influenced areas in Afghanistan the Afghans are more comfortable with the much better systems of Taliban’s public administration and justice. I consider so because of two recorded analogies. First, when Soviet Union broke up and the Soviet-occupied Central Asian States had suddenly become independent as Central Asian Republics (CARs); those CARs were still governed by the then Soviet-planted governments. At that time a movement of an Islamic Party, whose (English version) name was Justice Party emerged in one of those CARs to oust the Soviet-planted governance system and introduce the Islamic system of public administration and justice. In that context, I had read a report of a premier British Intelligence Agency. That report mentioned that in the areas controlled by the Justice Party, whenever a civil or criminal case of dispute arose, both the complainant and accused parties were taken by Justice Party personnel to the local Justice Party court where both parties were given the option and were asked whether they accepted the proceedings and judgment by that Justice Party court, or be handed over to the government’s police. That report clearly highlighted that in almost all cases both parties accepted that their case be proceeded upon and judgment given by that Justice Party court, rather than be handed over to government police or court because government’s police and other state organs were known for corruption and maladministration. Second, the aforementioned The British Journal of Criminology has also highlighted, “After the Taliban’s ‘defeat’ in 2001, their resurgence was invited by the failure of state justice and security institutions. The Taliban returned with a parallel court system that most Afghans viewed as more effective and fair than the state system. Polls suggest judges were perceived as among the most corrupt elements of a corrupt state. Police were widely perceived as thieves of ordinary people’s property, not protectors of it” (33)
The aforementioned ground realities and aspects credibly show the current state of the public pulse and the evolving situation in Afghanistan, which also help in discerning the projected time-frame possibilities in Afghanistan.
Political Dynamics of Afghanistan Imbroglio
Since last some years US’ government had realised that Taliban’s resistance to the foreign (US’) occupation could not be defeated even by the combined efforts of US, NATO and the US-planted Kabul government. However, US’ policy makers were still unrealistically trying again and again to militarily browbeat the Taliban to accept some sort of agreement with the US-planted government in Kabul. Obviously US policy makers were doing that to retain US’ politico-military stranglehold on Afghanistan through their planted government in Kabul to serve US’ aforementioned geostrategic interests in the region and to economically exploit Afghanistan’s known rich mineral deposits worth over a trillion USD. On the other hand, the Taliban have been demanding that all foreign troops withdraw from Afghanistan and US must hand over the government to Taliban because it was Taliban government which US toppled in 2001, and that in that context Taliban would only talk to US’ authorities because Taliban did not recognise the US-planted government in Kabul being illegitimate.
And since last some years, the regional countries around Afghanistan, including Russia, CARs, China, Pakistan and Iran started getting concerned about the ‘unexplained’ presence and rising of ISIS in Afghanistan. Their concern was further exacerbated because of many reports that US’ policies in Iraq were actually responsible for the creation of ISIS; and that, after the defeat of ISIS in Middle East US was employing ISIS remnants in Afghanistan to serve US’ purposes. In that context, South Front Intelligence & Analysis dated 7 December 2016 reported that during his speech in Tampa, Florida the outgoing US President Barack Obama virtually admitted that actions of the US (rather, the previous US administration) produced the Islamic State (IS) terrorist group. He said that mistakes of the country, made during the Iraqi campaign in 2003, allowed the IS to rise. He also admitted that Washington provides assistance to various groups of militants. But, according to the US, they are ‘moderate’ rebels and oppositionists, but not militants (34). Then a much credible ‘insider’ report about ISIS’ employment by US in Afghanistan came in a published report of RT dated 18 October 2017. It published an interview given to RT on the sidelines of the Valdai Forum in Sochi, Russia, by the CIA-supported and US-backed Hamid Karzai. He was the US-backed Chairman of the Interim Administration of Afghanistan in 2001, then in 2002 the Interim President for two years, followed by two successive terms as President of Afghanistan government from 2004 to 2014. Hamid Karzai asserted “The US uses the Islamic State insurgency as a tool in Afghanistan, aimed at destabilizing the whole region,” (35). In that context, a report published by Sputnik dated 16 February 2018 also highlighted, “Last week, Iranian Armed Forces’ Chief of Staff Mohammad Baqeri accused the US of transferring Daesh militants from their crumbling caliphate into Afghanistan.”When the Americans realized that Daesh and [other] terrorist groups lost the territories they had previously occupied in Iraq and Syria, they transported them, by various means, to Afghanistan, and we are now witnessing the explosions, terror and new crimes being committed in Afghanistan,” the officer said ”(36). Pakistan also faced the brunt of ISIS reportedly deployed in the Tora Bora mountain complex adjacent to Pakistan, when ISIS terrorists were found indulging in terrorist attacks and spreading their tentacles in Pakistan. CARs, Russia and China became more concerned with increasing ISIS’ activities along the northern borders of Afghanistan, which threatens to create destability in their countries. The only two countries which remain supportive of the US-planted government in Kabul are US and India – US, because it wants to retain its occupation; and India, because its dominating Hindu community and government do not want the Taliban to come to power in Afghanistan considering Taliban to be Islamic and pro-Pakistan. Reports abound in Pakistan that the terrorism launched in Pakistan is due to the combined efforts of the intelligence agencies of US (CIA), India (RAW), Kabul government (NDS), and possibly UK (MI-6).
Under these circumstance of increasing destability in Afghanistan spreading to neighbouring countries, a new regional ‘geopolitical reset’ has already started emerging, bringing together Russia, CARS, China, Pakistan, and Iran, to take over the task of working for bringing peace and stability in Afghanistan. Russia has been trying to bring the stakeholders from Afghanistan including the Taliban, US, and the neighbouring countries to a dialogue on this aspect. For the obvious reason of losing its lead role, US has been averse to that proposal. Even about two months back US refused to attend a proposed meeting.
However, it now appears that the US’ authorities have stated realising, especially after the utter failure of their October parliamentary elections effort, that their plans to ‘implant’ a pliant government is not workable, as also their ‘hold’ on Afghanistan is crumbling. It was for that reason that US accepted the Russian invitation for the recent conference held in Russia on 9 November 2018. According to the Russian News Agency TASS report dated 12 November 2018, “Taking part in it were deputy foreign ministers, special envoys and observers from Russia, Afghanistan, India, Iran, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, China, Pakistan, the US, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. A delegation of the Taliban movement’s political office took part in an international meeting of this level for the first time”.(37)
Though no significant breakthrough emerged from this meeting; US send one of its diplomat from it embassy in Moscow with the status of an observer; Indian government also announced that its representative attended in a non-official capacity; US-planted Kabul government only sent some members of the High Peace Council which is not an organ of that government; yet there were certain aspects of high significance of this meeting. Those significant aspects were: (a) US and India ultimately yielded to let Russia take the lead role instead of US in spurring the peace efforts in Afghanistan and ending the destability in that country and the region; (b) Taliban succeeded in getting their demand met of not talking to the US-planted government in Kabul, and having direct talks with US – even if with an observer status US’ representative; and (c) that in this context all the countries surrounding Afghanistan, i.e. Russia, China, CARS (Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan), Pakistan and Iran have emerged as a new ‘geopolitical group’ – a geopolitical ‘reset’, the bondings of which are most likely to grow further in matters of geo-economics and geo-strategy.
The Projected-timeframe Possibilities in Afghanistan and the Region
From the aforementioned researched analysis following projected-timeframe possibilities can be discerned:-
- The ‘stranglehold’ grip of US on Afghanistan is surely on an irreversible decline; and the US government has also been realising it for quite some time now. It was for the reason of that realisation that US’ government has been making ‘un-announced’ contacts with Taliban office in Doha trying to work out some formula with the Taliban for political settlement in Afghanistan. From amongst the oft-published reports about such US-Taliban contacts, one report by US’ own main media outlet VOA dated 14 September 2018 mentioned that Alice Wells, principal deputy assistant secretary for South and Central Asia at the US State Department, met Taliban officials in Doha, Qatar, in July (2018). But, according to same report, negotiations between the US’ officials and Taliban for a political settlement in Afghanistan were stuck up because US wants maintenance of at least two of its military bases (Bagram and Shorabak bases), but the Taliban do not agree to US’ continued retention of any military base in the country. The same report also mentioned that in an interview to VOA last month (August 2018) US’ Colonel (Retired) Christopher Kolenda, a former Pentagon adviser who held informal talks this year with the Taliban in Doha, told VOA that the insurgent group (Taliban) considers US combat troops an occupying force and wants them out, because ousting that occupation is their No. 1 reason and casus belli for war against US forces. (38). It appears more probable that having been frustrated in such negotiations with Taliban, US’ government has now yielded to let Russia take a lead role through the aforementioned 9th November 2018 Afghanistan settlement meeting in Moscow.
- A careful look at the map of Afghanistan makes it clear as to why, out of its military bases in Afghanistan, US is so keen to retain its bases at Bagram and Shorabak. US’ Bagram military base is located north of Kabul and Shorabak military base is located in Helmand situated in south-west of Afghanistan – so, not difficult to understand that the US’ aircrafts, missiles, and the electronic/other listening/surveillance devices at the northern base can easily cover China, CARs, and Russia; and the south-western base can cover most part of west and south Asia including Iran and Pakistan. That fact makes it obvious that though US is most likely to ‘drag its feet’ for the acceptance of its demand for retention of its military bases at Bagram and Shorabak, in all probability the ‘new negotiating group’ of Russia, China, CARS, Iran, and Pakistan will support the Taliban in not accepting that US’ demand.
- It is also worth noting that after the emergence in Afghanistan of ISIS, which is destabilising Afghanistan and surrounding region with its terrorist actions, both Russia and Iran have changed their previous anti-Taliban policy and now prefer to support the Taliban. There are two reasons for that change. First, ISIS has a proclaimed objective of establishing its ‘caliphate’ in Afghanistan and then spreading it to the surrounding countries; whereas Taliban are only concerned about the return of their ousted government in Afghanistan and want o have good relations with the countries; besides that, Taliban have the capability of rooting out ISIS from the country if the reported US support for ISIS is removed. Second, by now after their 17 years long successful resistance against the US/NATO military might, Taliban have proven that no government can be formed in Afghanistan without their consent. It is therefore most likely that the Russia-led ‘new negotiating group’ will apply its newfound weighty political leverage to compel US to accept an Afghanistan settlement formula which is acceptable to the Taliban.
- It is difficult at this stage to be sure as to what concessions Taliban may be giving to get to a settlement formula which US may yield to accept, giving up its demand for retention of military bases. However, considering that Taliban should also be aware of the desire of the Afghan masses for return of peace in the country, it may be possible that Taliban may ultimately give two concessions in bargain of a complete withdrawal of US/NATO forces from the country. First, instead of a completely Taliban government, Taliban may accept formation of a Taliban-led government in the country giving some share to certain other political segments of the Afghan society. Two, Taliban may agree to give some mineral mining permission to US in the country, provided so approved by the new Taliban/Taliban-led government of Afghanistan.
- In case US continues with its insistence to retain its military tentacles in the country, refusing complete withdrawal of US/NATO forces from Afghanistan, then seeing the current developments it is not difficult to discern the high probability that within the span of some months situation in Afghanistan may deteriorate to the extent of making US’/NATO’s further stay in Afghanistan untenable, compelling US/NATO forces to beat a retreat with much loss of face in the sphere of world politics.
References and Notes
(2).Published often in reports – one example ‘With Bags of Cash, CIA Seeks Influence in Afghanistan’ https://www.nytimes.com/2013/04/29/world/asia/cia-delivers-cash-to-afghan-leaders-office.html
(3). Professor Rasool Amin’s interview dated 01 May 1994.
(4). Herwi, Khawaja Naimatullah. Tareekh-e-Khan Jahani wa Makhzan-e-Afghani. Urdu Science Board, Lahore. 1986. Second.
(8). The British Journal of Criminology, Volume 53, Issue 2, 1 March 2013, Pages 179–196, https://doi.org/10.1093/bjc/azs065 , https://academic.oup.com/bjc/article/53/2/179/416214 (Hereinafter cited as The British journal of Criminology). (It takes about 2 to 3 minutes in opening).
(9). Afghanistan: Before and after the Taliban 2 April 2014 http://www.bbc/news/world-asia-26747712
(11). Impact of Soviet and US War on Afghan Society with special reference to Rural Life http://www.criterion-quality.com/impact-of-soviet-and-us-war-on-afghan-society-with-special-reference-to-rural-life/
(20). Stone F. William and Paul E. Shaffner. The Psychology of Politics. Spinger Verlag, New York. P. vi
(33). The British Journal of Criminology, op.cit.
(34). OBAMA ADMITS CREATION OF ISIS BY WASHINGTON https://southfront.org/obama-admits-creation-of-isis-by-washington/
Tags: #Afghans, #Taliban, #US, #US’ Afghanistan Strategy, #Afghanistan, #Political Dynamics of Afghanistan Imbroglio