By R.M. Panda
The situation in Afghanistan is confusing with the interference of all major powers who pursue their own agenda and their strategic interests. The beleaguered Afghan Government that has been legitimately elected has been fighting on all fronts and doing its best.
The ground situation in Afghanistan has dramatically changed with the ISIS entering the fray on the one hand and with terrorists sponsored from other outfits also joining in. Besides the Taliban that is fighting with support from across the border, the entry of other Pakistani terrorist organizations like the Lashkar-e-Taiba has resulted in a dangerous situation.
In the last one month, there have been very many serious incidents by various actors that gives the impression that the Government in power is not in control in most of the areas inside Afghanistan.
The Ghazni Attack:
On August 10, 2018, about 1000 Taliban militants launched a coordinated attack from four sides on the provincial capital of Ghazni. The Security forces taken by surprise and unable to meet the onslaught confined themselves in protecting the main Government Head Quarters and letting the attackers to occupy other areas that were weakly held. After five days (15th August) with the air support of US and further reinforceents, the Afghan Forces started pushing back the attackers. The Afghan Defense Minister Tariq Shah Bahrami said that at least 194 militants have been killed including 12 of their senior commanders and another 147 other militants have sustained injuries. 20 civilians were also killed during the clashes.
A Security source confirmed that 100 police officers were also killed. The Special Representativeof the UN Secretary General in Afghanistan Tadamichi Yamamoto said that theTaliban attack on Ghazni city has caused terrible sufferings to the civilians causing casualties at around a range from 110 to 150. The Defense minister Bahrami also alleged that the foreign militants, including Pakistanis, Chechens and Arabsupported Taliban were involved in the Ghazni attack.
What is to be noted here is that the incident was not of Taliban alone but that of a combined force of other militants and terrorists of other outfits commonly planned and executed together. This is a dangerous situation.
Pakistani Militants in the Fray:
The leader of the Awami National Party of Pakistan Afrasiab Khattak, a former Pakistani senator said, “Pak government needs to explain reports about the deadbodies of Pakistanis coming in from the war in Ghazni and Pak fighters getting arrested. Is it the repetition of the Jalalabad fiasco in 1989? Pak Afghan Policy is an unmitigated disaster.?CHANGE IT”, he said. There has been no official denial on the involvement of Pak terrorists.
Some Pakistani groups have posted photos ofthe dead bodies and have invited people to attend funeral ceremonies of their members on social media. These groups have proudly stated that “those men were killed there.” The bodies of slain Pakistani nationals have been transported to Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Punjab, and Balochistan provinces. Many of the Pakistani terrorists killed in the battle are reported to belong to Mullah Nazir, a Pro Pakistan militant group.
There are some reports that Lashkar-e-Taiba terrorists are also fighting in Afghanistan. The Chief of Army Staff of Pakistan.General Qamar Javed Bajwa in a face-saving statement said that “However, there are scores of Pakistanis working in Afghanistan in connection with various businesses/ labour who periodically fell victim to terrorism acts alongside their Afghan brothers inside Afghanistan. Gen. Bajwa also added “Moreover, differentfactions of TTP, hiding in many sanctuaries inside Afghanistan under Afghan identities on becoming injured/ dead are transported into Pakistan for medical help. His statement lacked credibility and Pakistan should explain to the World why Pakistanis are getting increasingly involved in terrorist attacks in neighbouring countries.
There have been many credible reports of the Taliban fighters and dedicated Taliban intelligence personnel continuing to receive training in safe havens in Pakistan,which offer them key counter-intelligence and security advantages. Beside having access to military trainers and training materials, they continue to receive valuable guidance on counter-intelligence and counter-surveillance procedures from the ISI. The attack on Ghazni could not have been mounted without support from Pakistan’s state and non-state actors since the operational planning and execution involved in the attack reflect sound military preparations, impressive firepower, striking counter-intelligence awareness and remarkable security consciousness.
Attack on an Afghan Base in the North:
While Ghazni conflict which was found to be a combined terrorist assault, was going on, the Taliban fighters had overrun an Afghan National Army operations base in northern Afghanistan. Defense Ministry spokesperson Ghafor Ahmad Jawed said Taliban fighters gained control of the base in the Ghormach district of the northern province of Faryab late on August 13. Jawed said 17 Afghan soldiers were killed and at least 19 wounded with some captured and some fled to nearby hills. An army spokesperson, Mohammad Hanif Rezaee, said 100 Afghan soldiers were at the base, known as Camp Chinaya, when the Taliban began their assault against it on August 12. Taliban spokesperson Zabihullah Mujahid said 57 Afghan soldiers surrendered to the Taliban and another 17 were captured. He said Taliban fighters seized eight military Humvees — four-wheeled armored vehicles that had been provided to the Afghan forces by the United States.
Suicide bombing in Kabul:
On 15th of August, there was a suicide blast inside an education centre in Kabulcity killing 34 and injuring 56 students. The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria Khurasan (ISIS-K) has claimed responsibility for the deadly attack.
Role of other Countries other than Pakistan:
A recent media report gave an assessment that the Taliban controls nearly 50% area of Afghanistan. In an exclusive interview to BBC Gen John Nicholson, said Russia is supporting and even supplying arms to the Taliban. According to Afghan and American high ranking officials, there is evidence to show that Iran is providing Taliban insurgents with weapons, money, and training. One may recall that the former leader of the Taliban, Mullah Akhtar Mansoor, was killed while returning from Iran to Quetta, Pakistan, when a U.S. drone targeted him. Iran claims that the sole purpose of their contacts with the Taliban is to fight their shared enemy: the Islamic State (IS) in Afghanistan. Actually Iran’s grouse is against US presence in Afghanistan and it serves their strategic interest to weaken US presence in their neighbourhood.
What is of interest is that China is also wooing Taliban. China is Afghanistan’s biggest investor and their interest is in safeguarding and pursuing their mining and other economic projects in Afghanistan. It is known that the Taliban delegations have visited China many times. For China nothing serves better than an Afghanistan developing strategic and economic relationship just like Pakistan.
Russia Steps in:
Recently a Taliban political figure Sayed Akbar Agha said Taliban would attend the meeting in Moscow on 4 September next month to discuss about developments in Afghanistan. The Russians as seen now are trying to get close to Taliban in line with the initiative of China. Russia has invited twelve nations including US and Afghanistan for international talks which indicates Moscow is about to take a more prominent and active role in Afghanistan. The Afghan government had rejected this peace talk offer by Russia on the ground that any peace talk on Afghanistan should be carried out in Afghanistan and sponsored by the Afghan government. TheUS also declined to attend the talks.
There are enough credible reports to show that Pakistan is taking a leading role in training, Planning, Intelligence andmedical facilities in support of Taliban. It looks that Pakistan’s objectives are to dominate Afghanistan with a regime friendly to them. In this, it is actively supported by China and this is understandable. The entry of Iran and even Russia in this strategic gamble is not however understandable. Just to spite US should Iran accept a Pakistan dominated regime next door? Analysts point out that specifically, Pakistan’s objectives appear to be
1. A pro Pakistan government in Kabul.
2. To reduce Indian influence of India if it cannot be eliminated
3. Pakistan’s own Economic interests will be best served.
4. The Durand Line dispute
5. To deal better with Secessionist movement of Balochistan
6. The issue of ‘Pashtunistan’
Taliban Seeks international Acceptance:
The Taliban in its bid to get more legitimacy in international arena and to achieve a strong negotiating position in the talks has been doing bilateral and multilateral talks with many countries. Though they do not seem to believe in talks when they are winning, they are still engaged in peace talks with US, Iran, China, Pakistan, Russia and even Indonesia!
On the other hand, trilateral talks among Pakistan, Russia and China are going on separately. It is clear by now that both Russia which is seen to be taking a more active and overt role and China would prefer a Taliban government and in the bargain to keep both US and India out of this game!
President Trump’s decision to increase the US military footprint in Afghanistan gives a confusing signal -whether it is for a negotiated peace or an inclusive Government getting all factions including Taliban in the Government or go all out for a military solution or to support the current government to deal on its own.
Historically, India has been maintaining a cordial socio-cultural relationship with Afghanistan. The absence of a common border is a major handicap that poses a geographical hurdle that cannot be wished away. The Indian interests would include an independent Afghanistan not dependent on any particular country.
Saudi Arabia’s objective is limited to fears of Iranian influence in Afghanistan and Central Asia and take counter measures even if this involves supporting some militant factions!
Leave Afghanistan Alone to deal with its Problems:
In this confusing situation where the State Actors from different countries with different agenda are maneuvering to get involved to protect their interests, it is Afghanistan and its people who are suffering. If only Afghanistan is left alone, there could be progress but that will not be allowed by other powers with vested interests and not have the interest of Afghanistan or its people.
The writer can be reached at [email protected]