23 March 2015

Afghanistan – Is the Subcontract in Motion?

By Prakash Katoch
March 20, 2015

Henry Kissinger writes in his book ‘World Order’, “A further radicalization of the Arab world or heightened conflict in Pakistan could expose India to significant internal pressures.” What Kissinger fails to mention is the role played by the US in both scenarios – heightening conflict in the Arab world and instability within Pakistan. As part of disarray in the Arab world, CIA sources admitted last year that former British military officers were training ISIS in Turkey. Concurrently in 2012, Jordan media had reported ISIS was being trained in Jordan by US instructors. Could this happen without CIA and Pentagon consent? Now Washington Times of February 23 reports deliberate leak by the Pentagon that one of its training camps to fight the ISIS is inside Jordan – much to the chagrin of latter who wanted it kept secret. As for Pakistan, peripheral Predator attacks in the country’s northwest and giving a free hand to Pakistan to spawn terrorism is sure recipe for implosion, Osama killing notwithstanding. Sub-conventional war has emerged with great strategic value, so big powers are indulging in proxy wars. The game involves creating and using terrorist organizations, mating them or setting them against each other, as required.

Perception management by the west leaves an impression that the US has been bungling its foreign policy; creating chaos and increasing radicalization all over. But when American historian William Blum says that the US with British collaboration since 1945 has attempted overthrowing 50 plus governments including democratically elected, interfered in elections in 30 countries, bombed civilian populations of 30 countries, used chemical and biological weapons and attempted to assassinate foreign leaders, it certainly is a well thought out strategy. Witness Obama’s uncalled for remarks about secularism in India immediately post his India visit that affected the Delhi elections and consider following US actions that are common knowledge: creation of Al Qaeda and Afghan Taliban to oust the Soviets; facilitating air evacuation of Pakistani army regulars and 9000 Pakistan Taliban (including 6000 Punjabi Taliban) from Khost and Kundus during US invasion of Afghanistan; replacing Saddam’s Sunni government in Iraq with a totally Shia Maliki regime; manipulating the Sunni-Shia war in conjunction Saudi Arabia, Qatar and UAE; CIA-ISI links since SEATO-CENTO days and use of Pakistani proxies by the US - one example being Pakistan Taliban fighting alongside US aided Syrian rebels to oust Assad; use of Al Qaeda in Libya, Syria and Iraq; the ‘good’ and ‘bad’ Taliban concept in connivance Pakistan; letting the ISIS Frankenstein mushroom till Baghdadi went berserk to attack Iraqi Kurds and behead westerners, permitting ISIS to smuggle out and sell US$ 3 million worth oil every day despite the US led 40 nation coalition controlling the periphery, sea, air and cyberspace, to name a few.

Post the 2009 US declaration to draw down US-NATO forces from Afghanistan by 2014, Afghan’s had begun saying that they are being subcontracted to Pakistan. This was not without reason because: the US was not attacking the source of terror inside Pakistan; the draw down was planned without letting Afghanistan stabilize politically; the Afghanistan-Pakistan border was not resolved despite 13 years of US-NATO presence; expansion and strengthening of the Afghan National Army (ANA) began only in 2009 and the ANA is still grossly deficient of artillery and air; nothing was done to elevate the Afghan economy some 97 percent of which is still dependent on foreign aid, and; Taliban and associate groups have surged forward from Pakistani sanctuaries and killed some 4,600 ANA soldiers during 2014 alone. Hamid Karzai made 20 trips to Pakistan during his 13-year Presidency hoping to find a solution and even once stated that if US attacked Pakistan, Afghanistan would side with Pakistan but Pakistan did not stop waging proxy war on Afghanistan largely because of US support to its military. Since 2013, Pakistan has trained 20 Mujahid battalions to operate as and in conjunction with Taliban and many of them may already be part of some 2,50,000 Pakistani refugees who have fled into Afghanistan. With Afghanistan’s reconciliation process driven by Pakistan’s ISI, busted myth of Afghan and Pakistan Taliban being daggers drawn and ISI links with both, Pakistan appears well poised to create its strategic depth in Afghanistan. Robert Blackwill had actually proposed unofficial bifurcation of Afghanistan with south and east Afghanistan becoming an Islamic Emirate under the Taliban. The erstwhile US move to talk to the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan (official name of Taliban’s office in Qatar) was not different from acknowledging existence of the entity depicting the name of the office itself.

In recent years, Western Think Tanks started blaming the Indian presence in Afghanistan for instability in Afghanistan and poor Afghanistan-Pakistan relations, some even linking the happenings astride the Durand Line to the Kashmir Issue, conveniently forgetting that hostilities in Kashmir began in 1947-48 and have no link to Pakistan’s proxy war in Afghanistan. Besides, what is there to limit when India has no military presence in Afghanistan. Yes, USA subcontracting Afghanistan to Pakistan and the latter’s sub-conventional prowess is putting pressure, for instance: President Ghani rushing into official visits to China and Pakistan without any plans announced to visit India; ANA officers going for training to Pakistan; Afghanistan withdrawing request by Karzai government for India to supply heavy weapons; Afghan MoU with a Pakistani university for sending students to Pakistan and the like. But the underlying significant effect of the subcontracting of Afghanistan was brought out recently in an interview by Dr RD Spanta, former Foreign Minister and later NSA to Hamid Karzai who points out actions by the new Afghan government that are not meeting national interests of Afghanistan – sending their troops to Pakistan for training; allowing Pakistan’s spy agency to inspect terrorist inmates in their prisons; even changing their political literature, as Mr. Ghani said in Munich Conference that “Afghanistan is one of the terrorism centers in the world and the world should not leave us alone.” Dr Spanta believes that it is Pakistan that is the center of terrorism and Afghanistan is but a victim of terrorism. It is Pakistan that sends terrorists to Afghanistan, making Afghanistan completely change its political literature towards them (Pakistan), which was not fair.

Ioannis Koskinas, Senior Fellow with the International Security Program at New America compares recent US characterisations of the Afghan Taliban as “armed insurgents, not terrorists” to George Orwell’s metaphor, “The great enemy of clear language is insincerity. When there is a gap between one’s real and one’s declared aims, one turns as it were instinctively to long words and exhausted idioms, like a cuttlefish spurting out ink.” The ISIS has made inroads in Afghanistan’s southern and eastern provinces and its cadres have been sighted on the Tajik-Afghan border. Yes, Abdul Rauf Khadim, ISIS head in Afghanistan was killed by a US Predator attack but then US used Al Qaeda even after killing Osama. Dr Davood Moradian, Director-General of the Afghan Institute for Strategic Studies says Afghanistan’s democratization experiment continues to be threatened by power struggle among the elites and external powers' anti-democratic agendas. He points out “what remains unrecognized is the West's complicity and hypocrisy in denying Afghan democratic aspiration and choice” and that “the Salafists and groups such as the Taliban and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) concur with the Euro-centric's cultural construction of democracy and firmly believe in the incompatibility of the democratic system with Islamic values.”

The ISIS-Al Qaeda-TTP nexus is reportedly forming up in North Waziristan with tentacles reaching into Gilgit-Baltistan with smaller organizations in tow like the LeJ, Arab Sunnat Wal Jamaat (ASWJ), LeT, even HuM- all linked to the ISI. This does leave China’s economic corridor through Pakistan in a tight spot but China had developed links with both Taliban since past several years. An Afghan Taliban delegation visited China just before President Ashraf Ghani’s visit to China in October 2014. Recently, Afghanistan handed over 15 Uighur radicals to China. China also has the economic clout to buy proxies but there are no guarantees what will happen next, given China’s clamp down in Xinjiang and the Great Game shifting to Af-Pak region with the US and China locking horns to limit each other’s influence. India will need to monitor changing dynamics of the region.

The author is veteran Lieutenant General of the Indian Army. Views expressed are personal.

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