‘America’s destructive policies in Af-Pak region have led to terrorism, insecurity and geopolitical rivalries’

TEHRAN – Aimal Faizi is a senior Afghan journalist and political analyst, who served as the spokesperson of former Afghan President Hamid Karzai between 2011 and 2014. In this interview with Tehran Times, he spoke about the security situation in Afghanistan, peace process and recent political developments. Following are the excerpts.

Q. The situation in Afghanistan continues to deteriorate with alarming rise in civilian casualties. Do you see this war ending anytime soon?

A. Unfortunately, the war in Afghanistan imposed by foreigners is not going to end anytime soon. Sadly, terrorism has become an enduring phenomenon in our region and we will all (regional countries) continue to remain vulnerable. There are old and new regional and trans-regional dimensions in the ongoing war in my country. Any Afghan government in Kabul under the U.S. occupation cannot fix the problem of terrorism alone. As regional powers, it is imperative for China, Russia, Iran and India to work with Afghans and the international community to design a long-term political strategy to address the political dimensions of war and insecurity in Afghanistan.

Q. Taliban has offered to talk directly with the U.S. as they don’t recognize the legitimacy of government in Kabul. And according to reports, there have been secret parleys between the insurgent group and the U.S. government officials recently. Do you think these talks would work out?

A. The U.S. government has been talking with the Taliban since the establishment of their movement in early 1990s. Talks can work out and should if Washington engages with major regional powers, in particular, Moscow and Tehran. It is crystal clear that any U.S. effort to eliminate the Taliban militarily will be of no effect.

Q. The general elections are approaching in Afghanistan but political dynamics have changed with many powerful political figures defecting and switching ends. Do you think President Ghani is in a position to retain power?

A. The national unity government (NUG) in Afghanistan is the product of foreign interference in our national processes such as the last presidential election. Ashraf Ghani’s government is a U.S. design imposed on the Afghan people. It has been unconstitutional and illegitimate and does not represent Afghanistan. It is a foreign-imposed body based on lies. Therefore, there is no reason to believe that Mr. Ghani will be able to retain power.

Q. President Ghani’s deputy Abdul Rashid Dostum, who was in forced asylum in Turkey over charges of torturing his political rival, is back in Afghanistan. Was it part of any deal?

A. Ashraf Ghani’s policies have been ill-advised and divisive for the country. Forcing vice president Dostum to leave the country was a political drama. It was not aimed at doing justice. If one skims through the statements issued by the president’s office in relation to Dostum, one can clearly see lies and contradictions. Dostum’s return is certainly part of a political deal. The recent uprisings against the government in the north by the supporters of Dostum strongly challenged NUG’s authority and the government was unable to manage the situation, forcing it to clinch a deal.

Q. The war in Afghanistan has now entered 17th year and yet there are no signs of peace. On the contrary the insurgent groups have become stronger. Why has the U.S.-led coalition failed in Afghanistan?

A. It will be correct to state that the U.S. has failed terribly and deplorably in Afghanistan and there are reasons for it. The U.S. forces have been bombing our homes and villages, indiscriminately killing innocent Afghans for years now. By doing so, they have been making more enemies than friends. Secondly, Washington has been reluctant to fix the problem of Pakistani support for terrorism in Afghanistan. It has been using Afghan soil against its so called rivals in the region. Such destructive policies resulted in more terrorism, insecurity, proxy wars and geopolitical rivalries. It is all happening at the cost of Afghanistan.

Q. With the election of Imran Khan as the probable new Prime Minister of Pakistan, do you think the relations between the two estranged neighbors would improve?

A. I am not very optimistic, unfortunately. I believe things have to genuinely improve and change within Pakistan first, in particular, in the Pakistani military’s thinking vis-à-vis Afghanistan, India and the wider region. Governments will come and go in Pakistan like elsewhere. However, each government will either serve the military or collapse for this or that reason given by the Pakistani military.

Q. How important is Chabahar port project for Afghanistan? Do you think it will reduce Afghanistan’s dependence on Pakistan?

A. Chabahar port project is crucial to Afghanistan and our region. It is vital for regional prosperity. As an Afghan and a friend of Iran, my message to the Iranian government is to not allow this great project become a victim of the ongoing Great Game in our region. It is understandable that Tehran sees President Ashraf Ghani and his government with mistrust, however, it has opened a very strategic trade route for Afghanistan, a close neighbor Iran, whose stability and economic prosperity will have a direct impact on Tehran’s long-term security.

Source: Tehran Times

Western Media Continues to Fail Afghanistan’s ‘Unworthy Victims’ of Terrorism

Terror attacks in Kabul are once again making headlines—but they have failed to engender global outrage in support of Afghanistan.

Last Saturday (January 27), an ambulance packed with explosives blew up on a crowded street in central Kabul, killing more than 100 people and injuring some 200 others. The intensity of the attack and the multitude of deaths led both Afghan and foreign observers to call the attack “a massacre.”

Just a week earlier, a small group of terrorists attacked the Inter-Continental hotel in Kabul leading to a 13-hour siege at the venue, in which more than 20 people lost their lives.

The increasing rate of terrorist attacks in Afghanistan and widespread suffering represents a catastrophic human tragedy. However, that does not translate appropriately or adequately into international media attention. Mainstream news media outlets appear to classify victims of terrorism according to “worthy and unworthy” categories.

This double standard must end. All international news organizations should adopt a human-centric approach and see all victims of terrorism as equally newsworthy.

Biased choices

What gets into the news and how long does it get covered? These two fundamental questions have been at the center of many researches and studies by media and communication experts.

When it comes to selecting and displaying news, news executives claim that their decision-making process is based on professional standards and values.

In practical terms, however, editors always skew news according to subjective political leanings and economic factors.

Media critics believe that news media’s “biased choices” in the selection of some information at the cost of others are related to different factors, including “internalized preconceptions,” “the adaptation of personnel” and “the constraints of ownership, organization, market and political power.”

They report the news “apart from the naked realism of horrors and losses, and criticism of the facts.”

Kabul attack
Afghan medical staff treat a wounded woman, after a car bomb exploded near the old Interior Ministry building, at Jamhuriat Hospital in Kabul on January 27, 2018. An ambulance packed with explosives blew up in a crowded area of Kabul on January 27, killing at least 103 people and wounding 235 others, officials said, in an attack claimed by the Taliban.WAKIL KOHSAR/AFP/GETTY IMAGES

All Terror Victims Matter

As a media observer, I often hear and read of Afghans complaining that their tragedies are ignored by mainstream press, while terrorist attacks in Western countries always receive more media coverage than those in Afghanistan.

Afghans also believe that selectivity in the coverage of terrorism and human rights violations by parties (Taliban, U.S., Afghan government etc.) to the conflict are dealt with double standards by mainstream media.

In the ongoing war in Afghanistan, civilian deaths from terrorist attacks in retaliation to U.S. military operations occur on a daily basis. In the first nine months of 2017, more than 2,600 civilians were killed and 5,300 were wounded, most of them women and children, according to U.N. estimates.

However, because of policy and ideological preferences of market-driven mainstream media, terror victims in Afghanistan did not receive the required news coverage in 2017.

“There was a long time, even until very recently, when the Afghan people felt their suffering wasn’t being acknowledged by the outside world,” notes Afghan journalist Ali Latifi.

He writes that, when all victims of terrorism are not heard and their stories don’t get coverage beyond what they mean for Western powers’ foreign policy agenda, “the world loses the sense that it’s people, not nameless, faceless numbers, who are dying and suffering because of these heinous attacks.”

Latifi points to the U.S. media coverage of the May 31, 2017 bombing in Kabul, when more than 150 people were killed, as an example: “I was in California at the time, and I remember a major media outlet discussed the bombing and followed it with a talking head commenting on U.S. policy,” he said.

“There was no mention of exactly who was among the 150 people who died and what kinds of lives they led, but just after that, they cut to a follow-up story on a teenager injured from the Manchester bombing which, at that point, was already nearly two weeks old. People were given a chance to identify with the Manchester victim but no sense of who was killed and injured in Kabul”.

Kabul attack
Afghan security personnel arrive near the site of an attack near the Marshal Fahim Military Academy base in Kabul on January 29, 2018. Gunmen launched a pre-dawn attack on a military academy in Kabul on January 29, security officials and sources told AFP, in an ongoing assault that marks the latest violence to strike the Afghan capital.WAKIL KOHSAR/AFP/GETTY IMAGE

Worthy and Unworthy Victims

When terrorist attacks target foreign citizens or occur close to Kabul’s “diplomatic zone,” they always receive more global attention and easily make catchy headlines in major international news outlets.

On January 1, 2018, the killing of one U.S. soldier (a “worthy victim”), in a military operation in Achin district of eastern Nangarhar province, made headlines in almost all major Western news outlets. However, there was something of equal importance to humanity missing. None of the news stories mentioned that during the same U.S. operation, on the same day and in the same province, at least one civilian (an “unworthy victim”) was also killed and three women and two children (“unworthy victims”) were among 14 civilians wounded by American forces.

The worst example of the unworthiness of Afghan victims was on January 3, two days after the incident, when national news channel Tolo News published its story about the incident on its website mentioning the death of one U.S. soldier, but failing to report anything about the killed and wounded Afghans.

Sympathetic to U.S. officialdom, both local and international news media were quoting an official press statement by the U.S. military. They failed to provide alternative sources of information about the operation and assert their independence and professionalism.

On January 3, residents of Haska Mena, where the U.S. military operation was conducted, called upon the government to investigate civilian casualties, forcing the NATO mission in Afghanistan to issue a statement stating that they are “aware of reports regarding civilian casualties” as a result of the military operation in Nangarhar province on January 1. However, mainstream media ignored this statement completely.

Such self-censorship and dwarfing civilian casualties arise from within corporate news media which suppress the voices of war victims because they do not conform to mainstream political and economic perspectives. In other words, they undermine U.S. foreign policy goals in Afghanistan.

All this makes it hard to be optimistic about truly democratic and plural media in the so-called free and progressive West.

As the citizens of humanity, all those who stand for democratizing the media sector must look for democratic alternative which offer more public opinion.

We should build a media civic sector by allowing the public to participate in the media through different means, such as the Internet, which provides new ways of democratic communication locally and internationally.

Profit-driven elite news media outlets are a poison pill for the basic tenants of democracy. The richer they become, the poorer we are as a society and as a democracy. We must stop relying on them as a source for reliable, factual news and information.

Source: Newsweek

US Should Work With Russia and China to Bring Peace to Afghanistan

US Should Work With Russia and China to Bring Peace to Afghanistan

© Sputnik / Alexandr Graschenkov

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani stated that the army could not operate for even six months without US support. The Afghan leader also noted that there were over twenty terrorist organizations operating in his country. Radio Sputnik discussed Ghani’s statement with Aimal Faizi, journalist and columnist, who served as the spokesperson of Hamid Karzai.

Aimal Faizi: President Ashraf Ghani has been trying to organize the US war in Afghanistan. He has been promoting the US war in Afghanistan. This is the war which is not ours. His recent statement, stating that the Afghan army will not be able to operate even for six months without the US support for me is an Afghan mode of the US narrative of fear and hope which is telling to the Afghan people that look, there are more than twenty terrorist groups and, as you mentioned that earlier in your report there is more terrorism in Afghanistan. However, there is hope and the hope is that the US is there and that the US is supporting the Afghan government and the Afghan armed forces. So, basically, this statement is more of a president which is trying to legitimize the US war in Afghanistan and the US equation in Afghanistan.

Sputnik: The US presence has been in Afghanistan for so many years now. Has there really been a change in the effect that presence has had over the years? What do you think is actually going on?

Aimal Faizi:  Well, what’s going on in Afghanistan is actually showing the contradiction in the US war against terror. We have seen the intensification of the war in Afghanistan since the establishment of the new Afghan government in 2014 and there is a rising number of civilian casualties. There is more war in Afghanistan and the war is brought into the Afghan homes and villages. There is no less terrorism than before. There is widespread insecurity in the country, not only in the countryside but even in big cities and the capital, Kabul, so the US war in Afghanistan has not brought any security to the country. It’s the opposite. It has increased the insecurity in Afghanistan and there is widespread insecurity in Afghanistan. The victims of this war are only the Afghan people.

Sputnik: And so what is necessary? Is it necessary that the US withdraw or change their strategy? If they should change their strategy, what should they be focusing on?

Aimal Faizi: What the Afghan people want is that the United States’ international community should put their hands together and work together. The United States should work in cooperation with written powers like Russia, like China, like Iran and India in order to bring peace and stability to Afghanistan. Without rational cooperation there will be no military solution to the problem in Afghanistan.

Sputnik: If we are not talking about the military solution, what kinds of solutions are needed? Do we need financial solutions? Do we need to increase the level of education and increase infrastructure and the level of living for the people in order to give them an option to terrorism?

Aimal Faizi: Well, there should be clear definition for the enemy and for the war in Afghanistan first of all. If we believe that the war in Afghanistan is the war imposed upon the Afghan people, it’s a war which has its supporting system operating out of Afghanistan. Then there should be unity of action between the United States and the regional powers. The United States should work with regional countries to press Pakistan, to stop using terrorism as a tool of foreign policy. Secondly, there is a very big mistrust in the region, the military presence has not resulted a decrease of terrorism and violence in Afghanistan. Therefore, this mistrust has to be ended.

Sputnik: You talk about defining the enemy, now in the eyes of the Afghani people who have suffered so much from this war already, who precisely is the enemy?

Aimal Faizi: In Afghanistan we strongly believe that this is the war which is the war for foreign interest in our country. Our country is being used by foreign powers.

Sputnik: Can you name names?

Aimal Faizi: We can see that the strong player present in Afghanistan is the United States. It’s the war which is being supported by Pakistan, by terrorist groups which are openly operating in Pakistan and the terrorists are being sent by there. In the last sixteen years the US has been unable to press Pakistan in ending its policy of supporting terrorism in Afghanistan.

Sputnik: Recently President Trump has said he is going to be stopping funding to Pakistan; do you think it will have any effect on Pakistan’s position on Afghanistan?

Aimal Faizi: Absolutely not. I don’t believe that the Pakistani government will stop it, its support for terrorist groups not only in Afghanistan but the region. The reason is that the United States needs Pakistan because of its war in Afghanistan and for its strategic objectives in the region. Pakistan has been a partner for so many years and this partnership is still there. What President Trump has said recently is more of a bluff not really a policy. I don’t see any strategic change in Washington vis-à-vis Pakistan and its support for terrorism in Afghanistan and in the region.

Source: Sputnik

Despite Trump, Kabul must know Pakistan still holds the key

us-pakistan-flag11Is Donald Trump really cutting Pakistan off from the sources of aid that have kept it afloat these past several years?

In a September 2012 telephone conversation with the erstwhile US president Barack Obama, then Afghan President Hamid Karzai asked him to “cut into the activity of war and make up with Pakistan on the peace process with the Taliban” in Afghanistan or “take the war against terrorism where the sanctuaries are”.

President Karzai said the war had been “brought to Afghan doors” and “imposed” upon Afghans from “outside”, but “nothing” had been done to prevent terror attacks emanating from Pakistan. He emphasized that the US should either “work for peace” or go on “a clear war against terrorism”.

President Obama replied that his “assessment is the path to peace” and not to go to war against Pakistan. In Obamas own words, Pakistan had been “a strong anti-terror partner since 9/11”.

Fast forward five years to the current US administration under President Donald Trump? Is he really cutting Pakistan off from the sources of aid that have kept it afloat these past several years?

In order to get Pakistan to cooperate, Washington must genuinely choose “the path to peace” in Afghanistan and engage with China, India, Russia and Iran. Unilateral US pressure on Pakistan alongside an intensified military campaign in Afghanistan will severely fail and push Pakistan further to China’s power orbits.

America’s strong anti-terror partner of “lies & deceit”

After 16 years of war and occupation, apparently the current US administration has arrived at the conclusion that enables them to publicly state that the terrorists they have been haunting in Afghanistan for over a decade have been given “safe haven” by Pakistan. But were the American “leaders” really caught up in a web of “lies and deceit” by the Pakistani establishment until now? All these long years, thousands of Afghans died and Afghanistan fell into rack and ruin in a war which was not theirs. The US “war on terror” became a war against the Afghan people, their homes and villages.

The Pakistan paradox in US policy

Behind closed doors, in their meetings with the Afghan President, senior US officials often acknowledged Pakistan’s continued interference through its support of the Taliban and other violent armed groups spreading terror in Afghanistan. The result of such meetings only made Karzai more suspicious of the US agenda in his country and the wider region. He began to see US military operations in the country, mainly in southern Afghanistan, not as a war against terror but “against a group of people” – his – the Afghans.

Karzai told President Obama that Afghans perceived their government as a “puppet” and were justified in their frustration and anger against him as well as foreign forces.

Obama replied saying that he knew Karzai and the Afghan people had “legitimate concerns” and that he did not “dispute” Pakistan’s role in Afghanistan’s insecurity and destabilization. “They want to hurt us by hurting you”, said Obama, although he also saw a “civil war element” in the conflict.

“Our capacity to launch attacks on sanctuaries in Pakistan will open a new front for all of us”, warned President Obama, adding that this “new front” would “last for years”. He also pointed out that this was not “realistic strategy” as it would cause “civilian casualties” as well as the “violation” of Pakistan’s “sovereignty”. It seemed that to him Afghanistan’s sovereignty and the loss of Afghans lives did not really matter.

Obama’s conclusion was that Afghanistan has a “rocky road” ahead and there “would be no peace any time soon”. He urged the Afghan president to finalize and sign the Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA) with Washington, otherwise foreign forces would withdraw from Afghanistan and Kabul would be left on its own to deal with “Pakistan” and its support for the “Taliban”.

Karzai took Obama’s words as a threat. It was a harsh and ugly reality for him to accept. He told a Cabinet meeting later that, the US is “telling the thief to steal and the homeowner to be alert!” Washington cannot be with “the victims [Afghanistan] as well as with the supporters [Pakistan] of terrorism”, Karzai said.

Obama’s message was clear: Pakistan was serving US foreign policy interests in Afghanistan and the region.

Pakistan has long served US interests

It will not be correct to state that Pakistan has given “nothing” to the US. During the Cold War too Pakistan was used by Washington as “the launching pad” for America’s covert operations in different parts of the world. Senior officials in the Pakistani and American establishments have long been bedfellows. They serve Washington’s foreign policy interests.

Washington desperately needs to keep the Pakistani Ground Lines of Communication (GLOCs) into Afghanistan open for its “war on terror”. Therefore, in all probability, Trump’s administration will not cut the money flowing to Pakistan for US and NATO vital supply routes into Afghanistan. It is not security assistance nor military aid and freezing it would make Pakistan close the GLOCs again. “In 2011 when Pakistan closed the GLOCS, we went through Russia and Central Asia”, notes Barnett Rubin, a leading American expert on Afghanistan and South Asia. However, he adds, “now we have put sanctions on the same railroads we were using then, and there is no way Putin will agree to help us.”

Is Trump really cutting Pakistan off?

Now, imagine that there is a real change in Washington’s strategic thinking vis-à-vis Pakistan. How far, then, can the Trump administration go in pressuring Pakistan to cooperate? Will its efforts be limited to suspending aid and imposing sanctions aimed at some state and non-state Pakistani actors involved in terror plots against Afghanistan? Or will the US resolve to undertake military options, in case Pakistan fails to deliver?

I believe the success of every aforementioned option and any other effort by the US government to fix Pakistan depends on the cooperation of regional powers with Washington. However, this is a luxury Washington does not enjoy anymore in Afghanistan. The general environment in the region is not in favor of the United States to take real action against Pakistan. Besides New Delhi, all three capitals — Moscow, Beijing and Tehran — have increasingly hostile relations with Washington and see American motives in the “war on terror” with suspicion. They view the US military presence in Afghanistan as intended to “comprehensively” counter their influence and policies in the region. The ongoing unrest in Iran is rapidly deteriorating Tehran’s relations with Washington. This can, undoubtedly, strengthen US dependence on Pakistan.

The ongoing US-Pakistan war of words is a big test for Washington, besides of course the conduct of the “war on terror”. However, it will not result in a divorce between the two. Like it or not, Afghanistan should accept that there is no solution without Pakistan.

Source: The Indian Express

Trump fires up US war machine condemning Afghanistan to endless war


President Trump’s long-awaited strategy for Afghanistan and South Asia has finally been announced. But it has grave implications for Afghanistan. While there is some clarity on the US stance vis-a-vis Pakistan and its safe havens for the “agents of chaos”, the new US strategy will widen the war and cause more death and destruction in Afghanistan.

The new policy does not reflect any lessons learned from the serious errors pertaining to the protection of human lives. Therefore, such a policy must be stopped from further damaging and condemning Afghanistan to an endless war.

Intensifying war, increasing terrorism

The new US strategy for Afghanistan will intensify military operations, placing the impact of the Afghan war squarely upon the people. By lifting “restrictions” and expanding the “authority” of American armed forces in fighting the war, masses of Afghans will fall victim to it.

Under the guise of targeting “terrorists”, people will not be secure in their own homes and villages as that is where the war will eventually be fought. The rhetoric that claims terrorists will have “nowhere to hide” and that “no place is beyond the reach of American might and American arms” gives US forces a free hand in conducting military operations anywhere they deem necessary.

“Retribution will be fast and powerful,” said President Trump. I see this as the US stepping up the use of airpower against targets on Afghan soil. The increase in the number of drone strikes and the testing of the MOAB in Nangarhar province early this year are the clear signs of a new strategy in favour of intensified and large-scale bombings. It will undoubtedly inflict massive damage to civilians and consequently, incite more hatred and violence. The end result will be to trap foreign forces alongside their Afghan counterparts in a long unwinnable war within Afghanistan  for many years to come.

According to President Trump, the new US strategy will be guided by “conditions on the ground” in Afghanistan. This gives Washington, particularly the Pentagon, flexibility to change the nature and scope of its military presence and activities in the country, leaving American generals solely in charge of an open-ended war. It is a clear militarization of the US-Afghan policy.

The US is the impediment to peace

On a political settlement with the Afghan Taliban, Washington seems to have no desire in supporting peace in Afghanistan.

“Someday, after an effective military effort, perhaps it will be possible to have a political settlement that includes elements of the Taliban and Afghanistan, but nobody knows if or when that will ever happen,” said President Trump.

The conclusion we can draw is that the Taliban are – like in the past – not an enemy for the US. When it comes to fighting them in Afghanistan, it will only be limited to “preventing the Taliban from taking over Afghanistan.” The word “preventing” is lightweight in comparison to “obliterating ISIS” or “crushing Al Qaeda” as seen in recent remarks by the US president. The US administration’s continued unwillingness to embrace peace is making it the prime impediment to peace efforts in Afghanistan.

Changing the status quo on Pakistan

On Pakistan and India, President Trump has changed the old status quo. In an unprecedented tone, the US president stated that “Pakistan often gives safe haven to agents of chaos, violence and terror” and that the US “can no longer be silent” about it.

The message to Islamabad was clear: the US “must stop the resurgence of safe havens that enable terrorists to threaten America.”

Official US reports have previously revealed that the Pakistanis have been “worried the US will drop in and take their nukes.”

In his remarks, President Trump said yesterday, “we must prevent nuclear weapons and materials from coming into the hands of terrorists and being used against us anywhere in the world.” Trump’s recent statement adds to the already existing fears in Pakistan about a possible US plot against its nukes.

Praising India for its “important contribution” in the reconstruction of Afghanistan and asking India to “help” the US in Afghanistan is another shock for Pakistan in more ways than one.

There is no doubt that India has been steadfast in its support for the state of Afghanistan. However, previous US administrations wearily supported New Delhi’s role in Afghanistan. Former president Obama had personally asked the former Afghan president Hamid Karzai to address Islamabad’s “concerns” over Indian influence in Afghanistan.

For Obama, Pakistan was a “strategic ally” and the two countries were sharing “a common enemy.” Now, with a radical shift in Washington’s strategy, only time will tell us how the current US president will turn its words into actions.

Major American objectives in the region are facilitated through the Pakistani military establishment – and therefore  Washington will have to keep Pakistan within its sphere of influence.

Referring to security threats in South Asia, President Trump did not explain the very harsh reality behind the rise of terrorism in Afghanistan. Why after a 16-year “War on Terror” by the US and its NATO allies, is the “highest concentration” of foreign terrorists organisations still in Afghanistan and the region? The answer is simple: it is a direct result of US military actions.

In order to maintain peace, it is imperative for the US to commit itself to building cooperative diplomatic and political solutions. Except India, the new US policy in South Asia will have no supporters in the region. Washington should embrace regional cooperation. Or else, the new US policy for Afghanistan is the continuation of the invasion, occupation and empire.

A strategy solely focused on “killing terrorists” defined by the US military, without including plans for the protection of human lives, peace building and nation building, is going to fail terribly and deplorably.

Source: TRTworld.com

How Ghani’s appeasement towards Pakistan has worsened the situation inside Afghanistan

The May 31 Kabul truck bomb attack, the worst since 2001, shows that Pakistan won’t change its support for terrorism inside Afghanistan unless there is a strategic shift in US policy towards Pakistan.

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani prays during a peace and security cooperation conference in Kabul

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani prays during a peace and security cooperation conference in Kabul, Afghanistan June 6, 2017. REUTERS/Omar Sobhani

By Aimal Faizi 

Afghan president Ashraf Ghani referred to Pakistan nine times in his 36-minute speech at the Kabul Process conference on June 6, a one-day meeting between the Afghan government and representatives of 27 countries and international organizations charged with restarting apeace process in this violence-torn country. While Ghani’s central demand was to urge the world community to act on its “promise” to fight terrorism and help Afghans in responding to the threat of terror, he stressed on Islamabad’s disinclination to genuinely commit itself to peace in Afghanistan. He desperately urged Pakistan, once again, “to propose its agenda and a mechanism” for joint political efforts which can “lead to peace” in Afghanistan. But wasn’t this the right time and occasion for Ghani to share his own spy agency’s intelligence, that the Haqqani terror network, with “the direct guidance and assistance from Pakistan”, had carried out the recent massive bomb attack in Kabul, which killed over 150 Afghans and injured hundreds more?

Question is, does the Afghan government have accurate, actionable and relevant intelligence in this regard? In fact, does Washington have the specific intelligence or not to conclude whether Pakistan was involved in the May 31st deadly terrorist attack in Kabul? But Ghani seemed to let Pakistan off the hook. Instead of stating that “we cannot figure out what is it that Pakistan wants” or asking what it takes “to convince Pakistan that a stable Afghanistan helps them and helps our region”, the President must realize that all Afghans want is to urge Washington and the international community to fix or capture the Haqqani Network and the Taliban leaderships in Pakistan.

Begging for peace and cooperation from Islamabad means that the Afghan president, a steadfast US ally, is desperate and has failed to push for a shift in Washington’s strategic thinking vis-à-vis Pakistan.

Offering an olive branch to Pakistan

On November 14, 2014, shortly after assuming the presidency, in an effort to appease Islamabad, Ghani visited the General Headquarters of the Pakistan Army in Rawalpindi. His message to the Generals was, Afghanistan wants to bolster security and defence ties with Pakistan”. Over the next few weeks, a series of closed-door meetings were held between Afghanistan’s National Security Advisor, Mr Hanif Atmar, and Pakistan’s military and spy agency chiefs in Kabul as well as outside the country — in UK, UAE, China and Saudi Arabia. President Ghani met the Pakistan military and spy chiefs in Kabul and Saudi Arabia, while Atmar met them in Kabul, UK, UAE and China. When the President and his NSA met them in Kabul on November 10, 2014, the Afghan leaders even asked their own intelligence agency’s head, Mr Rahmatullah Nabil, to wait outside as the “the ISI chief did not want him to be in the meeting”. President Ghani established a hotline with the erstwhile Pakistan army chief, General Raheel Sharif and his NSA. Atmar set up another hotline with Lt. Gen. Rizwan Akhtar Baig, the then director-general of the ISI. In this new chapter of apparently warm relations, Afghan cadets were sent for military training to Pakistan. The Afghan president allowed Pakistani intelligence officers to interrogate prisoners in Afghan prisons. Under the name of “joint military operations”, Pakistani forces were given Kabul’s consent to conduct selective operations in different parts of Afghanistan. Ghani went even further. He even described Pakistani state-supported terrorism in Afghanistan as a “proxy war” between India and Pakistan. Then in May 2015, Ghani authorized the inking of a secret intelligence cooperation agreement between Afghanistan’s National Directorate of Security (NDS) and Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI). All President Ghani wanted and hoped for in return was the genuine start of peace talks with the Taliban and a change in the Pakistan military’s mindset, so that Afghanistan could bring an end to the war and the violence that has ripped this country apart for nearly four decades. Speaking at the Kabul Process conference on June 6, President Ghani gave voice to his efforts. “From the day I took office, I went far out on a limb to offer an olive branch to Pakistan. But it has not been taken.” Indeed, with a green light from the Americans and the British, Ghani’s policy of appeasement and offer of “an olive branch to Pakistan” not only resulted in the deterioration of the security situation in the country and the region, but also distanced many Afghans from the National Unity Government and widened the war in the country.

Fighting Pakistan in Afghanistan

But as Kabul’s efforts to cultivate a genuine friendship and true cooperation with Islamabad failed, Ashraf Ghani waged an intensifying military campaign in Afghanistan, against an enemy whose sanctuary, training ground, supportive system and network were in Pakistan. In his public statements, he stated that Pakistan is in a state of undeclared war” with Afghanistan. But, in line with US military strategy in Afghanistan, Ghani ordered Afghan security and defense forces to apply an unprecedented level of force against the Taliban. Within a year, tens of thousands of military operations were conducted by Afghan security forces inside the country. US forces were also given a free hand in conducting their own military campaign, to fight a threat which nevertheless had its origin outside Afghanistan. Drone strikes, house searches and the illegal detention of Afghans by US forces soon became the order of the day — Ghani signed a decree to allow detention without trials of terror suspects. It is worthwhile to point out here that none of these measures by US forces had earlier been authorized by former Afghan president Hamid Karzai. Yet, waging more war within Afghanistan proved counterproductive to the rapidly deteriorating security situation in the country. Washington and Kabul’s nearsighted war policy gave birth to new terrorist brands such Daesh or ISIS in Afghanistan. Soon the province of Kunduz and several other important districts repeatedly fell to the Taliban and foreign-backed terrorists. But simultaneously, the number of foreign fighters increased from 200 to 11,000 fighters in these past two years – these figures have been given by President Ghani himself. Meanwhile, civilian casualties and the death rate of Afghan security forces rose to an all time high.

Trying Pakistan again

Fast-forward two and half years. Ashraf Ghani now says his “top priority must go to finding an effective way to build a different relationship with Pakistan.” He told the participants of the Kabul Process conference: “We want to be able to trust Pakistan.” The Afghans feel as if they have been struck by thunder. As if the experience of the last two and a half years hasn’t been enough. But if the President is still looking for answers to “what is it that Pakistan wants” from Afghanistan, he is simply playing with people’s emotions. Mr President, perhaps I can tell you what Pakistan wants! Pakistan wants to control Afghanistan’s foreign policy, especially with regard to India. It wants the recognition of the Durand line by the Afghans and an Islamabad-centric government in Kabul. But here is something else, Mr President ! All of this is a dream which will never come true! We should clearly call upon the region and the world to tackle the political dimensions of terrorism and end support to states who sponsor terrorism. Today, the Frankenstein’s monster – the terrorist and extremist outfits in Afghanistan — are as much a creation of the US as it is of the Pakistan. The Pakistani military establishment continues to serve the US in securing its strategic interests in south and central Asia. In pursuit of their strategic and geopolitical agendas, foreign states continue to use terrorist groups in Afghanistan and the region.

But the truth is that there will be no change in Pakistan’s double-sided policy towards Afghanistan, unless there is a strategic shift in Washington’s policy in dealing with Islamabad and in its dealing with Pakistan-sponsored terrorism at the same time.

Soure: Indianexpress.com

Afghanistan must stand firm and resist US war-making

Despite the US signing a bilateral security and defense pact with Afghanistan in 2014, civilian casualties are on the rise, the death rate of Afghan security forces is at an all time high, and terrorism has sharply increased.


Security forces inspect the site of a suicide attack in Kabul, Afghanistan, Wednesday, May 3, 2017. Photo by AP


President Trump is expected to make a decision on a proposal to strengthen US military presence in Afghanistan and send between 3,000 to 5,000 additional American troops to the country. Under the new plan, US forces will also step up air strikes against the Taliban.

Washington is again beating the war drum, but failing to tackle terrorism. Whatever the real motive behind the surge may be, it is not to bring the Taliban to the negotiating table. Afghanistan and its neighbours, near and far, must work towards building cooperative diplomatic and political solutions to maintain security and peace in the region.

Terrorism is increasing in Afghanistan 

Just weeks ago, a force of 300 US Marines returned to Afghanistan’s Helmand province, a hotbed of poppy cultivation and conflict. US Secretary of Defense, James Mattis warned recently that “2017 is going to be another tough year” for Afghanistan, with regards to terrorism.

Like many Afghans, I am tired of the bleak annual security forecasts from  US military officials. They only serve to add to the existing misgivings and suspicions about Washington’s war, and its role in Afghanistan.

In 2014, Washington’s strongest argument for signing a bilateral security and defence pact with Kabul was that if it was not signed, and if the US was unable to commit personnel and resources beyond 2014, Kabul would not be able to prevent the return of al Qaeda to some parts of Afghanistan – and that the Taliban’s control over the country would grow.

Yet, almost two and half years after the signing of the pact, the commander of US forces in Afghanistan, Gen. John W. Nicholson expressed his concerns about the presence of terrorists groups, including al Qaeda, the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant – Khorasan Province (ISIL-K), in Afghanistan.

According to Gen. Nicholson, the highest concentration of terrorist groups anywhere in the world is in the “Afghanistan – Pakistan region”. Nicholson believes that from the 98 US-designated terrorist organisations globally, 20 are located in this region. In addition to al Qaeda and Daesh, enabled by foreign countries, the Taliban now have “a significant footprint” and control more territory in Afghanistan than at any time since the US-led invasion in 2001.

The human cost of the ongoing war is getting more painful. A recent UNAMA report shows “a substantial increase” in civilian casualties from aerial operations in the first quarter of 2017 compared to this time in last year. According to UNAMA, 2,181 civilian casualties have been documented since the beginning of the year in Afghanistan.

On the other hand, the death rate among Afghan security forces is also at an all-time high over the last two years. More than 160 Afghan soldiers were killed in a single terrorist attack in the north of the country last month. According to a US government report, the Afghan security and defence forces suffered “around 15,000 casualties in the first 8 months of 2016”.

Afghans question Washington’s failure to implement the provisions of its security and defence cooperation agreement with Afghanistan on fighting terrorism. The agreement intends to “strengthen security and stability in Afghanistan, contribute to regional and international peace and stability, combat terrorism, achieve a region which is no longer a safe haven for al Qaeda and its affiliates”. A failure on each count.

So what are the benefits of having a security and defence pact with the US if it does not translate into peace and stability in Afghanistan?

A sixteen-year war of contradictions

American military leadership in Afghanistan affirms that the “Taliban and Haqqani network are the greatest threats to security in Afghanistan” and their leaderships “remain insulated from pressure and enjoy freedom of action within Pakistani safe havens”.

Speaking before the Senate Armed Services Committee, General Nicholson accepted that “insurgents cannot be defeated while they enjoy external sanctuary and support”. He also emphasised that the “primary factor that will enable our success [in Afghanistan] is the elimination of external sanctuary and support to the insurgents.”

However, American military officials do not answer a fundamental question: how can sending more troops and bombing Afghanistan address external sanctuaries and support?

The US watched ISIL grow 

After testing the biggest non-nuclear bomb (MOAB) in Afghanistan last month, the commander of US and NATO forces in the country declared that he would “destroy ISIL-K in 2017”. In January 2016, I wrote that there was a questionable reluctance by the US vis-a-vis the presence and activities of ISIL-K in Afghanistan.

In 2015, the Pentagon acknowledged that ISIL was seeking “the establishment of a safe haven” in Afghanistan. In February, the same year, US General John F Campbell stated that “we are keeping our eye on the potential emergence of the Islamic State” in Afghanistan. ISIL was a “priority intelligence requirements” for the US, though its threat was seen as “nascent”, according to the Pentagon.

In June 2015, the Pentagon asserted that it “closely watches ISIL” in Afghanistan and described ISIL’s activities as “limited recruiting efforts” and in its “exploratory phase”. ISIL-K’s affiliates were first named “rebranded” Taliban. A month later, in July 2015, the General John F Campbell announced: “We said the ISIL threat was nascent, but now I would say it is probably operationally emergent”.

Afghans saw foreign terrorists coming into Afghanistan, making their hideouts, recruiting fighters, and forcing people to leave their homes. From summer 2015 onward, the so called ISIL-K massacred hundreds of innocent Afghans.

In 2016, US forces reportedly conducted anti-Daesh operations, mainly air strikes. Supported by the Americans, the Afghan forces also dropped “over 430 bombs” and carried out operations to counter ISIL-K as late as mid-July the same year.

How did a foreign terrorist group, ISIL-K make headway in the country, in the presence of thousands of US troops? Afghans blame the US and President Ghani.

In Afghanistan, the US “war on terror” is generating more terrorism. The sharp rise in terrorism and the emergence of new “violent extremists groups”, which the American military officials call “VEOs”, make the ongoing war more questionable than ever before.

What next?

Before it’s too late, a peaceful solution to the foreign imposed war in Afghanistan must become a key policy goal for all major players in the region. The Shanghai Cooperation Organization should be proactive and play a crucial role in preventing the rapidly growing threat of terrorism in the region. Regional powers must give a greater emphasis to regional cooperation and result-oriented peace-making initiatives. Neglecting the situation in Afghanistan will have far reaching consequences for the region.

Source: trtworld.com