by Zia Sarhadi (News & Analysis, Crescent International Vol. 44, No. 2, Jumada' al-Akhirah, 1436)
There may be a faint light at the end of Afghanistan’s long dark tunnel. Two neighbours—China and Pakistan—have indicated they would like to help bring about peace in the war-torn country.
Afghan President Ashraf Ghani’s first official visit to Washington, DC coincided with renewed efforts to engage the Taliban leadership in negotiations and bring them onboard in a future political setup. His visit last month came after Ghani’s well publicized sojourns to such other capitals as Riyadh, Beijing and Islamabad. There is clearly a reset in Afghan relations with its eastern neighbour Pakistan even if some power wielders and brokers in Afghanistan are unhappy about it. Ghani’s deputy, Abdullah Abdullah, the obstreperous “chief executive” — this strange animal was the handiwork of US Secretary of State John Kerry to smooth the Tajik warlord’s ruffled feathers for not becoming president — and former president Hamid Karzai are livid.
While Abdullah has been blowing hot and cold in Kabul where the Panj-shiris occupy most of the important posts despite being a minority with an even smaller political base, Karzai chose to blow his top in an interview with the British daily, the Guardian. He looked ludicrous hitting a tantrum in a foreign newspaper and sounded like a wife whose husband had just brought a second bride home. Karzai can be forgiven: after all, he has lost power and is trying to pretend he is still relevant. He knows but does not want to admit that it was the Americans, not his charisma or appeal, that brought him to power in the first place as revealed by Robert Grenier, a former CIA official, in his book, 88 days to Kandahar.
Grenier has made other revelations. A number of Taliban leaders were working with the Americans prior to the October 2001 invasion of Afghanistan. These included Mullah Akhtar Osmani, a commander, and Mullah Jalil, a former Taliban deputy foreign minister. Such contacts with Taliban leaders and other senior commanders continued even after the US invasion but they floundered on American hubris providing enough time for the vanquished Taliban to regroup and reorganize.
While America has officially “ended” its combat mission, most observers see this as merely a perception reset to deflect growing opposition to US military involvement in Afghanistan. Less than half of respondents in a BBC News poll last October found America was safer as a result of the Afghan invasion. The gung-ho Republicans that launched the crusades — in Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia, Yemen — and the destabilization of Pakistan as well as the US-Saudi-Zionist-instigated mayhem in Syria, still think the Afghan imbroglio was worth it. Among Republicans, there was 54% support for the war while only 43% of Democrats supported it.
One of Ghani’s principal requests was for the slowing of US drawdown of troops. The Republicans were more receptive to the idea but President Barack Obama was no less enthusiastic. Last February, the new American Defence Secretary Ashton Carter during a visit to Kabul had already indicated that the US would keep a larger force in the country than previously announced. Now the talk revolves around maintaining current troop levels of around 10,000 beyond 2016.
The reason advanced for the continued US military presence is that Afghan security forces are not ready to take on the Taliban. Only a few months earlier, American military and political leaders were making confident statements about the combat readiness of Afghan forces, particularly the Afghan National Army. So what happened in a few months?
With American and other foreign forces drawing down, Afghan security forces started to take on a larger role in fighting. They suffered massive casualties. Some reports suggest figures as high as 17,000 in one year. True, not all losses were the result of fighting; desertions have played an equally significant part. The problem is that Afghanistan’s centuries-old tribal traditions have gotten in the way. Most of the military as well as political leadership comes from the Tajik minority while the rank-and-file is made up of the majority Pashtuns. There is no love lost between the two and the Tajiks have a particularly condescending attitude toward the Pashtuns, treating them with disdain. Under such circumstances, the Pashtun rank-and-file get the training but then disappear with their weapons. The primary reason for their joining the force is to earn a living because they are so poor.
Foreign military involvement in Afghanistan has done little to improve the lot of ordinary Afghans despite spending an estimated one trillion dollars in the country since 2001. Much of this money went into the pockets of thieving warlords, Karzai’s cronies and the hundreds of foreign NGOs. Karzai’s outburst against Ghani was also meant to deflect attention from the scandal that has engulfed the now failed Kabul Bank in which billions were pilfered, much of the money ending up in Dubai to buy choice properties. Ghani has vowed to open the investigation into this scandal, one of many. It has touched Karzai’s raw nerve, hence his shrill reaction.
Ghani wants to talk to the Taliban. During his Washington visit, he surprised his hosts by announcing he wanted to find a way to say “sorry” to the Taliban for the terrible wrong inflicted on them. He boldly declared on March 25 that many of them were innocent but brutally tortured by the Americans. He drew attention to the Senate report chaired by Diane Feinstein in which it admitted that the CIA had brutally tortured many detainees. He also urged his American hosts to continue to provide funding for the 360,000-strong Afghan army and police force that would cost $4 billion annually. Ghani said he can only raise $750,000 a year, a paltry sum compared to what is required.
Both Pakistan and China — two crucial neighbours — have indicated they would help with Afghan reconciliation. Pakistan army chief, General Raheel Sharif has made several well publicized trips to Kabul and held detailed meetings with Ghani. He has vowed to use his good offices to convince the Afghan Taliban to agree to the talks. China, too, has been forthcoming. Last October, Beijing hosted Ghani as well as a Taliban delegation. Chinese officials have announced on several occasions that they are willing to help Afghan talks. On a visit to Islamabad on February 12, 2015, for instance, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi announced Beijing was ready to support the Afghan government in its efforts for reconciliation with the Taliban. He said that Afghanistan’s long-term stability depended on a “broad-based and inclusive national reconciliation.”
“We will support the Afghan government in realizing reconciliation with various political factions including the Taliban,” Wang told a press briefing in Islamabad. He emphasized that “the international community needs to give support and encouragement. China is ready to play a constructive role and will provide necessary facilitation any time if it is required by various parties in Afghanistan,” he announced.
The real problem in Afghanistan resides not with the Taliban, although they are the ones projected as obstructing peace and reconciliation; the real hurdle is America’s reluctance to come clean. Does Uncle Sam want to leave Afghanistan or not? There is a huge gap between his statements and actions. There is naturally a huge trust deficit between the Taliban and the Americans. The Taliban have made clear they will not negotiate with any government as long as foreign troops remain on Afghan soil. They cannot go back on this principled stand; they would lose all standing with their support base, the majority Pashtuns, if they were to accept anything less at this late stage.
The Taliban have no need to talk to anybody; they know they are winning. The Americans have lost the war despite bringing in an army of tens of thousands and pouring a trillion dollars into the country. Apart from leaving the country in ruins, there is nothing else to show for it. The Taliban could be persuaded to talk if the Americans were to announce a firm timeline for full withdrawal from Afghanistan. This has not been forthcoming so far.
Continued foreign military presence in Afghanistan is also acting as a magnet for drawing the Da‘ish terrorists into the country. In an ironic twist, the American military presence, Abdullah, Karzai, and two former intelligence chiefs Amrullah Saleh and Dadfar Spanta, are acting as recruiting sergeants for the takfiri terrorists. While they (Da‘ish) had little or no support in the country before — and the Taliban certainly do not want them in Afghanistan having tasted the bitter fruit of al-Qaeda presence — many rank-and-file Taliban are drawn to the terrorist outfit. This has nothing to do with ideology and everything to do with money. The takfiri terrorists are flushed with cash, courtesy the “Saudi” regime and the takfiris’ thieving ways of selling precious historical artifacts from Iraqi and Syrian museums.
The organ-chewing, head-chopping barbarians’ theft is facilitated by countries like Turkey, Jordan, Zionist Israel and many European middlemen salivating at the prospect of putting their grubby hands on these priceless objects. This brings in tens of millions of dollars into the takfiris’ coffers each month. They can easily buy an Afghan Talib for $500/month. This is advantageous for both sides: the takfiris get battle-hardened fighters — and who can be better than the Afghans? — while the Taliban fighters get money to feed their starving families.
Despite getting the hiding of their lives in Afghanistan, the Americans, it seems, have not had enough. They refuse to make a clean break with Afghanistan. It is now up to Pakistan and especially its military, to impress upon the Americans to leave gracefully. Pakistan has paid a heavy price for General Pervez Musharraf’s follies; it can ill-afford to suffer any additional setbacks.
This much has become clear: there will be no peace in Pakistan unless there is peace in Afghanistan. And peace in Afghanistan will come about only when all foreign troops leave the country. If not for the sake of the Afghans, Pakistan needs to worry about its own survival and well being to tell the Americans to go home. Enough is enough!