By Adnan Qaiser 6 August 2018
Afghanistan has stayed less a homogenous state and more a montage of feuding ethnicities and warring tribes bound by strings of self-interest and foreign subservience.
Having written nearly two dozen analyses on Afghanistan since 2010, I can give you two good and one not-so-good news today. First of all, the Afghan war of past 17 years is coming to an end. President Barack Obama’s words resonate to recall: “I think Americans have learned it’s harder to end wars than it is to begin them.” Secondly, Daesh (the so-called Islamic State) has no future in the region. Similar to my prediction in spring 2017 (Radical Islamism: Understanding Extremist Narrative and Mindset) about Daesh’s elimination in Iraq, I foresee the terrorist group’s total rout in Afghanistan (though it would first need the U.S.-led coalition forces to leave).
However, one cannot be certain about Afghanistan’s internal security and stability, taking into account Afghan nation’s historic ethnic distrust and tribal discord. ‘Washing blood with blood’ this time some 17-year-old ‘scores’ need to be settled too. In An Account of the Kingdom of Caubul (1815) Mountstuart Elphinstone (the East India Company’s administrator who negotiated with the Afghan ruler Shah Shuja) had noted, “To sum up the character of the Afghans in a few words: their vices are revenge, envy, avarice, rapacity, and obstinacy.”
Washington’s Revision of Stance
Taliban have always been insistent on a direct dialogue with the United States and the departure of foreign forces from Afghanistan to end their insurgency. The two demands are now being met. Amid reports of President Trump getting frustrated with stalemate in the ongoing war, the U.S. has not only showed its willingness to talk with the Taliban and discuss withdrawal of foreign troops, but the U.S. special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan, Alice Wells, has already reportedly met with the Taliban representatives in Doha, Qatar, resulting in some “very positive signals.”
However, it’s too early to rejoice. Washington still seems ambivalent about its departure, carrying the stigma of another failed war from the “graveyard of empires.” Eminent British journalist, Christina Lamb, records in her book Farewell Kabul: From Afghanistan to a More Dangerous World: “Maybe we hadn’t been chased out as in previous wars, but Afghanistan would always be remembered as a failure, in the same breath as Vietnam and Gallipoli.”
The indecision, or reluctance, if your will, is reflected in NATO’s Brussels summit in July 2018, pledging to continue to train, fund and assist Afghan security forces until 2024 – an extension of its earlier commitment to contribute US1$ billion annually until 2020 at the Warsaw summit in 2016.
While Taliban stick to their list of demand: 1) Withdrawal of all foreign forces from Afghanistan; 2) Removal of the names of their leaders from the UN terror-watch list; 3) Release of prisoners; and 4) Allowing Afghan people to decide their political issues per their religion, culture and traditions, the U.S. remains preoccupied with the: 1) Survival of its setup created after 2001’s Bonn agreement, including Afghan government and a democratic constitution; 2) Country going-down in another civil-war (similar to that of 1992); and 2) Rise of global terrorism from Afghan soil once again (after al-Qaeda).
However, with the U.S. secretary of state, Mike Pompeo expressing his readiness to participate and support the peace talks on his surprise visit to Kabul on 9 July 2018, a graceful exit seems already being planned.
The Taliban Factor in Changing Thought
A revision of thought in the U.S. mind has probably occurred after it saw that while a military strategy against the Taliban remained unsuccessful, al-Qaeda’s reincarnation has taken place in the shape of Daesh in Afghanistan.
While a political settlement with the Taliban was always encouraged by all and sundry, it belatedly dawned upon Washington that “Taliban are part of the social fabric” of the country, who “believe in the nationhood of Afghanistan, in contrast to other militant groups like Islamic State,” as noted by Alice Wells, the special U.S. envoy. Taliban’s open letter in February 2018 addressed to the American people further helped in softening the U.S. stance and developing a better understanding about the group.
The Eid-ul-Fitr ceasefire observed by the Taliban rank and file further demonstrated its unity of command, putting to rest any suggestion of (mainstream) Taliban infighting or factionalization. A BBC study in January 2018 had found Taliban openly operating in Afghanistan’s 70 percent districts, fully controlling 4 percent of the country and demonstrating their overt presence in another 66 percent territory (see FDD’s Long War Journal’s interactive map of Taliban control of districts here).
Foreign Forces’ Disappointing Report Card in Afghanistan
Amid quite a few American failures in Afghanistan, the U.S. Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) gave a poor report card to the U.S. led coalition forces in April 2018 for acute deficiencies in the Afghan National Defence and Security Force (ANDSF). SIGAR noted, for instance: “Despite US government expenditures of more than $70 billion in security sector assistance to design, train, advise, assist, and equip the ANDSF since 2002, the Afghan security forces are not yet capable of securing their own nation.” Afghan territory keeps slipping out of the hands of Western-trained Afghanistan’s six field and one commando corps spread countrywide: 201 Corps, garrisoning Kabul; 203 Corps, Gardez; 205 Corps, Kandahar; 207 Corps, Heart; 209 Corps, Mazar-i-Sharif; and 215 Corps at Lashkargah.
Moreover the jittery manner in which the Afghan gunship helicopters killed 36 innocent villagers, including 30 children and wounded 71 others at Dasht-i-Archi in Kunduz province on 2 April 2018, demonstrated the level of training of Afghan soldiers imparted by the foreign forces. There had been a rationale behind denying Afghan security forces the use of gunships or fighter jets as they then begin settling their personal scores, tribal disputes and ethnic feuds themselves.
Lastly, the staggering 1.17 million war crime claims collected by the International Criminal Court (ICC) at The Hague must have also unnerved the stakeholders in Afghanistan. Unlawful and illegal atrocities, including killings of unarmed prisoners by not only the Taliban and Daesh, but also involving Afghan security forces and government-affiliated warlords, the U.S.-led coalition and foreign and domestic spy agencies constitute war crimes in Afghanistan. Under immense international and domestic pressure, investigations have already begun in Australia and New Zealand with the U.S. and U.K., also likely to come under ICC’s scrutiny.
U.S. Rapprochement with Pakistan
Having threatened Pakistan with dire consequences – including cross-border attacks and hot pursuit operations on Pakistani soil – Washington has since stepped back from its bully (discussed in my last two papers entitled: America’s Waterloo: ‘Scapegoating’ Pakistan for Failures in Afghanistan and Afghanistan’s Managed Chaos: US Strategic Regional Designs).
In February 2018, seventeen U.S. intelligence agencies had warned the Congress about a nuclear-armed Pakistan slipping-out of America’s influence into China’s sphere, becoming a threat to Washington’s strategic interests in the South Asian region. Since an antagonized – and uncooperative – Islamabad remains detrimental to Washington’s interests, the U.S. deputy secretary of state, John Sullivan, changed his tone during a visit to Kabul the same month, clearly conveying to the Afghan leadership that America has no intentions of severing ties with Pakistan or launching military strikes inside its territory.
In fact, it had been Pakistan’s army chief, General Qamar Javed Bajwa, who told the Americans point-blank at the 54th Munich Security Conference in February 2018 to stop blaming Pakistan for its problems in Afghanistan and instead search for the reasons for its failures. The Royal United Services Institute (RUSI), a leading British security think-tank, found the general’s confidence in his celebrated “Bajwa Doctrine” – standing up against the U.S. intimidation, demanding Pakistan to “do more.” In his address at the nation’s Defence Day in September 2017, the army chief thundered: “[N]ow … the world must do more.”
Pakistan’s defiance worked. Washington not only guaranteed to respect Pakistan’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, but Alice Wells also acknowledged Pakistan and Taliban having legitimate grievances, saying, “Pakistan has an important role to play in helping stabilise Afghanistan.”
In a related development, President Trump elevated Washington’s ambassador to Islamabad, David Hale, to under secretary of state for political affairs, a position which grants the diplomat more sway to implement president’s new Afghan strategy. Mr. Hale, who has been performing his ambassadorial responsibilities since 2015, seems to have the confidence of Pakistan’s Army and its intelligence establishment as he strongly supports normalization of ties between India and Pakistan. The ambassador played a lead role in bringing-back Washington-Islamabad relations from a breaking point after President Trump slammed Pakistan (while outlining his new Afghan strategy on 21 August 2017) followed by his “lies and deceit” New Year’s tweet, condemning Pakistan for supporting the Taliban.
In a rare coincidence, a U.S. drone targeted and killed Pakistan’s most wanted terrorist, Mullah Fazlullah, the head of Pakistan’s bête noir, the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan, in Afghanistan on 15 Jun 2018. Pakistan had long demanded action against the fugitive terrorist who had masterminded one of the most heart-wrenching terrorist attacks in Pakistan killing 132 school children in December 2014. Demonstrating a modified outlook towards Pakistan – long accused for harbouring the Afghan Taliban – not only President Ashraf Ghani picked up the phone to announce the news to Pakistan’s army chief, but in an equally rare admission U.S. defence secretary, James Mattis, took credit for Fazlullah’s elimination.
With the change in American attitude towards Pakistan, surprisingly, the hostile statements coming from Afghan officials, blaming Pakistan for every terrorist attack on Afghan soil, also stopped. It looks that a flurry of high-level exchanges – with a few shrouded in complete secrecy – along with the Pakistan-Afghanistan Joint Committee (PAJC), a Track-II diplomatic initiative, played a meaningful role in warming-up their bilateral relations. Pledging to make a “fresh start,” the Afghan deputy foreign minister, Hekmat Khalil Karzai, visiting Pakistan admitted, “Pakistan is not part of the problem but solution.”
I believe, it has been Pakistan’s army chief, General Bajwa’s astute military diplomacy – mentioned above as the “Bajwa Doctrine” – and some of his out of box initiatives that brought a much needed thaw in the conflict. The general, beyond doubt, has given some ‘extraordinary assurances’ to the other parties to the conflict with regards to the Taliban, to ensure its ‘niche’ in mainstream Afghan politics.
Having huge stakes in Afghanistan, Pakistan has always pushed for a political settlement with the Taliban granting the militia some political accommodation in the future setup of the country. Pointing out such reconciliation in the past, through which a former rebel leader was not only accommodated in the political setup in Kabul but his name was also expunged from the UN terror list, Pakistan’s former ambassador to the U.S., Aizaz Chaudhry stated: “There’s a precedence for this [political reconciliation] in the rehabilitation of Gulbadin Hekmatyar.”
Criticising the disastrous militaristic approach of Washington and Kabul, Pakistan’s national security adviser, Lt. Gen. (Ret’d) Nasser Janjua also stated at a seminar: “Afghanistan is a story of pains. It is a story of injuries. It is a wound of the world and also of region which should be healed as quickly as possible. Every investment has been made to win Afghan war but, unfortunately, we have not invested in winning peace.”
In my view, the revived bonhomie between Kabul and Islamabad – ending a hostile rhetoric and blame-game from Afghanistan – has resulted from ‘Afghanistan-Pakistan Action Plan for Peace and Solidarity’ (APAPPS) signed between the two countries on 15 May 2018. Ostensibly approved by Washington and Beijing, the APAPPS is a Pakistani initiative carrying seven principles: 1) Pakistan’s commitment toward supporting an Afghan-led and Afghan-owned peace and reconciliation process; 2) Undertaking actions against fugitives and irreconcilable elements posing security threats to either sides; 3) Denying use of their respective territory by any country, network, group or individuals for anti-state activities against the other; 4) Placing a joint supervision, coordination and confirmation mechanism to realise agreement pledges; 5) Avoiding territorial and aerial violations; 6) Refraining from public blame game, utilizing instead APAPPS platform for the resolution of issues; and 7) Operationalize six working groups including the ones on security and intelligence cooperation.
In all likelihood, APAPPS carries some hidden pledges that have brought a sea-change in Afghan attitude and behaviour. An obstinate and fire-breathing President Ghani immediately softened his stance. Pleading the Taliban to come forward and “save the country,” Ghani not only offered significant concessions to the insurgents (details here), but also recognized the militia as a political party at the second round of ‘Kabul Process’ on 28 February 2018. The president further climbed down through his Eid-ul-Fitr ceasefire offer – unexpectedly reciprocated by the Taliban for the first time in the 17-year-old conflict (by Pakistan’s persuasion or arm-twisting). Another ceasefire is expected at the Eid-al-Qurban on 22 August 2018.
A Collective Regional Front against Daesh
As seen in Daesh’s defeat in Iraq and Syria – and al-Qaeda’s earlier trouncing in Afghanistan – no terror-group can withstand the might of a state, carrying monopoly over violence. Daesh in Afghanistan is a combination of three elements: 1) Those militants who retreated from the Middle East and found sanctuaries in the lawless and ungoverned areas of Afghanistan; 2) The left-over elements of al-Qaeda who, after losing hope in Aiman-al-Zawahiri’s uncharismatic leadership to advance their Islamic cause (sic), swore allegiance to Abu-Bakr-al-Baghdadi; and 3) The local criminal bands such as Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), Jamaat-ul-Ahrar, Lashkar-e-Islam, East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM) and anti-Shia Jaish-ul-Adal and Lashkar-e-Jhangavi al-Aalmi. Pakistan’s Zarb-e-Azb military operation in North Waziristan (tribal area) in June 2014 had uprooted and pushed these terror-franchises into Afghanistan, only to come together under the banner of Daesh.
President Barack Obama had told cadets at West Point in May 2014: “[T]oday’s principal threat no longer comes from a centralized al-Qaeda leadership. Instead, it comes from decentralized al-Qaeda affiliates and extremists, many with agendas focused in countries where they operate.
As highlighted in my abovementioned paper on Islamic extremism, these terror-groups not only seek power and prestige through their acts, but some of them genuinely aspire to fulfil Prophet Muhammad’s (peace be upon him) prophesy about the last battle of Islam, the Ghazwa-e-Hind, to be fought in Khorasan – present day Central Asia, Afghanistan and South Asia. Unsurprisingly, Daesh in Afghanistan calls itself Wilayat-e-Khorasan.
Not being an apologist for Taliban, I have always maintained that had the Taliban given some political accommodation in Afghanistan, Daesh could never have established its foothold in the country. Daesh’s (anti-Shia and anti-minorities) sectarian overtone had alarmed the Taliban right from the beginning. As Taliban’s foot-soldiers began to break ranks to join Daesh, Mullah Akhtar Mansour, then Taliban’s deputy chief, had warned al-Baghdadi through a letter on 16 June 2015 to stay out of Afghanistan.
However, Alice Wells, the U.S. special envoy doesn’t seem to concur with Taliban’s anti-Daesh hypothesis. During a discussion at the U.S. Institute for Peace she rejected the notion by saying: The U.S. was “disturbed by some countries justification of the Taliban as a fighting force against the Islamic State – Khorasan. I think we see a tendency to exaggerate the IS-Khorasan threat as a pretext to almost justify a hedging behaviour.”
Former President Hamid Karzai has, however, raised serious questions about the rise of Daesh and extremism in Afghanistan, blaming the U.S. for using Daesh as its “tool.” In a surprise move, Washington further blocked a Pakistani request at the UN Security Council’s sanctions committee to declare Daesh-linked Jamaat-ul-Ahrar’s head, Abdul Wali (alias Umer Khalid Khurasani) a globally designated terrorist in May 2018.
Worried about Daesh’s spillover in its backyard, the Central Asian Republics, Russia also keeps warning about the northern Afghanistan becoming a “resting base” of international terrorism and a “bridgehead” for establishing its “destructive” caliphate in the region.” Russian envoy to the UN, Vasily Nebenzya, told the Security Council in June 2018 that “[Daesh] has up to 10,000 fighters in its ranks, and is already active in at least nine out of [Afghanistan’s] 34 provinces … constantly consolidating its position in the north of the country, turning it into a springboard for the expansion into Central Asia.”
In fact, in its naivety and indecent haste to crush the Taliban militarily, Washington largely ignored the threat of Daesh spreading its tentacles in Afghanistan and becoming a global threat since 2014. United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) has totaled-up a record number of 1,692 fatalities in the first six months of 2018, attributing 52 percent of civilian casualties in Afghanistan to Daesh’s suicide and complex attacks.
However, fortunately, the regional countries like Russia, China, Iran and Pakistan have woken-up to the threat of Daesh to their internal and regional stability. The extraordinary secret meeting of heads of the intelligence agencies of the four countries in Pakistan on 11 July 2018 demonstrated their collective resolve to eliminate Daesh in Afghanistan. The huddle took place as a follow-up of an earlier meeting between Pakistan’s national security adviser, Lt. Gen (Ret’d) Nasser Janjua, secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council, Rear Admiral Shamkhani and secretary of the Security Council of Russian Federation, Nikolai Platonovich Patrushev in Russia in April 2018.
Afghanistan’s Internal Squabbling
Three elements remain fundamental for any insurgency to sustain and find its justification: 1) A grassroots support among the people; 2) Alienation of masses towards the sitting government, and, 3) Foreign/outside support. Therefore, even if we cross-out the alleged support of Pakistan, Iran and Russia to the Taliban, there has been abundant proof of disillusionment among Afghan people towards their ‘constitutionally-incongruous’ – and corrupt to boot – Afghan ‘national unity government.’
Lauding Taliban’s code of conduct – La’iha – Shadi Hamid, Vanda Felbab-Brown and Harold Trinkunas find in their book Militants, Criminals, and Warlords: The Challenge of Local Governance in an Age of Disorder, that “conflicts over land and water and tribal feuds have escalated after the end of the Taliban regime as a result of weak and institutional rule and power usurpation. The post-Taliban formal courts have not been able to stop or resolve such conflicts. Worse, the courts became corrupt and themselves a tool of land expropriation.” The authors keep noting: “The Taliban has moved to fill the gap by providing free mediation of tribal, criminal, and personal disputes. Afghans report a great degree of satisfaction with Taliban verdicts, unlike those of the official justice system, where petitioners often have to pay considerable bribes.”
Despite President Ghani’s peace overtures, an intra-Afghan dialogue under his government remains an impossible proposition. Calling the Afghan officials as foreign “puppets,” Taliban’s spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid has already rejected the High Peace Council’s talks offer. The reason behind Taliban’s reluctance to join mainstream politics and accept the constitution is its undemocratic credentials. Despite Taliban’s grassroots support base in the rural areas, the militia knows full well it has no chance of winning at the ballot in the cities. Thus, until the Afghan Loya Jirga figures out an alternate arrangement for Taliban’s political representation and power, Afghanistan will stay in turmoil.
Another hindrance is factionalization among the insurgent groups. With too many tongues, you don’t know whom to speak, or how many to please. Though the small splinter group led by Mullah Mohammad Rasool backs peace talks, the Fidai Mahaz led by Mullah Najeebullah keeps rejecting a dialogue. Even Mullah Haibatullah Akhundzada, the head of Taliban’s mainstream group stays in two minds under pressure from younger fighters who keep consolidating their hold over new districts every day.
Furthermore, in his vain effort to establish Kabul’s central control and to cleanse the Afghan democratic system and improve governance, Mr. Ghani, of late, has been sidelining powerful Afghan warlords accused of human rights abuses and narcotics trade. However, demonstrating lack of political acumen and proper familiarity with Afghanistan’s history and culture, a technocrat president has exacerbated ethnic fault-lines.
First of all, having denied his Uzbek vice-president, General Abdul Rasheed Dostum to return to Afghanistan from his self-exile in Turkey for 14 months – after allegations surfaced of Dostum torturing his political opponent – Ghani had antagonized the powerful Junbish-i-Milli (political party) and almost four million Uzbek voters in the northern Afghanistan. Despite Sarwar Danish, the second vice president, negotiating Dostum’s return on 22 July 2018, the political fate of the warlord of yesteryears harbouring presidential ambitions, who, Mr. Ghani had branded a “remorseless killer” in 2009, is still not clear.
Ghani further stoked ethno-nationalism by impulsively sacking his non-Pashtun governors and other senior officials:
First, as the president dismissed the governor of the Balkh province, Atta Mohammad Noor, in December 2017, the so-called “King of the north” eyeing to be the next Afghan president, refused to oblige. Despite handing over the province to an ally in March 2018, Noor’s insubordination demonstrated limits to Ghani’s powers.
Secondly, kicking up a constitutional crisis, a second provincial governor, Abdulkarim Khaddam of the northern Samangan province also defied a whimsical president by refusing to step down in February 2018.
Third, a competent administrator and a person of high repute, Governor Mohammad Gulab Mangal, was also sent packing on corruption charges and security deterioration in the Nangarhar province in May 2018.
Finally, the president unsuccessfully tried to remove the popular and influential police chief of Kandahar, a so-called general named Abdul Raziq Achakzai, only to be retorted back: Ghani’s government “cannot fire me.” Condemned by the Human Rights Watch as “Kandahar’s torture-in-chief” and a notorious drug smuggler, Raziq had been an unknown foot-soldier trained by the U.S. contractors only to rise as a local hero against Taliban.
Among many of Afghanistan’s misfortunes the Ghani-Abdullah national unity government will find prominence in history chronicles. Such an anomaly did not allow necessary checks and balances to be instituted, making the governance fail on all accounts. Under lack of proper oversight of US$10 billion by 34 donor nations and agencies, SIGAR’s head, John Sopko, found Afghanistan flooded with more money than it could absorb, exacerbating corruption and fuelling a drawn-out conflict.
As the Afghan war soon enters its 18th year, U.S. must be reckoning how laborious it is to fight someone else’s war with alien culture, history and geography. In the fog of insurgencies and civil-wars the collateral damage cannot be avoided. Yet it brings a bad name to the liberators when immense international pressure comes for mistaken-identity attacks. While SIGAR’s May 2018’s report highlighted U.S. forces dropping 1,186 munitions in Afghanistan between January and March 2018, it also cited UNAMA’s collected figures of 2017 attributing 6,768 civilian casualties (2,303 deaths) to anti-government forces and 2,108 civilian casualties (745 deaths) to pro-government forces.
The shrinking of Afghan security forces by nearly 11 percent is another indicator of loss of people’s faith in a futile war. The loss of numerical strength of the Afghan National Defence and Security forces (ANDSF) and the territory held by them had panicked the Pentagon to the extent that the department of defence classified the public data, instructing SIGAR not to release the information. Left with no choice, SIGAR complained to the U.S. Congress on 30 April 2018 about receiving inaccurate data from the U.S. forces in Afghanistan.
In my last paper on Afghanistan (mentioned above), I had concluded that probably it is America’s long-term strategic interests that do not allow it to take leave from the region. However, the time for the U.S. forces to depart Afghanistan has arrived, letting the regional countries to tackle – and eliminate – Daesh. China seems to be seeking a military base at Wakhan border in Afghanistan for the same purpose.
Notwithstanding, U.S. secretary of state, Mike Pompeo describing American footprint in Afghanistan as a “humble mission” with objective to leave after “greatly diminishing the threat to [U.S.] homeland that may emanate from there,” Senator Rand Paul, argued at the secretary’s congressional confirmation hearing that now was the time to leave as “all those terrorists in Afghanistan and Pakistan” who had participated in the 9/11 attacks, had been eliminated and some of the soldiers fighting there were not even born when 9/11 happened.
The scenes of conviviality and affection seen during the last ceasefire between the Taliban fighters and government security officials show a kind of war-fatigue on both sides. While the Afghan government remains adamant not to budge for power sharing, the ordinary Afghans are fed up with the prolonged conflict – as demonstrated through the 700km long march by dozens of peace protesters from Helmand to Kabul chanting slogans such as “We want peace” and “stop fighting” during the fasting month of Ramadan (June 2018).
Despite more than 100 Muslim scholars from around the world pleading “mutual understanding and direct peaceful negotiations” among “Muslim Afghan[s]” at the Saudi city of Mecca on 11 July 2018, the ‘Islamic diplomacy’ is unlikely to convince the Afghan government or the insurgents. On 7 March 1993, Saudi King Fahd had also sponsored a peace accord between the warring Afghan Mujahedeen leaders, who all swore at the Holy Ka’ba to end their fighting, only to break their vow upon returning to Afghanistan. Similarly, the Trilateral Ulema Conference, a conclave of Islamic scholars from Indonesia, Afghanistan and Pakistan, denouncing violent extremism, terrorism, and suicide attacks as against the Islamic principles on 11 May 2018 may also fail to pacify the historic vengeance in Afghan blood.
The killing of 15 Taliban fighters by Daesh rivals means intensified fighting among the militant groups in the coming days. Considering Daesh a major threat to global security, effort should be made to reconcile with the Taliban at priority – who have publicly pledged not to house al-Qaeda again or pursue any global agenda – and eradicate the menace of terrorism and Islamic extremism once and for all from the region.
With elections for Wolsei Jirga (lower house) – oft postponed since 2015 – scheduled for 20 October 2018 and a new presidential election next year, the anomaly of ‘national unity government’ is going to be thankfully over. However, the elections are not panacea of Afghanistan’s peace and stability until the country’s political fundamentals are first corrected.
The problem is that historically the ‘differences’ among various Afghan ethnicities have been treated as ‘disputes’ – not resolved through ‘discussions.’ While worries abound about Afghanistan descending into another ethnic conflict or a civil-war after the withdrawal of U.S. and NATO forces, the security ownership taken by the regional countries should be satisfying. The collective resolve shown by Russia, China, Pakistan, Turkey and Iran means Daesh will not be allowed to fester further or spillover into those countries. Period.
However, it is the Afghans who have to sort out their internal issues themselves. At another place in her book Farewell Kabul, Christina Lamb quotes an elderly Afghan observing pensively, “War never leaves this land.” However, it is time the Afghans bring an end to the four-decade long conflict and open a new chapter towards mutual understanding and harmony, progress and prosperity. For once, Afghans must prove Alexander Cockburn wrong for reinforcing the myth that Afghanistan is “nothing but mountains filled with barbarous ethnics with views as medieval as their muskets.”
It was for such redefining moments in the history of nations that T.S. Eliot had said: “What we call the beginning is often the end. And to make an end is to make a beginning. The end is where we start from.”
Adnan Qaiser is a Research Associate at the prestigious Conference of Defence Associations Institute, Canada, with a distinguished career in the armed forces and international diplomacy. He examines the future of Afghanistan in the backdrop of recent regional developments. The views are authors own and do not reflect any institutional thought. The author can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org
 Statement by the President on Afghanistan, The White House press release, 27 May 2014 https://obamawhitehouse.archives.gov/the-press-office/2014/05/27/statement-president-afghanistan
 Adnan Qaiser, Radical Islamism: Understanding Extremist Narrative and Mindset, Conference of Defence Associations Institute’s On Track magazine, Spring Edition 2017, May 2017, p. 24
 Mountstuart Elphinstone (1779–1859) was an administrator with the East India Company who in 1808 was sent by the British Indian authorities on a mission to Afghanistan for the purpose of concluding an agreement with the Afghan ruler, Shah Shuja Durrani. Mountstuart Elphinstone, 1779-1859, An Account of the Kingdom of Caubul, and its Dependencies in Persia, Tartary, and India ; https://www.wdl.org/en/item/16798/; See also: An account of the Kingdom of Caubul, and its Dependencies in Persia, Tartary and India, Richard Bentley, 1839 https://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=hvd.hwxygi;view=1up;seq=9
 The Associated Press, US Open to Direct Talks With Taliban, Officials Say, The New York Times, 16 Jul 2018
 ‘Very positive signals’ after US, Taliban talks, The News, 30 Jul 2018 https://www.thenews.com.pk/print/348035-very-positive-signals-after-us-taliban-talks; Also see: Anwar Iqbal, Top US official meets Afghan Taliban in Qatar, Dawn, 29 Jul 2018 https://www.dawn.com/news/1423625/top-us-official-meets-afghan-taliban-in-qatar
 Christina Lamb, Farewell Kabul: From Afghanistan to a More Dangerous World, William Collins, 2015, p. 599; Also see: War reporter Christina Lamb illuminates NATO’s failures in Afghanistan in this captivating memoir of her years on the frontline. Book Review by John Kampfner, Farewell Kabul: From Afghanistan to a More Dangerous World review – a lucid account of the longest war, The Guardian, 11 May 2015 https://www.theguardian.com/books/2015/may/11/farewell-kabul-from-afghanistan-to-more-dangerous-world-review-christina-lamb-lucid
 Masood Saifullah, Brussels summit: Why NATO needs to change its Afghanistan strategy, DW, 12 Jul 2018 https://www.dw.com/en/brussels-summit-why-nato-needs-to-change-its-afghanistan-strategy/a-44651910
 David Brunnstrom, Pompeo, in surprise visit to Afghanistan, urges Taliban peace talks, Reuters, 9 Jul 2018 https://www.reuters.com/article/us-afghanistan-usa-pompeo/pompeo-in-surprise-visit-to-afghanistan-urges-taliban-peace-talks-idUSKBN1JZ1N9, Also see: Mujib Mashal and Eric Schmitt, White House Orders Direct Taliban Talks to Jump-Start Afghan Negotiations, The New York Times, 15 Jul 2018 https://www.nytimes.com/2018/07/15/world/asia/afghanistan-taliban-direct-negotiations.html
 Mushtaq Yusufzai, F. Brinley Bruton , Abigail Williams and Linda Givetash Afghan Taliban claims indirect talks are underway with U.S., NBC News, 20 Jul 2018 https://www.nbcnews.com/news/world/afghan-taliban-claims-indirect-talks-are-underway-u-s-n891926; Also see: Afghan Taliban, US officials ‘engaging in indirect talks’, The Express Tribune, 22 Jul 2018 https://tribune.com.pk/story/1764028/9-afghan-taliban-us-officials-engaging-indirect-talks/; Also see: US meeting Taliban members, says report, Dawn, 22 Jul 2018 https://www.dawn.com/news/1421705/us-meeting-taliban-members-says-report
 Taliban are a part of the social fabric of Afghanistan, Kabul tells US diplomat, The Express Tribune, 18 Feb 2018 https://tribune.com.pk/story/1638116/3-taliban-part-social-fabric-afghanistanus-diplomat-told-kabul/
 Steve Coll, For Eid al-Fitr, the Taliban Agrees to Its First Formal Ceasefire Since 2001, The New Yorker, 15 June 2018 https://www.newyorker.com/news/daily-comment/for-eid-al-fitr-the-taliban-agrees-to-its-first-formal-ceasefire-since-2001
 Reuters, Taliban openly active in 70 percent of Afghanistan, BBC study finds, The News, 31 Jan 2018 https://www.thenews.com.pk/latest/275361-taliban-openly-active-in-70-percent-of-afghanistan-bbc-study-finds
 Mapping Taliban Control in Afghanistan, FDD’s Long War Journal (Accessed: 30 Jul 2018) https://www.longwarjournal.org/mapping-taliban-control-in-afghanistan
 Reuters, Afghan gunships killed 36 in attack on madressah last month, says UN, Dawn, 8 May 2018 https://www.dawn.com/news/1406343/afghan-gunships-killed-36-in-attack-on-madressah-last-month-says-un; Also see: Dan Lamothe, Afghan air force is growing and so are questions about its actions in combat, Dawn, 31 Jul 2018 https://www.dawn.com/news/1424007/afghan-air-force-is-growing-and-so-are-questions-about-its-actions-in-combat
 A. Odysseus Patrick, Australia, New Zealand look into war crimes allegations in Afghanistan, Dawn, 16 Jul 2018 https://www.dawn.com/news/1420363/australia-new-zealand-look-into-war-crimes-allegations-in-afghanistan
 Andrew Buncombe, US and UK could face Afghanistan war crimes investigation, The Independent, 3 Nov 2017 https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/asia/us-uk-war-crimes-afghanistan-investigation-icc-criminal-court-hague-latest-a8035576.html; Also see: A. Odysseus Patrick, Australia, New Zealand look into war crimes allegations in Afghanistan, Dawn, 16 Jul 2018 https://www.dawn.com/news/1420363/australia-new-zealand-look-into-war-crimes-allegations-in-afghanistan
 Anwar Iqbal, Commanders authorised to deal with ‘safe havens’ in Afghanistan, Pakistan: US, Dawn, 1 Feb 2018 https://www.dawn.com/news/1386535/commanders-authorised-to-deal-with-safe-havens-in-afghanistan-pakistan-us
 Author’s analyses: 1) Adnan Qaiser, America’s Waterloo: ‘Scapegoating’ Pakistan for Failures in Afghanistan, Global Village Space, 29 Nov 2017 https://www.globalvillagespace.com/americas-waterloo-scapegoating-pakistan-for-failures-in-afghanistan-2/; 2) Adnan Qaiser, Afghanistan’s Managed Chaos: US Strategic Regional Designs, Global Village Space, 8 Jan 2018 https://www.globalvillagespace.com/afghanistans-managed-chaos-us-strategic-regional-designs/
 The Bajwa Doctrine: Pakistan Army chief pushes back against US pressure in Afghanistan, threats of funding cuts from Donald Trump, First Post, 19 Mar 2018 https://www.firstpost.com/world/the-bajwa-doctrine-pakistan-army-chief-pushes-back-against-us-pressure-in-afghanistan-threats-of-funding-cuts-from-donald-trump-4396119.html; Also see: Murtaza Ali Shah, Bajwa Doctrine’ working well against American blackmail, The News, 16 Feb 2018 https://www.thenews.com.pk/latest/281907-bajwa-doctrine-working-well-against-american-blackmail
 Darko Janjevic, In Afghanistan strategy speech Trump slams Pakistan for providing safe havens, DW, 22 Aug 2018 https://www.dw.com/en/in-afghanistan-strategy-speech-trump-slams-pakistan-for-providing-safe-havens/a-40185662; See also: Full Transcript and Video: Trump’s Speech on Afghanistan, The New York Times, 21 Aug 2018 https://www.nytimes.com/2017/08/21/world/asia/trump-speech-afghanistan.html
 Haroon Janjua, ‘Nothing but lies and deceit’: Trump launches Twitter attack on Pakistan, The Guardian, 1 Jan 2018 https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/jan/01/lies-and-deceit-trump-launches-attack-on-pakistan-tweet
 Baqir Sajjad Syed, Afghan security delegation visits Pakistan for talks on peace efforts, Dawn, 20 Jun 2018 https://www.dawn.com/news/1414902/afghan-security-delegation-visits-pakistan-for-talks-on-peace-efforts
 Top Afghan official says Pakistan is not a problem, but part of solution, The Express Tribune, 16 May 2018 https://tribune.com.pk/story/1710953/1-top-afghan-official-says-pakistan-not-problem-part-solution/
 Suhail Warriach, The Bajwa Doctrine: from chauvinism to realism, The News, 18 Mar 2018 https://www.thenews.com.pk/print/293885-the-bajwa-doctrine-from-chauvinism-to-realism
 Farman Kakar, New initiatives for Afghan peace, The News Sunday, 24 Jun 2018 http://tns.thenews.com.pk/new-initiatives-afghan-peace/#.Wy_SLqdKiUk
 New framework for talks with Afghanistan becomes operational, Dawn, 15 May 2018 https://www.dawn.com/news/1407732; See also: Pakistani delegation in Kabul to attend bilateral action plan for peace session, The Express Tribune, 22 Jul 2018 https://tribune.com.pk/story/1764079/1-pakistani-delegation-kabul-attend-bilateral-action-plan-peace-session/
 Government Discloses Details Of Ghani’s Peace Offer, Tolo News, 28 Feb 2018 https://www.tolonews.com/index.php/afghanistan/government-discloses-details-ghani%E2%80%99s-peace-offer; Also see: Simon Tisdall, Afghan leader’s offer to Taliban is a last-ditch gamble for peace, The Guardian, 28 Feb 2018 https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/feb/28/afghan-president-ashraf-ghani-offers-to-recognise-taliban-to-end-war
 Fahd Humayun, The anatomy of a Taliban ceasefire, The News, 4 Jul 2018 https://www.thenews.com.pk/print/337099-the-anatomy-of-a-taliban-ceasefire
 The Islamic State: is it Isis, Isil – or possibly Daesh? Ian Black, The Guardian, 21 Sept 2014
 Patricia Zengerle, New Afghan president warns of ‘terrible threat’ from Islamic State, Reuters, 25 Mar 2015
 Pakistan begins long-awaited offensive to root out militants from border region, Jon Boone, The Guardian, 15 Jun 2014
 Operations in Pakistan force militants into Afghanistan: report, Dawn, 29 Jan 2015
 Remarks by the President at the United States Military Academy Commencement Ceremony, U.S. Military Academy-West Point, The White House press release, 28 May 2014 https://obamawhitehouse.archives.gov/the-press-office/2014/05/28/remarks-president-united-states-military-academy-commencement-ceremony
 Editorial, Afghanistan’s minorities under fire, Daily Times, 4 Jul 2018 https://dailytimes.com.pk/262153/afghanistans-minorities-under-fire/
 AFP Kabul, Taliban warn ISIS leader not to interfere in Afghanistan, Al-Arabia, 16 Jun 2015
 Pakistan can play key role in shaping Afghan Taliban’s behaviour: US diplomat, The Express Tribune, 11 Mar 2018 https://tribune.com.pk/story/1656969/1-pakistan-can-play-key-role-shaping-afghan-talibans-behaviour-us-diplomat/
 Noor Zahid, Rahim Gul Sarwan, Former Afghan President Karzai Calls Islamic State ‘Tool’ of US, VOA, 19 Apr 2018 https://www.voanews.com/a/former-afghan-president-hamid-karzai-callms-islamic-state-tool-us/3817463.html
 News Report, Rare meeting: Pakistan hosts spy chiefs from Russia, China, Iran, The Express Tribune, 12 Jul 2018 https://tribune.com.pk/story/1756290/1-pakistan-regional-spymasters-resolve-counter-islamic-state-afghanistan/
 Syeda Mamoona Rubab, Meeting of the Minds, The Friday Times, 20 Jul 2018 http://www.thefridaytimes.com/tft/meeting-of-the-minds/
 Najibullah Noorzai, Corruption: Can Afghanistan’s Government Overcome Its National Shame?, The Diplomat, 14 May 2016
 Shadi Hamid, Vanda Felbab-Brown, and Harold Trinkunas, When terrorists and criminals govern better than governments, Brookings Institution, 5 Apr 2018 https://www.brookings.edu/blog/order-from-chaos/2018/04/05/when-terrorists-and-criminals-govern-better-than-governments/?utm_medium=social&utm_source=facebook&utm_campaign=fp
 Mujib Mashal, Afghan Vice President Flies to Turkey Amid Torture and Rape Allegations, The New York Times, 19 May 2017 https://www.nytimes.com/2017/05/19/world/middleeast/abdul-rashid-dostum-afghanistan-turkey.html
 AFP, Blast hits Kabul airport on return of exiled Afghan vice president, The Express Tribune, 22 Jul 2018 https://tribune.com.pk/story/1764221/3-blast-heard-near-kabul-airport-exiled-dostum-returns/
 Mujib Mashal and Najim Rahim, Afghan President Fires a Powerful Governor From Post He Held 13 Years, The New York Times, 18 Dec 2017 https://www.nytimes.com/2017/12/18/world/asia/ashraf-ghani-atta-muhammad-noor.html; Also see: AFP, Afghan governor refuses to step down and will run for presidency, The National, 6 Feb 2018 https://www.thenational.ae/world/asia/afghan-governor-refuses-to-step-down-and-will-run-for-presidency-1.702123
 Governor of eastern Afghan province sacked as security worsens, Reuters, 14 May 2018 https://www.reuters.com/article/us-afghanistan-governor/governor-of-eastern-afghan-province-sacked-as-security-worsens-idUSKCN1IF1U5
 Patricia Gossman, Will Afghanistan Prosecute Kandahar’s Torturer-in-Chief? UN Committee Calls for Action against Gen. Abdul Raziq, Human Rights Watch, 17 May 2017 https://www.hrw.org/news/2017/05/17/will-afghanistan-prosecute-kandahars-torturer-chief
 Maija Liuhto, Regional leaders are defying Afghanistan’s president. The latest is a police chief who was once a close U.S. ally, Los Angeles Times, 11 Apr 2018 http://www.latimes.com/world/asia/la-fg-afghanistan-politics-20180411-story.html; Also see: Massud Ebady, General Raziq Hero or President Ghani’s liability, Khaama Press, 1 Jan 2015 https://www.khaama.com/general-raziq-hero-or-president-ghanis-liability-8902/
 Anwar Iqbal, US casualties in Afghanistan highest since 2015, says report, Dawn, 4 May 2018 https://www.dawn.com/news/1405491/us-casualties-in-afghanistan-highest-since-2015-says-report; Also see: AFP, Record number of Afghan civilian casualties in attacks in 2017: UN, The News, 16 Feb 2018 https://www.thenews.com.pk/print/281583-record-number-of-afghan-civilian-casualties-in-attacks-in-2017-un
 Anwar Iqbal, US watchdog complains of receiving inaccurate data about Afghan forces, Dawn, 18 May 2018 https://www.dawn.com/news/1408423/us-watchdog-complains-of-receiving-inaccurate-data-about-afghan-forces
 AFP, China in talks over military base in remote Afghanistan, The Express Tribune, 2 Feb 2018 https://tribune.com.pk/story/1624513/3-china-talks-military-base-remote-afghanistan/
 Afghan peace marchers address demands to President Ghani in Kabul, Al-Jazeera, 19 Jun 2018 https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2018/06/afghan-peace-marchers-address-demands-president-ghani-kabul-180619154107360.html
 Ulema From Three Countries Meet in West Java, Denounce Terrorism, Suicide Attacks. Jakarta Globe, 16 May 2018 http://jakartaglobe.id/news/trilateral-ulema-meeting-in-bogor-first-step-toward-peace-in-afghanistan/
 Bismellah Alizada, Afghanistan’s Parliamentary Elections: Challenges and Prospects, South Asian Voices, 8 May 2018 https://southasianvoices.org/afghanistans-parliamentary-elections-challenges-prospects/
 Lamb, p. 581