Afghanistan: The Last Frontier Post – Part II*

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2nd Battalion 5th Gurkha Rifles at Ahnai Tangi in Waziristan, 14 January 1920 National Army Museum UK

by Mian Hameed 6 March 2020

 The peace agreement between the Taliban and the United States of America needs greater understanding than masticating the contractual language. That is, churning the language, what the U.S. has committed to and trumpeting, The Islamic Republic of Afghanistan will not permit “terrorist groups or individuals to recruit, train, raise funds,” etc., on their soil should not make us overlook the intrinsic values in Afghanistan. History is before us for our guidance.

    Afghanistan to a few was not about terrorism. Among the few is the former President of the United States, President Obama, who said, “Let’s start where our interests take us, which is really Pakistan, not Afghanistan…In fact, you can tell the Pakistani leaders, if you want to, that we-re not leaving” Afghanistan, is taken from Bob Woodward book, Obama’s War.

    Though for many others, the rule of Taliban in Afghanistan and thereafter the group Taliban had become, what James Joyce in the Dubliner thought of Dublin, “The center of paralysis.” However, Taliban were not declared as a terrorist group under Foreign Terrorist Organizations (FTOs) by the United States, but the Haqqani Network in 2012 was designated as a terrorist organization, is a logical conundrum.

    For many in the U.S., the “Haqqani” is a clearly understood entity—terrorists. In 2014, I was interviewing a senior defense analyst in Pakistan and in the course of our conversation the senior defense analyst told me, he attempted to explain to Senator Dianne Feinstein the importance of the Haqqani tribe (the Zadran tribe) and that the Haqqani are the same as the Mujahedin from the Soviet invasion era. I asked, how did that conversation go? The senior defense analyst smiled and said, “It did not go well!” According to the senior defense analyst, Senator Feinstein thought of the Haqqani not in terms of an influential tribe, but as a terrorist group only. The senior defense analyst could not convince the Senator otherwise to begin to share his thoughts, for which he travelled some 18,000 miles to Washington.

    I am not making a point to bring into focus the naïve assessment of Senator Feinstein of the Zadran tribe and because of it to linger on the U.S. foreign policy achievements or its costs to tax payers; or to bring to our attention the policy maker’s listening to the “modern intellectuals” who write textbooks metaphorically on how to raise a child in the United States to the economics of the country and those volumes are eventually walked up the steps of the Capital Hill to promote a gospel. (I am not the original proponent of this thought.)

    The emphasis is, to understand the psychological traits of “the people of Afghanistan” and their trait’s repercussions from the peace agreement terms or from the use of inputs in the future by the United States of America. The various contractual sensitivities in the peace terms and inputs could come into conflict with the psychological traits and the philosophical mind of Pashtuns/Taliban. We must remain mindful of the following three concerns:

a)      “Reach a political settlement” between The Islamic Republic of Afghanistan and the Taliban.

b)      The U.S. use of force at a later date with the consent of The Islamic Republic of Afghanistan.

c)       Interference ofthe United States in the political affairs of Afghanistan.

I will address the three concerns in a reverse order. c) The likelihood of the U.S. washing her hands from Afghanistan. The philosophical mind of a Pashtun will object to external interference in the domestic affairs of Afghanistan, as they did in the past during the Soviet influence.

    We can take lessons from the past. The intelligence gathered by the CIA during the Soviet invasion precisely pin pointed the reason why the people of Afghanistan took-up arms to resist the new governments of the time backed by the Soviets. The CIA declassified documents show,

Afghanistan’s devoutly Muslims and fiercely independent tribal population believed that the new government […] attempts to displace the traditional social structure based on Islam and allegiance to family, clan and tribe.” –courtesy, The National Security Archive, GWU.

    From the historic precedence of their objection, the revolution in Afghanistan to fight the Soviet backed regimes started before the Soviet invasion. The declassified CIA documents attest to the Afghan’s objection of foreign influence in their domestic affairs. The CIA wrote, “The present tribal insurgency began (before the Soviet invasion) in 1978.” Pakistan also had joined the Afghan fight against the Soviets before July 1977. The late DG ISI, Gen. Hamid Gul told me that ISI operated from the fringes of Afghanistan border as a bulwark to the Soviet influence. Soviet backed assets in Afghanistan fell one after the other, which led to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.

    b) The possible ‘use of force’ by the United States at a later date with the consent of The Islamic Republic of Afghanistan and any repercussions from it depends on the mix of the Afghanistan government. If the current group (Ghani and Abdullah) are involved, such an invitation by The Islamic Republic of Afghanistan will go against the principles of the philosophical mind.

    This group is not acceptable to the majority “people of Afghanistan.” There is a parallel and precedence set in hour recent history to describe this group – They are the “discredited and doomed group.” This was said by no other than an American icon for those in Afghanistan backed by the Soviets.

    President Reagan’s speech of November 12, 1987, on the occasion of meeting Mr. Yunus Khalis, the Chair of Mujahedin Federation and the Afghan leaders, is recorded on master tape 102, courtesy of Ronald Reagan Presidential Library. President Reagan had this message: Those that call for a ceasefire and propose a transitional government in Kabul is a “discredited and doomed group.” This is also a simile to the current Kabul group.

a)                  Reaching a political settlement will not happen with those that are discredited. They are doomed. Taliban has welcomed intra-Afghan dialog. The peace agreement has made Taliban seize the moment and they understand the world concerns to make an inclusive government.

    The Taliban over these twenty years of hostilities have softened their stance on not negotiating with the present government. Taliban spoke person has iterated, their fight was against the American “occupation” and their consideration for the current government is one [dara] among the many [daray] (plural of dara), means groups, and their commitment to intra-Afghan negotiations, i.e., speaking to all the daray (pronounced da-reh) is part of the intra-Afghan negotiations.

    Peace will come to Afghanistan form the age old mechanism of solving disputes built into the Afghan culture. It is the tested system of Shura, a consensus building measure. This suggests, the international bodies and the United States should indulge into observing the process of healing from Shura. It also means lending an ear to other viewpoints.

    The peace agreement has made a distinction between the State and the State’s people. We have two entities now—the State and “the people of Afghanistan.” Two things have occurred one after another. From the peace agreement, the Haqqani, Taliban and certain other people are “the people of Afghanistan,” are no more the terrorists. For now, they are a separate entity than the State. Taliban rebranding has taken place from the peace agreement.

    It can be argued that the people representing the State are a minority, and The Islamic Republic of Afghanistan is an odious State. To the philosophical mind of a Pashtun, those behind the State must then get dissolved.

    To the philosophical mind, there is no question the current regime is an odious State, and for them it is of lesser consequence the potential legal argument on both side of the isle, odious or not, in some corner of Hague. (Pashtuns have their system of addressing matters from Shura and they think very less of the Western system.)  Therefore, the previous agreements of the United States with the stand point of an odious Islamic Republic of Afghanistan will be contested.

    Therefore caution is advised, when “the people of Afghanistan” are perceived as an internal threat in Afghanistan to the U.S. interest and the use of subsequent inputs to mitigate such threat. The “people of Afghanistan” will take-up arms again, not for another twenty years, but for hundred years.

    The proponents of a fully funded insurgency in Washington possess high-tech receptors with algorithms not able to comprehend what I have just said and at times from their pure vanity they extend advice. They can ask the British. If they are busy, kindly take my advice!

    Today, “we have to delve into the past to inspire the future.” President Reagan continued, “The goal of the United States remains a genuinely independent Afghanistan, free from external interference and an Afghanistan whose people choose the type of government they wish.” Perhaps, it was easy to say it then to uphold the moral principles of democracy and the world conveniently lectured the Soviets when the Soviets invaded Afghanistan. This was the prevailing wisdom then and should be the precedence now.

    Failing to yield to these principles, the peace agreement will take Afghanistan back into a civil war and it would obviously mean efforts to make Afghanistan the center of paralysis. Therefore it is seen, both sides, the Afghans and the U.S. are sincere in honoring the spirits of peace and its principles rather than promoting their past intent from the principles.

    We must appreciate President Trump by breaking the norm to negotiate. Laying aside other criticism of the President, we must praise President Trump, foremost for having the wisdom to start the peace process and his courage to mention during his thirty-five minute call with the Taliban negotiator Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar that he understands they are fighting for their country.

    There is an art “the people of Afghanistan” must learn to deal with President Trump and those that will follow; and for the United States to understand they can further their recalibrated interest among “the people of Afghanistan” by understanding the code in [Pashtunwali].

    Embracing Pashtunwali is necessary to promote the ideals of democracy in Afghanistan. Pashtuns are one of those people that in Pashtunwali, will commit to concessions and promises at their expense. Again, to get the most out of Pashtunwali, we can use the wisdom found in the declassified CIA documents from the Soviet invasion era,

Pashtun make up about one-half of Afghanistan’s population. They are not only the largest ethnic group but also have traditionally wielded the greatest political power. The historic Pashtun preeminence is in turn a divisive issue between them and most of the other major Afghan ethnic groups. –courtesy, The National Security Archive, GWU.

    Pashtuns are not a doomed group. The world can reach out to them respecting Pashtunwali to further their foreign policy. A Pashtun’s foreign policy comes entirely from the domestic policy or from the characteristics found in the concentric circles of their society where rules of engagement and code of conduct comes from family, extended family, tribe and then the tribes within the federation. Penetrating these walls is futile.

    On a softer note, under the light of the peace agreement, I believe the readers may not hold me in contempt if I reacquaint them with Taliban. This reintroduction will bring proper adverbs to qualify adjectives in support of nouns to replenish many of the government websites because we now know them as “the people of Afghanistan” from the new hope in the new peace process.

To help reorient the Taliban image, here is another glimpse of “the people of Afghanistan.” This passage comes from my conversation with the late DG ISI Gen. Hamid Gul. Regarding the Taliban, who are the children and grandchildren of the Mujahedin; Gen. Hamid Gul shared the following with me:

It is a question of definition, what is [a] freedom fighter. As I was saying, Mr. Yunus Khalis, [a] Mujahid (singular of Mujahedin, a) leader went to meet [President] Reagan. [The] CIA used to show his picture to me. See, (the CIA staff would tell Gen. Gul;) two great people…shaking hands…[President] Reagan bent a little [in the picture] because he was a tall man and [Mr.] Yunus Khalis upright, [with a] determined look of an Afghan on his face, with a red beard and turban,” and Gen. Gul ended his comments with, what President Reagan thought of the Afghan leaders. Then Gen. Hamid Gul said, “but now they call them terrorists.”

    In the master tape 102, President Reagan said to “the people of Afghanistan,” “You are a nation of heroes.” The nation of heroes was represented by the “Peshawar Seven” during the Soviet days. Mr. Khalis was one of the seven and one of his commanders was the late Jalaluddin Haqqani. His son, Sirajuddin Haqqani, has joined the insurgency and belongs to a prominent tribe.

    We hope this peace agreement does not end up in retrospection after the U.S. presidential election is over. The CIA Director Charles Cogan once said, “I question whether we should have continued on this momentum, this inertia of aiding the mujahideen [Mujahedin] after the Soviets had left. I think that was probably, in retrospect, a mistake.” –“10 myths about Afghanistan.” By Jonathan Steele. The Guardian.

Afghanistan: The Last Frontier Post* – Part I was published here on 12 February 2020.