Afghanistan Turmoil: Why internal factors are not being addressed?

Kabul has seen series of explosions and violence last week, resulting in the killing of at least 150 people and injuring more than 300. The string of violence triggered waves of distress and anger among Afghan masses. The next day after the truck laden explosives attack, a large protest rally was held in the capital calling for the resignation of:

  • Afghan President Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai
  • Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah
  • Anif Atmar, Advisor for National Security Council (NSC)
  • Masoom Stanikzai, Chief of National Directorate of Security (NDS)

Afghan government also met harsh criticism from certain Afghan socio-political circles and human rights groups for the killing of peaceful protesters by Afghan security forces in Kabul. Some Afghan politicians, including those in the government, accuse the leadership of complicity with the terrorist outfits.

Following the 9/11 incident in 2001, US and its allied forces invaded Afghanistan in a bid to eliminate Al-Qaida and Taliban, their safe-heavens and free the country from their “oppression.” Apart from providing billons of aids for reconstruction and development of Afghanistan, the United States have spent $70 billion thus far to build 350,000 strong Afghan National Army and Police to fight against terrorism and provide better security to the people. Sadly, 16 years after the intervention, they have not been succeeded in defeating the Taliban and other militant groups. While the law and order situation of the country is being rapidly deteriorated with each passing day.  According to Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) recent reports, Taliban now control or influence more than 34% of areas in the country.

US and Afghan government leave no stone unturned blaming neighboring countries like Pakistan, Iran and even Russia for creating lawlessness, chaos and instability in the country. The accusation against Pakistan is harboring the Taliban and Haqqani Network. The security, political and social interests of any country would be undermined and remain constantly in danger when there are more than 35 countries stationed in a neighboring country, with a fragile government, confronting wide-spread insurgency, lawlessness and insecurity. The presence of hostile countries and terrorist groups there will further enhance the fears and anger of neighbors regarding their sovereignty and national security.

Pakistan has continuously been raising the issue of India’s subversive activities in Pakistan’s Baluchistan province through Afghan soil, while Iran and Russia once remained arch rivals of the Taliban, now build contacts with the group to counter the ISIS threats that gaining momentum in Afghanistan.

China has also emerging as a new player in the Afghan saga, having its own national and economic interests in the region. It has participated in several conferences, held on Afghanistan’s conundrum to chalk out strategies and adopt a roadmap for peace and instability in the country. Basically, every country has its own national and economic interests, priorities and reservations that must be considered with in the peace and reconciliation process of Afghanistan.

Over the past 17 years, the international community and the Afghan government has turned a blind eye to the rampant corruption and poor leadership that has plagued Afghanistan. How can someone dare to win a war in a country where corruption, nepotism, favoritism and poor leadership rule? There are reports that Afghan National Army (ANA) personnel regularly sell its official arms, ammunition and fuel to the Taliban and other militant groups for salary and relief of basic needs. The number of ghost soldiers are in tens of thousands, whose salaries have regularly been drawn and go to the pockets of corrupt officials. The United States which provides much of the aid/funds to build, train and assist Afghan security forces, do not even have the breakdown of exact numbers of Afghan soldiers and officers.

“We do not know how many police and how many soldiers we are paying salaries and we do not even know how many generals” Said John F. Sopko, head of SIGAR to New York Times on December 2016.

Many people wonder how a country with almost 1000 Generals, more than the US military which is three times the size, can have such disarray and ineffectiveness in their ranks. If you are a son of any warlord, serving general or have good sum of money, you are lucky enough to gain the rank of general on your shoulders. Due to poor leadership, Afghan security forces still lack capacity and capabilities to stand on their own without US operational and financial support. John F. Sopko, on March 2017 while addressing Duke University and the Sanford School of Public Policy, said “In 2015, the Afghan 215th Corps, in the key province of Helmand, disintegrated, requiring the NATO-led Resolute Support mission to rush advisors down to Helmand to try and overhaul the Corps’ leadership structure”.

However, instead of addressing the important challenges to provide better security and conducive economic environment for already beleaguered Afghan people, the Afghan government has resorted to playing a double game in the country.

On one hand, the government keeps continue to pay hue and cry by accusing its neighbors of being involved in the subversive and terrorist activities in the country, while, on the other hand, it has been backing ISIS and other militant groups. We do not think the support of terrorist outfits is being done without consent of US and some other countries. Their only aim is to take the fight to the north of the country and deteriorate the situation in Northern provinces bordering central Asian states to suppress Russia, who still have great influence on the Asian states.

The reports of unknown chopper helicopters landing in the areas controlled by militant groups testify that Afghan NSC and NDS are fully backing the militant groups. These terror-sponsored groups are also being exploited by Afghan intelligence agencies to intimidate and suppress their political opponents within the country. The Afghan Foreign Minister, and Chief of Jamiat Islami Party, Salah ud Din Rabbani quickly responded after suicide attacks on the funeral ceremony in Kabul, tweeting “will soon announce our position towards terrorists within the system and on holding them to account at the national level.

It is not the first time that any senior Afghan official has accused their own government of complicity in the terrorist attacks. Last year, more than 90 people belonging to Hazara community, the third largest ethnic group in the Afghanistan, were killed when two suicide bombers hit a protest rally at Kabul demanding a power line transmission project to be passed through Hazara dominated provinces. Later, Ahmad Behzad, Hazara leader and Afghan MP, said on the floor of house, “We have dossiers with us that the Afghan government particularly top officials of NSC and NDS orchestrated these attacks and one of the suicide attackers was recently released from NDS’s custody. The ISIS is the nickname of NSC and NDS.”

Earlier in 2015, Kareem Matin, Governor Paktika, alleged that NSC was distributing $200,000 to ISIS family members in the Burmal District of Paktika province. Such allegations were also leveled by several other members of parliament and politicians, including Afghan MP Zahir Qadeer, against NSA and NDS for backing the terrorist groups.

After 17 years of long war, the Afghan government still does want not know that who its friend is and who is not. The Afghan government officially calls militants who imposed a full-fledged war on the country as opponents of government of Afghanistan, but not as a terrorist. Top Afghan leadership, including former president Hamid Karzai, often calls Taliban as their “unhappy brothers,” a phrase regularly used by Imran Khan, leader of Pakistan’s Tehrik-e-Insaaf, Hamid Karzai, in an interview with BBC Persian, even said that Taliban were the sons of the soil and have the right to seize/occupy places anywhere in the country. The Afghan government and international community seem reluctant to fully combat Taliban and other militants. They want the status quo to be continued.

Like many other countries, Afghanistan is the home of many ethnic groups – Pashtun, Hazara, Tajik, Uzbek and several other ethnicities building the multilingual and diverse culture of Afghanistan. Understanding the ethnicity in the country, no one can deny the fact that the Afghan people have long been divided on several political, social and economic issues. Each one of the groups seeks fair and equal power sharing rights in the government with reference to its population. Only during Jihad against Soviet Union, Afghan people seemed to be remained partially united and that was also limited to the Jihad. Therefore, soon after the Soviet’s withdrawal, the ethnic groups, despite jointly waging Jihad on the name of Islam and God, came to loggerheads with each other demanding wider and fairer power sharing in the government. After failing to reach on any consensus, these Jihadi groups took the country towards civil war resulting into killing of hundreds of thousands innocent people.

The current political and security situation of Afghanistan is very much similar to the Communist government of Afghan President Dr. Najeeb Ullah Ahmadzai in 1990s. At the end of his government, Dr. Najeeb had removed many of his top officials belonging to other ethnicities from key government positions. This attitude and steps created mistrust and dissatisfaction among other ethnic groups, which resulted into the fall of his regime.

The same trend and policy are now being pursued by the incumbent afghan president Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai. The current government did not even spare to force its own elected vice president, General Abdul Rashid Dostum, an Uzbek leader to leave the country for Turkey. General Dostum was accused of committing rape with one of his opponents, Mr. Eshche. President Ghani also expelled one of his senior advisors Ahmad Zia Massoud, the brother of slain leader Ahmad Shah Massoud, who was the only salient Tajik leader supporting Ashraf Ghani in the 2013 elections. The retaliatory attitude and political victimization compelled the other ethnic groups particularly Hazaras, Tajiks and Uzbeks to stand against the discriminatory policies of the government. They believe the country is moving completely towards Pashtun hegemony, while other ethnicities are deliberately being omitted and excluded from decision making policies. They are now demanding massive reforms in the government, parliamentary system and the establishment of new federating units with greater autonomy.

A war cannot be won at any cost if the state does not have a clear, unambiguous and uniformed strategies and vision towards its enemies. Security forces cannot fight a war with much concentration and determination without differentiating between their friends and foes. Suppressing its own people and defying their rights on the basis of ethnicity and religion will not assist in fighting the war on terror, rather it further widens the gap in an already divided Afghan society. The security forces will continue to sacrifice lives until the issues of corruption, nepotism and poor leadership in Afghan security forces are addressed.

For many years, the international powers and neighboring countries have been insisting on the need of Afghan owned and Afghan backed peace and reconciliation process. It will only meet success when all Afghan stakeholders remain part of such a process, otherwise the country will once again plunge into civil war, like the 1990s.

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