Afghanistan: This Bizarre Situation


August 15, 2019: The Taliban and Afghan government have agreed to begin negotiations after the September 28 presidential elections. There are twenty candidates and the Taliban seems to be attacking all of them; verbally and physically. The Taliban believes democracy is un-Islamic. Meanwhile the American-Taliban peace talks in Qatar expected to have a “roadmap” by September 1st but this all appears to be more aspirational than practical. The most powerful participant in the Afghan violence, Pakistan, is not directly involved in the Qatar talks. Yet Pakistan has to sign off on any final deal for the agreement to have any chance of success. Pakistan is negotiating with the Americans about the restoration of aid (which a bankrupt Pakistan needs badly) and help with resolving the Kashmir dispute with India. The Pakistani situation is further complicated by the fact that the dominant power inside Pakistan is the military which is increasingly at war with the Pakistan people.

Pakistan believes it will come out ahead if the Americans do pull their troops out of Afghanistan. Losers will be democracy and Afghans in general. The majority of Afghans oppose Pakistan, the Taliban and the drug gangs and those three are the loose coalition (or triad) that seeks to reestablish a Taliban government in Afghanistan. Meanwhile, Pakistan has lots of internal problems. These include corruption (the cause of the bankruptcy) and a military that now controls the elected government by force. The military is also a major source of corruption and the support of Islamic terrorism in Afghanistan and India. Islamic terrorism support includes the drug gangs in Afghanistan, which have always had a symbiotic relationship with the Taliban. That is, the Taliban protected drug operations and got paid. When the Taliban was in power during the late 1990s they called the drug gang income a tax.

Most Afghans hate Pakistan, mainly because of the decades of Pakistani troublemaking in Afghanistan. The Afghans at the Qatar negotiations are mainly Pushtuns (40 percent of Afghans) representing a minority of Pushtuns who support the drug trade and their Taliban “security associates” (hired guns). The drug gangs and Afghan Taliban are seen as the work of Pakistan and in the late 1990s, that majority got organized as the Northern Alliance and prevented the Taliban from ever controlling all of Afghanistan.

Not represented at the Afghan peace talks is the Northern Alliance. This non-Pushtuin coalition represents the Afghans who will fight the drug gangs and Taliban and have done so, successfully, in the past. To understand this you must understand why the north still honors the memory of Ahmad Shah Masud. Also known as "Lion of Panjshir", he was a brilliant military leader who led the fight against the Russians in the 1980s, and also the united northern forces against the Taliban in 1990s. Portraits and posters of him are common in Afghanistan, especially in the north. He was a Tadjik who was feared and hated by the Taliban. Masud was assassinated by al Qaeda suicide bombers posing as a foreign news crew (the explosives were hidden in the video camera) on September 9, 2001. This killing was done for the Taliban, who believed Mesud was the key man holding the opposition together. The Taliban had been unable to conquer all of Afghanistan (especially the north) because of the Northern Alliance. The northern willingness to unite and defend the interests of the non-Pushtun majority in Afghanistan still exists. The Northern Alliance is no longer a military coalition or even much of a political one. It is more the continued potential for the Northern Alliance to once again become an armed force opposing Pushtun tyranny (especially Pakistan supported Pushtuns). Al Qaeda once more has sanctuaries in Taliban controlled territory in southern Afghanistan.

History frequently repeats itself in Afghanistan. The triad (Taliban, Pakistan, drug gangs) believe they can overcome the northern opposition this time. First, the Taliban have to overcome their own factionalism, something they did not have to deal with back in the 1990s when the Taliban was a new organization. In addition to several tribal factions, there is a major split between pro-Pakistan and anti-Pakistan Taliban. The pro-Pakistan Taliban are now run by the leaders of the Haqqani Network. This is another 1990s era Afghan fighting faction that is more gangster than Islamic terrorist and is now a subsidiary of the Pakistani military and the main conduit for getting Islamic terrorists and their weapons (including large vehicle bombs) into Afghanistan. Haqqani and the pro-Pakistan Taliban still have sanctuaries in Pakistan, something that the Pakistani military denies but it not hidden in Pakistan and something of an open secret.

Then there is ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant), a radical al Qaeda group that is at war with everyone. Al Qaeda is again in Afghanistan and allied with the Taliban or at least some of the Taliban. Pakistan considers both al Qaeda and ISIL hostile but that is just another aspect of this bizarre situation.

When the Americans intervened in October 2001, their cash and air support enabled the Northern Alliance to defeat the Taliban in less than two months. This was humiliating for Pakistan and the Taliban. Both made plans to avoid a repeat defeat. Northern Alliance and American military and political leaders realize that as soon as there is another Islamic terror attack in the West, traced back to an Afghan based group, it will be October 2001 all over again. Why should that be such a certainty? Because Islamic terror groups do not agree with one another and never maintain alliances. There has been ample evidence of that during the last two decades, not to mention the last thousand years of Moslem history. Thinking it will be different this time, because enough negotiators are willing to believe anything to get the deal done, will not work.

Some factions in Pakistan (mainly the military) think that this deal would give them enough power to actually control what goes on in Afghanistan. The reality is that the Pakistani generals are losing support and political power in Pakistan. China, Pakistan’s major trading partner, lender and military ally has turned on the Pakistani generals, at least the ones who depend so much on Islamic terror groups to gain victories in Afghanistan and India.

It Followed Me Home

Then there is the United States, which wants to get out of Afghanistan. The problem is how do you get Afghanistan out of the United States and the West in general. Afghanistan is the source of most of the world supply of illegal heroin. The Taliban have assured the Americans that if American troops leave the Taliban will guarantee that there will be no repeat of 2001 when al Qaeda could establish training facilities and bases from which to plan and carry out attacks in the West. Aside from the Taliban history of lies and deceit, there is the fact that the Taliban has been unable to destroy ISIL and al Qaeda has no intention of leaving Afghanistan. Another difference is that now, unlike 2001, the U.S. does not trust Pakistan and actually accuses Pakistan of deceiving the world for years about its continued support for Islamic terrorism and the Taliban. Many Pakistanis also opposed that deceit, which was created by the Pakistani military. But now the Pakistani military has used its muscle to control the elected government and terrorized most Pakistani media into silence or compliance.

Follow The Money

Currently foreign (mainly American) military and economic aid comes to $11 billion a year. That aid goes to the Afghan government but if that government is the Taliban and not a democratically elected one it is unlikely that there would be any aid. The current Afghan government believes it could survive with American aid and the backing of the Afghans, especially the northern ones, who will not submit to rule by the Taliban, Pakistan or drug gangs. While Western critics decry the continued high number of Afghans, armed and unarmed, killed by all the violence, that is not an unusual situation for Afghanistan. For a long time Afghanistan was the poorest nation in Eurasia, with the shortest lifespan and not much law and order at all. Once Afghans discovered (because of movies, TV and the Internet) that there is a better world out there, much of the population sees migration as their main goal. Neighboring countries do not want these migrants so they seek refuge in the West. Few make it and rest remain in Afghanistan where the options are to fight or die.

August 13, 2019: The Afghan Air Force has achieved skills once monopolized by Western air forces. Afghans now carry out airstrikes, including at night and regularly deliver supplies by air. But the Afghans are not as skilled or effective as their Western counterparts and Western trainers and advisors are seeking ways to deal with those problems. One complication is the high number of Afghan aircrew and maintainers who leave the military as soon as they see a better opportunity in the civilian economy, or migrate.

August 12, 2019: The eighth round of American-Taliban negotiations in Qatar ended without any announcement of what was accomplished. The Taliban want U.S. troops out of the country but the Americans insist on a ceasefire and Taliban negotiations with the elected Afghan government in order to create a coalition to rule the country. This is a longshot and not many Afghans consider it possible or even advisable.

August 9, 2019: In preparation for the September election the government has established 5,300 voting sites. Over 70 percent of them will be in local schools which the Taliban are threatening to attack if the schools are used for voting. The Taliban intends to destroy the education system anyway, allowing only religious education and that only for boys. Most Afghans and even many Taliban oppose this policy.

August 8, 2019: Despite India now having access to a road/rail link to Afghanistan via an Iranian port, Pakistan refuses to allow such trade via land routes from India via Pakistan to Afghanistan. Part of this is because the Pakistani military does all it can to portray India as an enemy, one that plans to invade Pakistan. So any “cooperation” with India is regarded by the military as collaboration with the enemy.

August 3, 2019: Afghan and Iranian government officials met in Iran and the Iranians once more declared their support for the elected government of Afghanistan. The Iranians do not want the Taliban running Afghanistan and will do all it can to prevent a Taliban takeover. The last time the Taliban was in charge a lot of Afghan Shia were killed for being “heretics.” Taliban attitudes towards Shia have not changed.

July 27, 2019: In the east (Khost province), there was an incident just across the border in North Waziristan where the Pakistani Taliban based in Afghanistan attacked a Pakistani army patrol, killed six soldiers, they returned to Afghanistan.

July 15, 2019: Pakistan lifted all flight restrictions on its airspace, which blocked Indian airliners from passing over Pakistan. These restrictions had been in place since February. Back in April Pakistan reopened one of the 11 air route Indian air routes use to reach Afghanistan, Iran and points west. Airlines serving Afghanistan has been demanding that Afghanistan do something about the continued Pakistani ban on anyone using their air space. It was hoped that Pakistan was planning to gradually reopen these routes but that was not the case. These flight bans have cost Afghanistan, airlines and passengers over $20 million. India lost over four times that. The airspace closure is the result of air battles in Kashmir between Pakistan and India in late February. That has been costing Afghanistan a lot of money and costing people flying to or from Afghanistan a lot more cash and time as well. Afghanistan gets a $500 fee for every commercial aircraft that passes through Afghan air space and in a normal month there were over 400 such flights a day. But because of the Pakistani flight restrictions, the Afghan international air overflights are down to 20-30 a day. Flying from Afghanistan to India became more difficult. For the first time Iran allowed Afghan transports to reach India via Iranian air space (to the Indian Ocean and then east to India.) This took a lot longer (and was more expensive in terms of fuel and other operating expenses). Via Pakistan, the flights take 90 minutes. Via Iran, the same flights take 300 minutes. Thus passengers had to pay $300 to fly to India versus the usual rate of $160. The air space closures have no end date because Pakistan called the air space closure indefinite, at least until the Pakistani government changes that.




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