Afghanistan: Losing Patience With Pakistan

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February 24, 2023: Disagreements between the Pakistani and IEA (Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan) governments over how to deal with the TTP (Pakistani Taliban) have resulted in the TTP remaining safe in their Afghan camps while launching attacks across the border in Pakistan. This is mainly because of political surprises in Afghanistan. Pro-Pakistan officials in the IEA government complain about how they have lost control of government policy. Pakistan believed that once the IEA took over the pro-Pakistan members of the IEA government would give Pakistan their long-desired control over the Afghan government.

That might have happened except for the fact the official leader of the Afghan Taliban, Mullah Hebatullah Akhundzada, is unpopular with many Taliban faction leaders, in part because Akhundzada was seen as a figurehead and his chief deputy, the head of the Haqqani Network, is actually in charge. That was true but the secret was that Akhundzada only acted as a figurehead because he had to operate from the Pakistan sanctuary in Quetta, a city just across the border from the Afghan province of Kandahar, where many of the original Taliban came from. Kandahar was where Akhundzada went after the IEA replaced the IRA (American backed-Islamic Republic of Afghanistan) in mid-2021. Once in Afghanistan Akhundzada could exercise his power as the official head of the Taliban and do so without potentially lethal pressure from Pakistan.

The Pakistanis underestimated how widespread the hatred of Pakistan was in Afghanistan, even among the many Afghan Taliban who seemed to maintain a pro-Pakistan attitude. Pakistan believed this would neutralize the many Afghan Taliban factions who had openly expressed their opposition to Pakistan interference in Afghanistan. Mullah Akhundzada was a highly respected Islamic scholar who rarely commented on his political beliefs. The Pakistani ISI (military intelligence service) that created the Taliban in the mid-1990s and “managed” them ever since misjudged Akhundzada’s silence on his attitude towards Pakistan. This was seen as agreement with or neutrality towards the ISI and Pakistan in general. Akhundzada had widespread support in Afghanistan while the pro-Pakistan IEA officials who were appointed while the Taliban were still in Quetta had little such support.

When Akhundzada overruled the Pakistan backed IEA officials it was clear he was no longer a figurehead. Akhundzada was not a rigid religious fanatic either. When he imposed a ban on women’s higher education in December 2022, he paid attention to the reaction of most Afghans and agreed to lift most of the restrictions. Akhundzada understands he is responsible to what Afghans, not the ISI, want.

This revelation means a lot of problems for the ISI and the Pakistan military, who are in trouble with Pakistan voters and elected officials who are closing in on curbing the independence of the Pakistan military. The military’s policy towards Afghanistan played a minor role in this but the revelation that the Afghans hate the Pakistani military as much as most Pakistanis do will have implications for the future of the Pakistan military. Inside Afghanistan, the pro-Pakistan Haqqani government officials are being told to not criticize IEA leader Akhundzada openly because that might lead to more anti-Pakistan violence inside Afghanistan.

Another Afghan problem with Pakistan is that Pakistanis tend to take their Islam very seriously. This is part of a larger problem because since the founding of Pakistan in 1947 there has been frequent and continuing sectarian, religious and ethnic violence. Religion continues to be a major cause of violence. Attacks are carried out between different sects of Islam, primarily Shia and Sunni but there are other sects that attract violent attention. There is even violence between identical religious/ethnic groups because those who lived in Pakistan before 1947 don’t get along with those who fled Indian anti-Moslem violence in 1947 and settled in Pakistan. Most Moslem Indians stayed in India in 1947 and India currently has more Moslems than Pakistan. There is religious violence on both sides of the border but it is worst in Pakistan, whose name translates to “Land of the Pure.”

Afghans, in contrast, tend to be more tolerant. The exception is radical Afghan Moslems like the original Taliban. Their radical attitudes were the result of the Taliban being created by the Pakistani military in the mid-1990s. This left a lethal legacy as clashes in northwest Pakistan between Pakistani troops and Islamic terrorists continues. To a lesser degree, violence occurs in the southeast (Baluchistan) with Baluchi separatists. Afghans and Pakistani elected officials blame the Pakistani military for causing the separatist and religious violence and the resulting economic problems. While Pakistanis complain of their “Afghan problem” the Afghans are more justified complaining about a much more active and damaging “Pakistani problem.”

February 22, 2023: Iran has agreed to recognize the IEA government in Afghanistan. There are still disagreements between the two countries and the resumption of diplomatic relations makes it easier to discuss possible solutions to disputes. Currently the only countries willing to trade with Afghanistan are China, Russia, Pakistan and Iran. Since IEA took over in 2021, Afghanistan has been a much more difficult country to do business in.

February 21, 2023: In Kabul a bomb attached to a car detonated. There were no injuries and no group took responsibility.

February 20, 2023: China is increasing its trade with Afghanistan. In December 2022 China imported $9.1 million worth of Afghan goods while selling Afghanistan $59 million worth goods. At this rate China will become Afghanistan’s second largest trading partner, after Pakistan.

February 19, 2023: In the east (Nangarhar province) at the Torkham border crossing near the Khyber Pass, there was gunfire nearby that caused the busy border crossing to be closed for at least five days, and maybe more because of the inability of IEA and Pakistan agreeing on who is allowed to travel from Afghanistan to Pakistan.

February 16, 2023: The IEA released a photo of the first three pilots trained for the IEA Air Force. The three men were trained to operate the MD-530 helicopters that were captured intact after the Americans suddenly withdrew their forces. In late 2019 the IRA air force received the last five MD-530F armed scout helicopters. The IRA received 40 MD-530s between 2010 and 2019. By 2017 the U.S. had already supplied twenty MD-530F helicopters armed with machine-guns, missiles and rockets and the U.S. agreed that year to supply 30 more. These are easier to operate and maintain than the Russian Mi-35s and cheaper as well. The IRA Air Force planned to more than double its helicopter force to 214 by 2024 and replace all the Russian helicopters with American ones in the process. The plan was incomplete when the IEA took over in 2021.

February 13, 2023: In central Afghanistan (Ghor province) foreign aid NGOs report that the provincial Taliban officials are trying to impose a heavy “tax” on the NGOs. The Taliban are demanding that 30 percent of the air be given to the government. This includes salaries paid to those working for the NGOs. The NGOs call it extortion and threaten to pull out of the province rather than pay. The IEA government assured NGOs that these practices were no longer allowed and the NGOs want the IEA to act or lose foreign aid in Ghor Province.

February 10, 2023: Uzbek warlord Abdul Rashid Dostum has declared war on the IEA. Dostum is 68-years-old and has become a senior politician and military commander. Since the IEA takeover Dostum has been somewhere in the north, probably Uzbekistan, where he has a lot of admirers, and some detractors. The Taliban tried to monopolize information about what was going on throughout the country but cell phones, Internet and commercial satellite photos make that impossible. Anti-Taliban resistance is going on throughout the north and west along the Iranian border. This is often with the aid of Iran, which supports the armed resistance to the IEA government. As a powerful northern warlord, Abdul Dostum was able to develop nationwide interests after the IRA government took control in late 2001. By 2018 he had become First Vice President in the national government and in 2020, after his term was over, was promoted from general to marshal. This was part of the political compromise that ended the dispute between the two leading candidates in the last presidential elections. Since the 1980s and the Russian invasion Dostum has been one of the main warlords in the north. He is still a major political factor with the non-Pushtun majority in Afghanistan. Since the Taliban are largely a Pushtun group they have long sought to kill Dostum. In 2019 he survived several Taliban assassination attempts. In mid-2018 ISIL took credit for a suicide bombing at the Kabul airport in an effort to kill Dostum, who was returning from 14 months outside the country to deal with personal and family matters. The ISIL attack was apparently meant for Dostum but the timing was off and the Dostum convoy had just left when the suicide bomber struck. The explosion killed 14 people and wounded more than fifty. Dostum had left the country just for medical treatment, but he also wanted to avoid prosecutors who sought him for questioning about the kidnapping and torture of a political rival in Jawzjan province. This was not the first time Dostum has been accused of that sort of thing. In the past he eventually escaped prosecution, sometimes by leaving the country for months. In the last year he has spent a lot of time in Turkey, where he has a lot of support because Uzbeks are Turks and Turkey has been cultivating Central Asian Turkic leaders heavily since the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991 and five new Central Asian states were created, all of them with Turkic majorities or minorities. It is unclear just how debilitating Dostum’s illness is but he is still working the phones and issuing press releases. In response to the recent Taliban victories in the north Dostum will only say that his forces are mobilizing in the north.

Dostum is a classic Afghan warlord and supreme in the north. There is no official leader of the non-Pushtuns but the most powerful of these leaders is outspoken about the continued “disruptive” Pushtun dominance of the government. The best example of this is Dostum, who has been a foe of the Taliban since Pakistan created the Taliban In the mid-1990s. That animosity continues because some of the Taliban leaders he defeated in 2001 are still with the Taliban. One of them, Mullah Fazil, was Taliban deputy defense minister in late 2001 when Dostum forces captured him and, at the request of the Americans, turned him over and he spent years in Guantanamo, threatened with prosecution for the mass murders he was responsible for while a Taliban leader. By 2014 Fazil was back with the Taliban, after being exchanged for an American soldier the Taliban had held for five years. Dostum encountered Fazil in early 2021 when both were in Russia (Moscow) for the Taliban-American peace negotiations. They got into a shouting match at one point.

Dostum is basically a powerful Uzbek politician, and achieved that status by performing as a long-time warlord. He was also a general in the communist army that was dissolved in 1992. The Uzbeks are Turks, and comprise nine percent of the population. The Uzbeks have always been hostile to the Taliban, drugs and Pushtun efforts to dominate all of Afghanistan. Dostum became the leader of Afghans who opposed the Taliban and was also popular with Afghans who openly opposed Islamic terrorism. Dostum makes the most of this by regularly giving speeches condemning Islamic terrorism. This involves constantly traveling and exposing himself to terrorist attacks. He has survived dozens of attacks and this increases his popularity while enraging the Islamic terrorists he publicly berates and condemns. Dostum has long been a major critic of Pakistan and how Pakistan continues to support Islamic terrorists operating in Afghanistan. If the Taliban do regain control of the national government, they will find that, as in the 1990s, they cannot control the north. In part that is because of leaders like Dostum and many other prominent northerners like him. The Taliban was always considered a threat and Dostum’s declaration of war on the IEA was expected, as was Dostum becoming part of the successor to the 1990s Northern Alliance. This anti-Taliban group reassembled in 2022 as the NRF (National Resistance Front) and became a major problem for the IEA. That is more than the IEA can handle. Some of the NRF leaders are sons of successful Northern Alliance commanders. Iran threatens to provide more support to the NRF than they gave the Northern Alliance. Since 2022 NRF-dominated Panjshir province (northeast of Kabul) has come under attack by IEA forces which are not making a lot of progress in eliminating armed NRF members and their unarmed local supporters. NRF forces have put IEA forces in the Panjshir Valley on the defensive. The 1990s Northern Alliance dominated the Panjshir Valley (a 90-minute drive from Kabul) right up to the defeat of the Taliban government after September 2001. Northern Front leaders became members of the IRA government and now their sons reassembled as the NRF, quickly took control over most of the Panjshir Valley and successfully resisted IEA forces sent to gain any control there. The NRF uses mines, roadside bombs and ambushes to attack IEA forces as well as their supply convoys. The NRF men (and women) know the valley but few IEA troops do. IEA soldiers and police who have spent some time in the valley learn to be wary just to survive. That means exercising caution when attempting to arrest locals suspected of supporting the NRF.

The NRF faces the same problem the Northern Alliance did in 2001; they were seen by Pushtuns as representing the ethnic minorities of Afghanistan, which make up over half the population and vilely deny the expected respect to Pushtuns. For centuries the Pushtuns dominated Afghan politics and the minorities tolerated that until the Islamic radicals came along with Pakistan’s creation of the Taliban. One thing nearly all Afghans agree on is the damage Pakistan has done to Afghanistan and unwillingness to give up that interference. Afghans see themselves as the victim of neighbors seeking to control the country. Afghans would prefer to restore the modern state of Afghanistan, which was peacefully created over a century ago. That quasi-monarchical/quasi-tribal form of government was doing fine because until the 1970s there was an agreement that largely kept the peace. This arrangement meant Afghanistan was a constitutional monarchy presided over by a Pushtun king who largely dealt with foreigners and left the tribes (60 percent of them non-Pushtun) to negotiate their differences. At that point Afghanistan was still largely medieval as far as cultural norms and economic activity was concerned. But the 20th century was making an impression and the educated urban minority was calling for radical change. This was tempting to many leading Afghans but the vast majority of Afghans were still in the countryside ruled by tribal leaders. Most of these rural Afghans opposed any radical change. The reform factions, mainly the pro-communist ones, tried violence to overthrow the monarchy, failed and in 1979 Russia intervened to rescue their fellow communists. That led to a civil war that is still going on.

February 9, 2023: UN security experts warn that the local ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant) affiliate, ISK (Islamic State Khorasan) is planning attacks on the embassies of India, China and Iran in the Kabul Green Zone. This is part of the ISK effort to prevent the IEA from establishing diplomatic and economic relations with foreign nations. Most nations are still reluctant to establish an embassy in the IEA controlled Kabul.

January 30, 2023: In northwest Pakistan (city of Peshawar) the TTP was accused of carrying out a bombing inside a police compound that killed over a hundred people and wounded many more. The bomb went off in a mosque and was carried and detonated by a suicide bomber. TTP leadership insisted they had nothing to do with it

Afghanistan backed the TTP denial of responsibility and pointed out that there are other terror groups carrying out attacks inside Pakistan. Since the ISI-backed IEA (Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan) government took power in late-2021, Afghanistan has become a safer place for Islamic terror groups. The most active include the TTP (Pakistani Taliban) and ISK, which is also the local ISIL affiliate. The more immediate problem is the TTP. Many TTP factions operate independently, often contrary to orders from TTP leadership. In contrast the Afghan Taliban was always more disciplined because they were dependent on the Pakistani military for a sanctuary in Baluchistan province and other essential aid. This included cash payments from the Afghan heroin cartels that also depend on the Pakistani military for essential supplies and services. The Afghan Taliban have long helped protect cartel operations inside Afghanistan. Now that the Afghan Taliban is back in power, after 20 years in exile, they find they have a lot in common with the TTP. Both Taliban’s see the Pakistani military as the enemy and that is causing major problems for the Pakistani military and Pakistan as a whole. So far TTP still has sanctuary in Afghanistan and is regularly sought out and attacked by Pakistani UAVs rather than IEA security forces. TTP tends to be blamed for all terror attacks but subsequent events often show another group was responsible.

January 28, 2023: The IEA banned women from attending colleges or universities. Currently women can only be educated up to the sixth grade. The IRA has also banned women from working outside the home. This included a ban on Afghan women working for foreign aid organizations. About 30 percent of the locals working for these NGOs (Non-Government Organizations) are Afghan women. Without the female employees the NGOs are unable to provide many essential services to Afghan women. One side-effect of this is an increase of maternal mortality in childbirth. The IEA policies towards women caused many NGOs to leave Afghanistan. Nearly half the population is hungry because the economy has been crippled by IEA policies and agriculture has been hurt by two years of drought.

 

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