An IDC Analysis


New Delhi, 08 July 2006

A visit to NATO HQ to meet a NATO Deputy Commander in Europe and. we learnt of the deep involvement of the European and US military in daily military operations in Afghanistan 末 how concerned the political leaders were to obtain a strategy that would work to remove the Taliban and eliminate Osama bin Laden's system. The public in most NATO nations were beginning to label the challenge as wasteful. The NATO military were fully engrossed in supply and logistics and worried about the safety of their troops.

A Deputy Commander from NATO HQ in Northwood UK had spoken at the IQPC London Conference recently and it was evident that the challenge was truly exasperating 末 dealing with 32 nations and in conditions where the US and British Forces had their reputation at risk. The Vice Admiral took pains to explain the naval operations but also mentioned the military operations and how the NATO was trying to put new strategies in place. No nation in history, the British, the Indians, the Russians or the Americans had managed to subjugate the people of Afghanistan 末 and in today's world Afghanistan held the key to energy routes out of Central Asia. This fact became even more important in the light of Iran becoming a renegade state full of evil in American eyes.

Even Pakistan never ruled the FATA area between Pakistan and Afghanistan, as Afghanistan had not agreed to the Durand Line as the border and so tribesman and warlords ruled the area with their codes of Muslim conduct. The locals saw the intrusion by the foreign whites as unacceptable. The Pakistan Army was viewed as their enemy and they could not understand why it was cooperating with NATO 末 only to get killed by them as the terrain was very treacherous.

With this analysis B Raman convinced that the situation was a rerun of the 1980s goes on to substantiate his views. The NATO has now farmed out a division of military duties and was hopeful of success. Yet every time there was a set back the US troops came in strength and commencing 7th July a massive anti-terror military action was launched and let痴 see how well the Pakistani military cooperates this time around.

Afghanistan 末 A Re-Run Of The 1980s

International Terrorism Monitor: Paper No.61

By B.Raman

(To be read in continuation of the earlier paper titled "South Asia & Al Qaeda : Emerging Trends" at )

The upsurge in violence 末 partly conventional strikes, partly acts of Terrorism 末 which one has been seeing in Southern and Eastern Afghanistan since the end of winter is not a copy-cat version of what has been happening in Iraq since 2003. It is more a re-run of the anti-Soviet jihad of the 1980s 末 this time targeted not against the Soviet communists and their Afghan supporters, but against the "Western infidels led by the US and the UK" and their Afghan supporters.

2. There are some new elements in the current version, which were not there in the 1980s 末 the increasing resort to acts of terrorism, particularly suicide terrorism, for example. But, terrorism is not the mainstay of the jihad being waged by the Neo Taliban. It is conventional guerilla strikes. Carefully-planned and skillfully-executed ambushes of the convoys of the Afghan security forces and surprise attacks on posts of the security forces----often at night 末 form the essence of the jihad. Making the opponents bleed continuously is the tactical objective. Not territorial control.

3. Regaining control of Afghanistan is the strategic objective, but the Neo Taliban proposes to achieve it not piecemeal---gaining one area after another. It proposes to achieve it in one go when the Western forces, tired and weakened by the continuous bleeding, decide to quit 末 as the Soviets did in 1988 末 and the Hamid Karzai Government in Kabul collapses as the Najibullah Government did in April,1992. That is its wish and calculation.

4. The Pashtuns 末Afghan as well as Pakistani nationals 末 are in the forefront of the Jihadi insurgency in Afghanistan. There is very little non-Pashtun involvement on the ground. The role of Al Qaeda, the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU), the Chechens and the Pakistani members of the International Islamic Front (IIF) is restricted to training the Pashtuns in their camps in North Waziristan and guiding the Pashtuns in their operations in Afghan territory. The only reported ground involvement of the Arabs living in the Pakistan-Afghanistan region has been in some acts of suicide terrorism.

5. Despite the role of Al Qaeda and its associates in the training and guidance of the Neo Taliban, one sees less of pan-Islamic rhetoric in Afghanistan than in Iraq. The rhetoric in Afghanistan is partly nationalistic and partly religious. The Afghans vs the American and British occupiers. The Muslims vs the infidels. Anti-Christian rhetoric is more in evidence than anti-Jewish. President Hamid Karzai is projected not only as an American stooge, but also as a Christian stooge. The Western non-governmental organisations doing humanitarian work in Afghanistan are projected as Christian conspirators. Whereas Al Qaeda has, of late, been talking increasingly of a world-wide crusader-Jewish-Hindu conspiracy against Islam, the Neo Taliban's propaganda is relatively free of references to the so-called Hindu conspirators.

6. When the Neo Taliban stepped up its activities in Afghanistan starting from 2004, it projected its jihad as against the American occupiers of Afghanistan. It has now been projecting it as against the American-British occupation. Thus, the UK is now being seen to be as satanic as the US.

7. In Iraq, the internal segment of the conflict is between the Shia majority, which dominates the Administration and the security forces, and the Sunni minority, which finds itself marginalised in the new post-2003 political dispensation, which is perceived by the Sunnis as the creation of the US-led coalition. In Afghanistan, the internal segment of the conflict is between two sections of the Pashtuns, who are Sunnis and constitute the largest ethnic group in the country. What one is witnessing is a conflict between anti-Western, fundamentalist Sunni Pashtuns ( a large number of them from Pakistan) and pro-Western, less fundamentalist Sunni Pashtuns ( all of them Afghan nationals) serving in the Government and the security forces.

8. The Neo Taliban is concentrating its jihad presently against the pro-Western Pashtuns in order to intimidate them into changing sides and supporting it. It is not focussing on the non-Pashtun ethnic groups such as the Tadjiks and the Uzbecks living in the north. Many Western analysts have been connecting the upsurge in violence in Southern and Eastern Afghanistan to the on-going induction of NATO forces into the region so that the NATO could take over from the US the leadership role in the counter-insurgency 末 with the British troops moving to the forefront of the counter-insurgency operations.

9. This analysis is somewhat facile. The Taliban started staging a come-back long before the decision of the NATO to take over the counter-insurgency responsibilities. The decision of the Taliban taken in 2003 to revive and step up its activities on the ground in Afghanistan was an indicator of its confidence in its newly-acquired ability to stand up and fight against the Americans and other Western forces. It was also an outcome of its assessment that widespread anger against the US in the Pashtun belt on both sides of the Pakistan-Afghanistan border due to American counter-insurgency methods such as the use of the Air Force against the jihadis causing considerable collateral damage and reports of the violation of the human rights of those detained at the Guantanamo Bay in Cuba had antagonised a large number of Pashtuns, who would be prepared to co-operate with the Taliban. This assessment has not been off the mark.

10. Two aspects of the Afghan situation one positive and the other negative as compared to that in Iraq need to be underlined. The positive aspect is that the newly-raised Afghan Army has been putting up a better resistance against the Neo Taliban than the newly-raised Iraqi army against the Iraqi resistance fighters and the Al Qaeda. The negative aspect is that the new political structure of Afghanistan is weak and relies largely on one leader 末 Mr.Hamid Karzai. In Iraq, a plurality of leaders 末 Shias, Sunnis and Kurds 末 has come up since 2003. Political stability in Iraq does not depend on the continuance in office of any one political leader. Political stability in Afghanistan depends, to some extent, on the continuance in office of one leader 末 Mr.Hamid Karzai.

11. There are two operations simultaneously going on in Southern and Eastern Afghanistan. A counter-insurgency operation against the Neo Taliban and a counter-terrorism operation to smoke out and neutralise Osama bin Laden, Ayman al-Zawahiri, his No.2, and other remnants of Al Qaeda operating from sanctuaries in this region. There cannot be a watertight division of these two operations---with the NATO forces under British leadership concentrating on eliminating the Neo Taliban and the American forces concentrating against the remnants of Al Qaeda. There has to be an effective co-ordination of the two.

12. Without neutralising the sanctuaries enjoyed by the Taliban and Al Qaeda and its associates in Balochistan and Waziristan, the NATO forces cannot prevail in Afghanistan. At present, they are counting on the Pakistani security forces to neutralise the sanctuaries. While President General Pervez Musharraf has co-operated with the West to some extent in their operations to nab some activists of Al Qaeda, he has not extended any co-operation against the Neo Taliban. While he admits the possibility that some of the Al Qaeda leaders might still be operating from Pakistani territory, he has been vehemently denying the presence of any Taliban leaders, camps or activists in Pakistani territory.

13. In the face of Musharraf's policy of total denial, the only option left is for the Afghan security agencies to undertake covert strikes against the Taliban sanctuaries in Pakistan, without the involvement of Western officials. It does not as yet have this capability. In the long term, the only way of thwarting the return of the Taliban to power is by, firstly, drying up the flow of new recruits to it from the Pashtun belt; secondly, pressurising Pakistan to stop its clandestine support to the Taliban and, thirdly, undertaking a rapid economic development of those areas of Afghanistan, which have not yet been affected by the insurgency, so that examples of the peace dividend if the people keep away from the insurgency are there for all to see.

14. There is a need to change the counter-insurgency methods followed in Southern and Eastern Afghanistan. Reliance on air strikes, artillery and other heavy weapons has to be avoided and there has to be a greater respect for the human rights of the Pashtuns and others. Otherwise, continuing Pashtun anger will drive more Pashtuns into the arms of the Neo Taliban.

(The writer is Additional Secretary (Retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai. 


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