Spearhead Analysis – 13.07.2017
By Hira A. Shafi
Research Analyst, Spearhead Research
Abstract: A DoD report titled “Enhancing Security and Stability in Afghanistan” (DoD disclaimer: The report is not intended to be the single source of information about combined efforts or future strategy for Afghanistan) –published in June 2017, is a fifth in series of semi-annual reports to be published through the year 2019. The report is published in coordination with the Secretary of State for review by relevant departments.
It describes US efforts to enhance stability and security in Afghanistan from period of December 1-2016 till May 31 2017. The report predominately, discusses the current state of ANDSF, Afghan MoD and MoI; their success and limitations and explores scope of future re-structuring of the various Afghan security departments—in line with President Ghani’s 4 year “ANDSF road map”. It further, highlights US objectives and strategies in Afghanistan, and discusses the US perception of critical threats to its mission—especially in regards to the role of regional players including Pakistan.
Pakistan and US maintain a complicated relation especially in regards to Afghanistan. As a major US- non NATO ally, the two states have had some successful converging points in countering terrorism. However, despite its frontline role and facing detrimental blowbacks of the war, Pakistan has often been blamed for inadequate efforts – for US limitations in the complex and contentious Afghan arena.
As the report notes:
“General Nicholson, assesses that the exploitation of ungoverned sanctuaries outside of Afghanistan is the single greatest external factor that could cause failure of the coalition campaign. External sanctuary hampers efforts to bring Afghan Taliban senior leadership to the negotiating table and allows space for groups like the Haqqani Network to plan coordinated operations. Revenue from drug trafficking, illicit mining, and foreign financial support continues to sustain the insurgency and Afghan criminal networks.
The Afghanistan-Pakistan border region remains a sanctuary for various groups, including al Qaeda, al Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent (AQIS), the Haqqani Network, Lashkar-eTayyiba, Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), ISIS-K, and the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan. Sanctuary on the Pakistan side and presence on the Afghan side remain a security challenge for both countries and pose a threat to regional security and stability.
Pakistan is the most influential external actor affecting Afghan stability and the outcome of both the USFOR-A and the RS missions. Pakistan views the outcome of Afghanistan to be in its vital national interest and thus remains driven by its India-centric regional policy objectives. Afghan oriented militant groups, including the Taliban and Haqqani Network, retain freedom of action inside Pakistani territory.
Although Pakistani military operations have disrupted some militant sanctuaries, certain extremist groups—such as the Taliban and the Haqqani Network—were able to relocate and continue to operate in and from Pakistan. The United States continues to convey to Pakistan at all levels the importance of taking action against all terrorist and extremist groups.
Increased collaboration between Afghanistan and Pakistan is critical but efforts have largely ceased following a major high-profile terrorist attacks in both Afghanistan and Pakistan. Each country publicly claims that the other provides sanctuary to certain militant groups and lacks the will to combat them. Despite tensions in the bilateral relationship, and border closures especially after 10th Feb attacks in Pakistan; Afghanistan-Pakistan border cooperation at the tactical level took positive steps, maintaining constructive dialogue and informally operationalizing border management mechanisms functionally similar to those outlined in the Bilateral Military Coordination Standard Operating Procedures.
In particular, Pakistan contributed operational support to a U.S.-ANDSF combined operation to combat ISIS-K. RS continues to facilitate meetings between Afghanistan and Pakistan through its Tripartite Joint Operations Center.
The United States continues to work closely with international partners and regional actors, including Pakistan, to set conditions for an eventual Afghan-led negotiated resolution of the conflict and peaceful political settlement with the Taliban. During this reporting period, progress has been minimal in advancing a potential peace process.
As of February 2017, RS assessed that the Afghan Government maintained control or influence over 65 percent of the population, while the Taliban had control or influence over approximately 11 percent of the population, with the remainder being contested.
The ANDSF is generally capable and effective at protecting major population centers, preventing the Taliban from maintaining prolonged control of specific areas, and responding to Taliban attacks. The Taliban has proven capable of taking rural areas, returning to areas after the ANDSF have cleared but not maintained a holding presence, and conducting attacks that undermine public confidence in the Afghan Government’s ability to provide security.
The externally enabled Haqqani Network remains the greatest threat to Afghan, U.S., and coalition forces. Haqqani and Taliban integration has become so robust that many observers no longer look at them as separate entities, but as factions within the same group.
ISIS-K has regressed since its operational emergence and initial growth in 2015. Several factors have disrupted ISIS-K’s growth and diminished its operational capacity, including U.S. counterterrorism operations against the group, ANDSF operations, pressure from the Taliban, and difficulties in gaining local populace support.”
As the US explores its regional approach towards Afghan Crisis, Pakistan’s role is likely to remain significant in that analysis. An extreme approach –for better or worse—could remain unlikely for now, as the two may converge to accomplish critical counter-terrorism objectives.
However, the Haqqani narrative may continue to remain a fall out point, even though Pakistan continues to reassure US of its efforts in eliminating space of to all disruptive elements. Above all, it is crucial for Pak-US to maintain all channels of open dialogue, remove the trust deficits and reach a convergence regarding Afghanistan.
Certain recent developments between Afghanistan and Pakistan appear to be positive—Pakistan needs to push this trajectory upwards; The US also needs to push for expedited border management efforts and encourage Afghanistan to support a strong bilateral security relation with Pakistan. The revival of QCG and US-China collaboration and convergence on various fronts, is also critical and may greatly help in stabilizing Afghanistan, Pakistan could encourage that.
The recent Ghani-Nawaz meetings in Dushanbe are a positive step forward from the SCO meet-up. The talks on expediting the CASA-1000 project and enhancing regional connectivity in order to alleviate various security concerns need to be actualized.
Lastly, As the report claims that Pakistan’s objectives in Afghanistan are “India-Centric” – US should actively seek to encourage peaceful conflict resolution mechanisms between the two. And, acknowledge the implications of Indian offensive postures; the current US approach of prioritizing economic and other regional objectives in propping India’s military role, could lead to a disruption of the South Asian strategic balance, further encourage spirit of adventurism in India and exacerbate Pakistan’s security concerns.
Influential voices in Washington are increasingly advocating that any troops’ surge should be part of a broader strategy that pushes the diplomatic-political thrust for a solution. To achieve this, as suggested in a recent article by Michael Flournoy The Afghan War is not lost, there should be no timelines for US in Afghanistan and that a much harder line needs to be taken against Pakistan. This may well be the focus of the new US strategy in Afghanistan.