Spearhead Analysis – 14.06.2017
What is the end state that the US seeks in Afghanistan? This is a question that has never really been answered and because of this there has always been uncertainty. This uncertainty has led to hedging strategies as states with stakes in Afghanistan act to protect their interests in the various scenarios that could unfold. From an objective of transforming Afghanistan into a functional democracy to the total defeat of the Afghan Taliban the end state sought by the US now seems to be to bring the Afghan Taliban into the political mainstream after swearing them to peace and a willingness to remain within the bounds of the Afghan constitutional framework. If the Trump administration does send more troops into Afghanistan and acts to shore up Afghan political and security capacity, it will be with this end state in mind.
Recent statements and conferences have also highlighted the importance of Afghan centrality in bringing about a process that leads to the end state that is now being sought. The problem is that the political fragility within Afghanistan, the limited and diminishing capacity of Afghanistan’s security forces, the dependence on external forces that have their own regional agendas for which they want to use their access into Afghanistan, the resurgence of the Afghan Taliban, the presence of assorted militant groups including IS and the re-emergence of warlords all combine to severely limit what Afghanistan can do. This leads or should lead to an outreach that brings Pakistan in full support of the end state sought by the US but this is not happening because the Afghan governments weakness and impotence leads it to blame Pakistan for all its problems. Consider the following statements made recently:
“—–Afghanistan’s National Directorate of Security in a statement released on May 31, 2017, noted, “The plan for today’s attack was drawn up by the Haqqani network with direct coordination and cooperation from Pakistan’s Inter Services Intelligence (ISI).” The statement referred to the May 31, 2017, suicide attack in Kabul, rated as one of the deadliest attacks in Kabul since 2001, in which at least 150 people were killed and over 400 injured”.
— In a speech at the first meeting of the Kabul Process for Peace and Security Cooperation on June 6, 2017, President Ashraf Ghani stated,
‘. We want to be able to trust Pakistan. And we want the chance for friendly, cooperative relationships that will reduce poverty and promote growth on both sides of the Durand line. Our problem, our challenge, is that we cannot figure out what is it that Pakistan wants. What will it take to convince Pakistan that a stable Afghanistan helps them and helps our region? We continue to make an unconstrained offer for a state-to-state peace dialogue. But we cannot – nor can any signatory to the UN Counter-Terrorism Convention – accept that the global consensus against terrorism is not acted upon. So we again call on the Government of Pakistan to propose its agenda and a mechanism for that dialogue which can lead to peace and prosperity—-“
The Afghanistan Cricket Board (ACB), declared,
‘-By killing innocent and destitute people today, the enemies of Afghanistan’s peace and stability showed that they are not worthy of friendship and will not change their stance against Afghans. In light of findings of security services and calls by the Afghan people, the ACB hereby cancels all kinds of cricket matches and mutual relationship agreement with the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB). No agreement of friendly matches and mutual relationship agreement is valid with a country where terrorists are housed and provided safe havens’.
All this on the basis of an arbitrary determination that Pakistan was behind the attack with no thought towards asking Pakistan or proposing a joint investigation of the attack that Pakistan had condemned and for which the IS/Afghan Taliban had claimed responsibility. There was also no indication as to why Pakistan would carry out such an attack and exactly what it hoped to gain from such a mindless act of terror. It is not in Pakistan’s interest to incite violence in Afghanistan because it faces violence from groups located within Afghanistan’s ungoverned spaces. It is in Pakistan’s interest to work with Afghanistan so that the gains made through extensive and costly operations in its western border areas are not jeopardized and Afghan space is not used by its enemies to destabilize its western and south western areas. The perception in Pakistan is that the Indian and Afghan intelligence agencies are colluding in covert operations against Pakistan and that the US may be interested in covert activity against Iran through Pakistan’s Baluchistan province that borders Afghanistan.
Recent statements by the US have also not been helpful in this context;
US Secretary of State said,
‘As to the Afghanistan policy which is still under development and review, so there is no conclusion. I think clearly, though, what we do understand is we can never allow Afghanistan to become a platform for terrorism to operate from. And so our commitment to Afghanistan is to ensure that it never becomes a safe haven for terrorists to launch attacks against the civilized world or against any other part of the world or any of their neighbors. And so this is really a question of what is the end state and how do we reach that end state, and that’s part of the policy review that is still under development so I don’t want to go further than I would say the thinking currently in the administration is, but other than to say we are committed to ensuring Afghanistan does not become that platform from which terrorist activities can be launched’
US Secretary of Defense James Mattis stated on June 5, 2017,
‘As far as Afghanistan goes, as Secretary Tillerson [US Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson] said, the policy is under review, but at the same time we’re up against an enemy that knows that they cannot win at the ballot box, and you think – we have to sometimes remind ourselves of that reality. That’s why they use bombs, because ballots would ensure they never had a role to play, and based upon that foundation, that they cannot win the support, the affection, the respect of the Afghan people… But the bottom line is we’re not going to surrender civilization to people who cannot win at the ballot box’.
US National Security Advisor Gen H.R. McMaster, stated,
‘As all of us have hoped for many, many years, we have hoped that Pakistani leaders will understand that it is in their interest to go after (militant) groups less selectively than they have in the past and the best way to pursue their interest in Afghanistan and elsewhere is through diplomacy and not through the use of proxies that engage in violence.’
In this unfolding scenario the meeting between the Afghan President and the Prime Minister of Pakistan on the sidelines of the SCO conference offers a ray of hope. There has been consensus on reviving the Quadrilateral Meetings and one hopes that bilateral contacts to share intelligence, coordinate operations and jointly investigate terrorist acts will also come about. The Afghan Taliban have a local agenda and serious talks with them can bring flexibility in their demands but those exploiting the turmoil in Afghanistan have a different far more dangerous and wide ranging agenda. It is in the interest of Afghanistan and Pakistan to work together to sideline the forces that threaten them and not allow outside forces to prolong the instability for their own interests. Both Afghanistan and Pakistan need to note how turmoil and centrifugal forces are being exploited in the current Middle East situation.
(Spearhead Analyses are collaborative efforts and not attributable to a single individual).