The Future In Afghanistan
The quality of governance emanating from Karzai’s deeply corrupt government will not significantly improve without a comprehensive reform of the Afghan government. The time has come therefore to switch to the least bad alternative—acceptance of a de facto partition of the country
The name Afghanistan means the land of the Afghans. The medieval and popular meaning of Afghan is Pashtun or Pakhtun. The origins of the name Afghan remains unclear. Its use dates from the 18th century when Pashtun tribes began to carve out a region of Central Asia as their sovereign base. As the British Empire expanded it tried to put the Pashtun under their rule. Throughout the 19th century, the British tried to place the Pashtun under their rule, but could not succeed. The Pashtun form the most important and the most numerous ethnic group in Afghanistan. The twin terms Pashtun and Pakhtun refer to the two separate confederations of tribes, the Abdali or Durrani tribes based in the Kandahar region and the Ghilzai based in the Nangarhar-Paktia region who together with the eastern tribes in Pakistan speak the Pakhtun dialect.
The tribes that belong to neither confederacy, the Afridi, Khattak, Orakzai, Waziri and Mahsud were designated as Hill tribes by the British though increasingly they were referred to as Pashtun for convenience. The characteristics of Pashtun form the stuff of tales from Rudyard Kipling to George Macdonald Fraser. The 17th century Pashtun poet and warrior Kushal Khan Khattak depicts the acme of Pashtun manhood as brave, love smitten honourable and heroic. The Pashtun are overwhelmingly Sunni. They are known for their Pashtun code of honour-Pashtunwali. This tribal code of honour includes melmastia-hospitality, nanawati, the notion that hospitality can never be denied to a fugitive who asks for shelter and badal, the right of revenge. Pashtun honour is maintained by constant feuding, revolving around zar-gold, zan-woman and zamin-land.
To the North and East live the Tadjiks, who speak Dari, Persian and also Afghan. They are Sunni and follow the Jamaat-e-Islami (JEI). In this area also live the Hazaras and the Quizilbash, who are Shia. To their west live Uzbeks, who are Sunni and also follow the JEI. Further west are the Heratis who are Shia. In the east is an area which was under the Greeks and later the Kushans. During this period Buddhism held sway, witnessed the giant statues of the Buddha at Bamiyan that the Taliban blasted with rocket launchers. By the tenth century, the population had become Muslim.
The British had occupied Kabul and controlled the area for a period, but decided to leave Kabul and only control the area of the Khyber pass and the area bordering India, which later became the Frontier Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) and the Northwest Frontier Province (NWFP). The British drew the Durand line by which the Tribes living in the hills east of the Pashtun area, in what is now the Frontier Administered Tribal Area and the North West Frontier Province, were given to India. When India was given independence, these two areas came under Pakistan.
Marx among the Afghans
After Russia became Communist, they tried to influence Afghanistan. Marxist parties made a dent in Afghanistan and ultimately, a Communist party, the Peoples Democratic Party of Afghanistan was formed. This advent of Marxism in an Islamic country was ultimately to prove the nemesis of Afghanistan, with fundamentalist Islamic parties confronting the Russians, who foolishly marched into Afghanistan. This confrontation also coincided with the development of extremist Islamic fundamentalist groups that has ultimately morphed into the Taliban. The biggest blunder committed by the Soviets was to send in the Russian Army to subdue the Afghans. This led to several Islamic countries organizing a Jihad against the Russians that is still continuing long after the Russians have left, and is now directed against the western world, represented by the United States and the NATO countries, with Pakistan as the main abettor.
The Mujahideen and the Holy war
The war of the Afghans against the Russian Army put the word Mujihideen into the International vocabulary. Over a period of fourteen years, (1972-1992) the Mujahideen of Afghanistan underwent a transformation from a band of Islamist fighters inspired by the desire to institute the practices of revivalist Islam in their country to a disunited but dedicated citizenry from all walks of life who fought a technologically uneven war and for all practical purposes won. The period since the fall of Kabul in 1982, brought to the fore many divisions both among the Mujahideen and in the country. By the end of 1994, a new generation of Afghan fighters bred and trained in Madrassas for Afghan refugees located in Pakistan emerged to take the lead and restore civil government. They called themselves the Taliban. Their social policy was strictly Islamic and their composition was Pashtun. For Muslims of this region, Communism and Islam are regarded as implacable enemies and irreconcilably opposed. For this reason the debt of the Mujahid nation of Afghanistan to Pakistan for continuing aid to both the refugees and to the Mujahids became critical in future Pakistan-Afghan relations.
The decisive step of intellectuals, nationalists and government bureaucrats to join the resistance came only after the Soviet invasion in December 1979.The atheism of the regime in Kabul was the main reason for exodus of more than three million refugees. The main factor that gave the resistance the will and passion to fight against the Soviet army was their Islamic faith. More than a million Afghans died in the resistance, before the Russian army pulled out. Kabul finally fell to the Mujahideen in 1992. When the first stage of the jihad began in 1976, the fighters carried Enfield rifles. By 1989, when the Soviet Army left, field commanders communicated by satellite phones and Stinger missiles were the elite weapons of the day.
The Mujahideen captured Kabul in 1992. Kabul did not fall to the Pashtun forces, but to the well organised forces of Burhanuddin Rabbani, and his military commander Ahmed Shah Masood, and to the Uzbek forces from the north, of Rashid Dostum. This was a devastating blow to the Pashtuns. For the first time they had lost control of Kabul.
The Taliban’s closest link was with Pakistan, where they had studied in the Jamaat-e-Ulema Islam (JUI) Madrassas. On 12 October 1994, a small incident occurred in the Pakistan- Afghan border town of Spin Boldak that led to a sharp battle between the Taliban group and Gulbuddin Hematyar’s men. Hematyar’s group was defeated in a sharp exchange. The Taliban group followed up by capturing an arms dump of 18,000 Kalashnikov rifles, dozens of artillery pieces and a large quantity of ammunition. Shortly after, a convoy led by the Pakistan Army’s Logistics cell set up by the ISI to transport US arms to the Mujahideen in Afghanistan left Quetta with Col. Imam, an ISI officer and two Taliban commanders Mullah Borjan and Mullah Turabi. This convoy was held up by a group. At this stage, the ISI probably asked the Taliban to get the group released. The Taliban moved in freed the convoy, killed one of the commanders and then moved to Kandahar, routed the forces there and captured, dozens of tanks, armoured cars, six MIG 21 fighter aircraft and six transport helicopters. This opened the way and by December 1994, some 12, 000 Afghan and Pakistani Taliban reinforced the Taliban in Kandahar. As the Taliban marched north to Kabul, local warlords surrendered to them or fled.
The Taliban were very different from the Mujahideen who fought the Russians. These Talibs were brought up in the JUI Madrassas set up in the FATA and the NWFP of Pakistan. They grew up isolated from women, their own mothers and sisters. They believed in a messianic puritan Islam, drummed into them by the Mullahs of the Deobandi Madrassas. They admired war. They were the lumpen proletariat of Afghanistan.
However, when they advanced on Kabul, they were soundly beaten back by Masud’s much better trained army. The Taliban did not give up. They camped outside Kabul and commenced a merciless rocket attack on Kabul. Finally on 26 September 1996, Masud retreated and the Taliban drove into Kabul. Within 24 hours of taking Kabul, the Taliban enforced the strictest version of Islam on the hapless people of Kabul. All women were banned from work, though one quarter of the civil service, the entire educational system and much of the health system were run by women. Girl’s schools and colleges were closed. TV, video, music and all games were prohibited. The Taliban set up a six man all Mullah Shura to rule the city.
The only city that was free was Mazar-e-Sharief. This was Uzbek country under Rashid Dostum. The Taliban managed to get Malik Pahalwan, the deputy of Dostum to defect and the Taliban rolled into Mazar-e-Sharief. Dostum retreated to Uzbekistan. The Taliban took over the mosques, imposed Sharia law and drove all women off the streets. This was a recipe for disaster for a city in which a complex mix of ethnic people lived in what was an open and liberal country. Pakistani diplomats and ISI officers flew into Mazar-e-Sharief and Islamabad recognized the Taliban as ruling the State. On the afternoon of 28 May 1997, the Hazara troops revolted as they were being disarmed. The whole population then revolted. In fifteen hours of fierce fighting more than 600 Talibs were killed and over a thousand captured.
The Hazaras were short stocky people with distinct Mongoloid features. They lived in Central Afghanistan. They were believed to be descendents of Genghis Khan’s soldiers and Tadjiks. For a thousand years before the advent of Genghis Khan, Bamiyan, the capital of the Hazaras was Buddhist. Islam was established here only in the eleventh century. The four million Hazaras are the largest group of Shias in Afghanistan. The sectarian enmity between the Pashtuns and the Hazaras had a long history, but the Taliban gave it a ferocious twist. Even more irksome for the Taliban was the fact that the Hazara women played a very prominent role in the political, social and military life of the Hazaras. The Eighty member council of the Hazaras, Hizb-e-Wahadat had twelve women members.
In July 1998, the Taliban swept north from Herat taking Maimana, capturing Dostum’s hundred tanks and eight hundred Uzbeks, most of whom they massacred. This left just fifteen hundred Hazaras facing the Taliban. The Hazaras fought till their ammunition was exhausted. Only a hundred lived to be captured. The first Taliban pickups entered Mazar at 1000 hours. What followed was a massacre, genocidal in its ferocity. The Taliban went on a killing frenzy, firing indiscriminately at men, women, children, and even donkeys and goats. The streets were soon covered with dead bodies. The Taliban did not allow the dead bodies to be buried for six days, leaving them to rot and allowing dogs to eat the dead. The Shias were told to convert to Sunnis or go to Iran.
The UN and the ICRC estimated that between five thousand and six thousand people were killed. The Taliban now launched an offensive on Bamiyan. They occupied Bamiyan on 13 September 1998 and on the 19th fired rockets on the famous Buddha statues that had stood for 2000 years and had witnessed the pillage of the Mongols.
The Taliban and its extreme version of Islam
Few Muslims in the world practice the rituals and piety of Islam with such devotion and regularity as the Afghans, rich or poor, Communist, king or Mujahideen, there was no difference when it came to be time for namaaz. In this background, it is difficult to explain the Hazaras massacre of the Taliban in Mazar1997 and the Taliban’s massacre of the Hazaras in 1998. This has irrevocably damaged the fabric of the country’s religious and national soul.
The Taliban’s interpretation of Islam and jihad was an anomaly in Afghanistan. The Taliban represented nobody but themselves and they recognized no other Islam, but theirs. Their ideological base was an extreme form of Deobandism which was being preached in the Madrassas set up by the Pakistan ISI to shelter the Afghan refugee children. When Pakistan was created the Jamaat-e-Ulema Hind set up in Deoband in Uttar Pradesh in India set up a branch in Pakistan. They took the name of Jammat-e-Ulema-i-Islam (JUI). The Deobandi who shifted to Pakistan however took up an extreme version of Islam. When the Russian army invaded Afghanistan, three million Afghans, men women and children migrated to Pakistan. The Pakistan Government led by the JUI leaders set up hundreds of JUI Madrassas to host the children of the refugee Afghans. Two of the largest JUI Madrassas were the one in Akhora Khattak, the Dar-ul-uloom Haqqania, in the Frontier Administered Tribal Area (FATA) and the second was in Binori, a suburb of Karachi. The Deoband tradition is opposed to the Pashtun tribal traditions of the Jirga. The Taliban has given Islamic fundamentalism a new face and a new identity for the next millennium.
To give credit to the Taliban, they governed through a collective leadership. The Taliban Shura in Kandahar claimed it was following the early Islamic model where discussions were followed by a consensus. However between 1994 and 1996, when Kabul was captured the Taliban’s decision making became highly centralised, dictatorial and inaccessible. After 1996, the Taliban made it known that they were the sole rulers of Afghanistan, without the participation of the other ethnic groups.
The Kandahar Shura never broadened its base to include Ghilzai Pashtuns or non Pashtuns.
Heroin and the Taliban economy
The Taliban provided an Islamic sanction for the farmers of Afghanistan to grow opium whereas the Koran prohibits Islam from growing or producing intoxicants. Between 1992 and 1995, Afghanistan produced 2400 metric tonnes of opium every year. In 1997, Afghanistan’s opium production went up to 2800 metric tonnes. Pakistan was soon enmeshed in the illegal transportation of heroin from Afghanistan to Pakistan and the ISI and Pakistan Service personnel were quite involved in this illegal trade. The logistics of the operation of the smuggling syndicates was quite simple. The donkeys’ camels and truck convoys that carried weapons into Afghanistan for the Taliban from the Pakistan Army, when coming back, carried opium or heroin, back to Pakistan and even to Karachi, from where it was taken abroad.
Taliban’s Arab Afghans and Osama bin Laden
When the jihad against the Russians began, Pakistan had directed its embassies to give visas with no questions asked to anyone who wanted to fight the jihad against the Soviets. Between 1992 and 1995 nearly 35,000 Muslim radicals from the Middle East, North and East Africa, Central Asia and the Far East were trained and fought against the Russian Army. Many of these also studied in the hundreds of Madrassas set up by the ISI of Pakistan along the Afghan border and in Karachi. These radicals met each other for the first time and studied, trained and fought together. The camps became training grounds for future Islamic radicalism. None of the Intelligence agencies involved paused to consider the consequences of bringing together thousands of Islamic radicals from all over the world.
The war, wrote Samuel Huntington, left behind an uneasy coalition of Islamic organisations intent on promoting Islam against all non-Islamic forces. It also left behind a legacy of expert and experienced fighters, training camps and logistical facilities, elaborate trans-Islamic networks, a substantial amount of military equipment including several hundreds of unaccounted for Stinger missiles and most important a heady sense of power and self confidence over what had been achieved and a driving desire to move on to other victories.
The centre for the Arab-Afghans was the office of the world Muslim League and the Muslim Brotherhood in Peshawar, run by Abdullah Azam, a Jordanian who had first organised the hundreds of Muslim fighters who had come to fight the jihad against the ungodly Russians. This came to be known as the Mehtab- al-Kidmath. Saudi Arabia funded this base. Now it was Osama bin laden a rich Saudi industrialist’s son who visited this jihadi base. Between 1962 and 1982, nearly 35,000 Islamic radicals from 43 Islamic countries from the Middle East, North and East Africa, Central Asia and the Far East were trained and fought with the Afghan Mujahideen against the Russians. The camps became a training ground for future Islamic radicalism.
It was at this stage that the ultra rich Saudi Osama bin Laden came to Afghanistan and started funding the jihad. The Arab fighters were Wahabis and they fought several battles alongside the Taliban, particularly in the massacres of the Shia Hazaras. Then Kabul was captured by the Taliban. The Pakistan ISI was disappointed when the Taliban refused to recognize the Durand line. They were further dismayed when the Taliban refused to drop Afghanistan’s claims to parts of the North West Frontier Province (NWFP). Tribal groups in the FATA became deeply fundamentalised. To the consternation of Pakistan, a Talibanised leader from Swat demanded the adoption of Sharia law in Swat, which was a holiday resort for Pakistan. For a brief period Sharia law was even approved for Swat, when better sense prevailed and the Army was deployed to wrest Swat back from the fundamentalists at considerable cost to the scenic province.
By the year 2000, there were clear indications that the Taliban and the Al Qaeda from Saudi were creating an international army of terrorism in Afghanistan. Al Qaeda now organised a special unit called Brigade 555 with Arab and North African fighters. They backed the Taliban in their offensive against the Northern Alliance. Al Qaeda enlisted cadres from the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU), Chechen fighters and Uighur Muslims from Xinjiang. In September 2000 the Taliban captured Masud’s stronghold Taloquan, while the Pakistan Army’s Frontier corps operated the Artillery support. Pakistani officers directed the Taliban campaign along with Al Qaeda fighters.
Then on 12 October 2000 Al Qaeda struck again as three suicide bombers, piloting a small skiff in Yemen harbor rammed into the USS Cole a US destroyer killing 17 US sailors and injuring many more. On December 20, the UN resolution 1333 imposed a complete arms ban on the Taliban. Pakistan in defiance of the UN resolution continued to supply arms to the Taliban. The Security Council then passed Resolution 1363 authorising monitors on Afghanistan’s borders to enforce the UN embargo.
The Pakistan and the Taliban then said that they would kill any UN monitors who arrived!
It is at this stage that Masud, the Tajik leader began to emerge as an Afghan nationalist leader. Shortly after this development, the Al Qaeda struck again. They sent two Tunisian members posing as photographers to interview Masud. Despite being warned, Masud agreed to the interview. The two assassins posing as journalists set up their camera loaded with explosives and when they clicked, the explosives in the camera exploded onto Masud’s face injuring him grievously and he died shortly thereafter. The two assassins were captured and shot, but the damage was done. The murder had been cleverly planned by Al Qaeda.
The Pakistan Army through its Inter Services Intelligence had masterminded the insurgency against the Russian Army when they invaded Afghanistan. It was the ISI who had masterminded the creation of the Taliban by training the children of the lakhs of Afghans who had fled to Pakistan as refugees in the JUI Madrassas. These children admitted as Talibs in the hundreds of JUI Madrassas that were opened were trained in the Deobandi sect of Islam and also in guerilla warfare. Mullah Omar who was selected as the leader of the Taliban led the fight against the Russians from his base in the Quetta Shura in Baluchistan in Pakistan. Camps for training the Talibs in Guerilla warfare were set up in several of the Frontier Administered Tribal Areas of Pakistan (FATA), but mainly in North and South Waziristan of the FATA. This wild frontier was selected as the people of FATA were Pashtuns as was the population on the eastern border of Afghanistan and also for the wild terrain of this frontier region.
Meanwhile there was a linkup between the Al Qaeda set up by Osama bin Laden from the militants of Iraq, Yemen and Afghanistan. The totally unnecessary war on Iraq had led to the Sunni group in Iraq forming the Al Qaeda who also operated in Afghanistan against the Russians alongside the Taliban. As the 21st century opened, the FBI issued 216 internal threat warnings about the possibility of an attack by Al Qaeda between January and September 2011. Richard Clarke wrote to Condoleesa Rice, the US Secretary of State, on June 28, 2001, saying that warnings of an imminent attack had reached a crescendo. On 10 July, the CIA prepared a briefing paper for the US President that was emphatic. “We believe that Osama bin Laden will launch a significant terrorist attack against US and or Israeli interests in the coming weeks…. attack preparations have been made and will occur with little or no warning.
On September 4, 2001, the long awaited Inter Agency Cabinet meeting took place in Washington. It was decided that Masud the Tajik leader would be given 125 million dollars to buy arms. To fight the Taliban. The urgent warnings of a significant terrorist attack on the United States were not discussed. A few days later Muhammad Atta and his accomplices were saying their last prayers as they prepared to take off on hijacked aircraft to fly into the twin towers and the Pentagon.
The ISI continued its double game after the attack on the twin Trade towers. Musharraf directed the ISI to continue supplies of arms and ammunition to the Taliban in direct defiance of the directions of the US government to stop all weapon ammunition and fuel supplies to them. Thus as some ISI officers were trying to locate Taliban targets, for US bombers, others were pumping in fresh arms for them.
Shia-Sunni Enmity Devoured More Than Half Million Muslims
Islam is called the religion of brotherhood but different sects of it are so exclusivist that they are incapable to tolerate existence of others. Though divide of Shias and Sunnis, two sects of Islam, is as old as Islam itself, in modern times it has become very intense and widespread, splitting the Muslim world in two different camps. Whichever country Shias are in majority they repress Sunnis and Sunnis also behave in the same way with Shias in nations dominated by them. Hence, it is creating an extraordinary sectarian conflict in countries of Middle East, Persian Gulf and some south Asian Muslim countries, which already claimed more than five lakh lives. Still there is no sign of lessening of enmity.
Transformation from peaceful coexistence to bloody rivalry was caused by some political and economic developments. Shia revival all over the world after Iranian Islamic revolution was one of the main reason behind it which changed traditional equations of Muslim world. It transformed Shias from meek neighbours of Sunnis to sworn enemy. Sunnis could never stomach the change. Another significant development was establishment of Shia government in Iraq after many centuries of rule by minority Sunnis. This resulted in confrontation between Shias and Sunnis in many countries like Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iran, Bahrain, Saudi Arab, etc. Iran’s Ayatollah Khomeini had dreamt of becoming the leader of Muslims, and thus challenged Saudi supremacy in the Muslim world. It fuelled Iran-led Shia extremism and Saudi-led Sunni extremism. Once Arab-Israel conflict was the main conflict of Middle East but now it has been substituted by Shia-Sunni conflict.
Globally, Sunnis make up the majority (87–90 per cent) of Muslims and Shiites (10–13 per cent) form a small minority. But in Persian Gulf and Arabian Peninsula Sunnis comprise 36 per cent of the overall population whereas Shiites make up 60 per cent. Irony of the situation is that in many nations of the region like Iraq, Bahrain, Kuwait, where Shias are in majority, they are ruled by the Sunni ruler.
Shia-Sunni rivalry also fuelled sectarian violence in non-Arab nations like Afghanistan and Pakistan. In Afghanistan, emergence of Sunni Taliban sharpened the age-old enmity between Sunni Pakhtuns and Shia Hazaras. After victory the Taliban aimed to cleanse the north Afghanistan of Shias. At mazar city 5000-6000 Shias were killed. Along the route of Taliban similar massacres of Uzbeks and Tajik Shia took place. Pakistan also witnessed serious Shia-Sunni discord with 80 per cent of Muslim population being Sunni, and 20 per cent being Shia.
Once Shia–Sunni relations were cordial, and people of both sects participated in the movement for the creation of the state of Pakistan in 1940s. Unfortunately, in last two decades more than 6000 Shias have died in sectarian violence unleashed by Al-Qaeda working with local sectarian groups Lashkar-e-Jhangvi and Sipah-e-Sahaba, which like to kill what they perceive as Shia apostates. Whereas Iran has been funding Shia militant groups such as Sipah-e- Mohammad Pakistan in tit-for-tat attacks on each other. Most violence takes place in Punjab and the country’s commercial and financial capital, Karachi. There have also been conflagrations in the provinces of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Balochistan and Gilgit Baltistan. Sunni groups demand the expulsion of all Shias from Pakistan.
Iran is unique in the Muslim world because its population is overwhelmingly Shia. They constitute 92 per cent of the population. Members of Sunni groups in Iran however have been active in what the authorities describe as terrorist activities. Balochi Sunnis continue to declare the Shias as Kafir. These Sunni groups have been involved in violent activities in Iran and have waged terrorist attacks against civilian centers. Following the 2005 elections, much of the leadership of Iran has been described as staunchly committed to core Shia values and lacking Ayatollah Khomeini’s vision of Shia–Sunni unity. While Shias make up roughly 15 per cent of Saudi Arabia’s population, they form majority of the eastern province of Hasa—where much of the petroleum industry is based. Between 500,000 and a million Shia live there, Saudi Arabia discovered the biggest oilfields in the world. But 70 per cent of its oil lies in the Shia-majority region on the Gulf shore. This made the Saudi royal family paranoid about the possibility that these Shias, abetted by Iran (and now Iraq), would secede and take the oilfields from them. Shias, who constitute about eight per cent of the Saudi population, faced discrimination in employment as well as limitations on religious practices. Their books were banned, and the traditional annual Shia mourning procession was discouraged. Members of the Shia Muslim suffer systematic political, social, cultural as well as religious discrimination.
But interference by the regional powers can make any dispute a bloody war. These days what is fearing most is the fact that Sunni Iran is making atom bomb so Saudi Arab also want to make it. If Shia and Sunni powers get hold of atom bomb, then the world would become a dangerous place to live in.
By Satish Pednekar
The United States attacks Afghanistan
In direct defiance of the directions of the United Nations to stop all supplies to the Taliban, the ISI of Pakistan continued to supply arms, ammunition and fuel to the Taliban. While some ISI officers were helping the US forces to locate Taliban targets, for US bombers, others were pumping in fresh US armaments for the Taliban.
The first US attack on the Taliban commenced on 7th October 2001. Fifty cruise missiles and dozens of laser guided bombs hit thirty one military targets of the Taliban. The bombing continued for four weeks. The first break through came as Dostum’s Uzbeks led cavalry charges against the Taliban routing them. The entire north became a shooting gallery and several thousand Taliban were killed as they retreated. The survivors fled to Kunduz. The whole of Northern, Central and Western Afghanistan. President Musharraf flew to the United States to request Bush to dissuade the Northern Alliance from taking Kabul. It was too late. On the night of November, 12 the Northern Alliance drove into Kabul. In Kunduz hundreds of Taliban and Frontier corps personnel were trapped. Musharraf telephoned Bush and requested for a pause in the bombing and that he may be allowed to ferry the trapped personnel. Bush agreed and Pakistani forces flew several sorties and air lifted the trapped Taliban and Pakistani Army personnel to safety in Pakistan on November 24, the New York Times reported that five Pakistani Air Force planes had landed at Kunduz.
It was the warlord from the Tajik area, Fahim, who controlled Kabul, when the Taliban were routed. The United Nations mandated an International Security Force to take over Kabul. Fifteen hundred British troops formed the corps of the International Security Force (ISAF). A British Officer Sir John McColl took over charge from a reluctant Fahim. In the rest of the country warlords remained in power.
The Pakistan Army deliberately left the borders of Afghanistan with the FATA open. Soon dozens of Al Qaeda cadres from Saudi Arabia, Chechnya, and Central Asia were sheltered when escaping from Afghanistan into South Waziristan in FATA. They were temporarily settled there by local tribesmen. The United Nations, the Red Cross and a few NGO’S kept millions of Afghans alive with food supplies. Nearly one million Afghans were displaced. The Taliban obstructed every move of the United Nations. The situation was aptly summed up by a reporter, Stephen Kinzer when he wrote that the path taken by the US assured that Afghanistan would remain in ruins, the war lords would continue to control much of the country and that the remnants of the Taliban would emerge as a fighting force.
The Taliban Resurgent
Pakistan had three aims in the region. These were resisting Indian hegemony in the region, promoting a pro Pakistan government in Afghanistan and promoting the Kashmir cause. All these interests rested on unquestioned support from the Islamic fundamentalist parties. At the time of 9/11, there were forty extremist Islamic groups in Pakistan and Afghanistan, all of whom had links with the ISI. Before 9/11, these groups had forged links with the Al Qaeda. The ISI gave sanctuary to the Taliban in Quetta. In fact the Taliban Shura was in Quetta where Mullah Omar the chief of the Taliban lived. Jalalludin Haqqani, the Taliban leader was given sanctuary in North Waziristan. The Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan was based in South Waziristan. For four years, Mullah Omar and his commanders were able to operate freely in Southern Afghanistan. The US military did not have a look down satellite to cover southern Afghanistan.
Mullah Omar went underground with a few guards. He moved between Uruzgan and Helmand. In May 2002, he gave an interview and said that the battle for Afghanistan had just begun. He reached Quetta in end 2002 and set up his Shura there. He appointed four commanders to reorganise the fighting in the southern provinces of Afghanistan Uruzgan, Helmand, Kandahar and Zebul. The commanders of the four Taliban units had close links to Osama bin Laden.
The Taliban began to move weapons ammunition and supplies into Afghanistan in late 2002. US and Afghan forces soon began to recover caches of weapons. In one cache they recovered 2100 new AK rifles, 70,000 mortar bombs and 43,000 rockets.
The first major confrontation between the US Army and the Taliban
Against the major build up of the Taliban with the full backing of the Pakistan ISI, a major confrontation between the US forces and the Northern Alliance was inevitable. The battle royal that ensued aided by massive bombing by the US routed the Taliban with 8000 to 12000 Taliban killed, twice that number wounded and 7000 taken prisoners. By the end of this campaign, the leaders and the rank and file of both Al Qaeda and the Taliban were seeking sanctuary in Pakistan. Only one US soldier and several Northern Alliance soldiers were killed.
The US thought that the back of the Taliban and the Al Qaeda had been broken. However both militant Islamic organisations were back in business by 2003.
The first deception played on the United States was that a moderate Taliban group existed. This deception was played by the ISI who convinced the US that a moderate Taliban existed. Actually the ISI had already betrayed the moderate Talban to the hard core Taliban. The ISI was playing a double game. They continued the supply of arms ammunition and fuel to the Taliban. ISI fuel tankers and trucks covered in heavy tarpaulins daily rumbled across the borders from Pakistan to Afghanistan. With one hand Pakistan played at helping the war against terrorism, while with the other she continued to deal with the Taliban.
The CIA,s operations in Afghanistan were vast complicated and expensive. They were also inefficient, ineffective and self defeating. By funding war lords, who in turn recruited hundreds of militiamen the CIA only created further mayhem in the countryside. Known as the Afghan Militia Force, the AMF.S Afghan commanders received cash, uniforms communication equipment and their pick of Taliban weapons caches, which they sold in the black market and which were invariably bought by the Taliban.
The US diverts its attention to Iraq and the Taliban reorganise
With the ending of formal operations against the Taliban by March 2002 international attention on Afghanistan quickly shrank as the US diverted its attention to Iraq. The whole planning and approach of the United States was skewed. It adopted a light footprint approach to Afghanistan. The US rejected the Afghan request for a force of 70,000 troops. The situation deteriorated and by 2008-2009 the US had revised the requirement for the Afghan forces to 2, 60,000! The Afghan Highway National Police was formed in 2003 by the US. It got involved in smuggling and taking bribes and had to be disbanded in 2006!
The US directed counter narcotics policy was another failure. The initial plan was to offer farmers $ 350 for each field of poppy that they then destroyed. There was a fund of $ 436.75 million from UK and $ 35 million from other international sources. Yet in 2002 Afghanistan still produced 3400 tons of opium. In 2004 it was 4200 tons and in 2007 it had gone up to 8200 tons! The failure of the counter narcotics programme together with a poorly delivered aid programme burdened Afghanistan with a primitive two track economy characterised as one study put it by opulence amidst destitution.
Against this backdrop, the disarmament and demobilization of armed groups was exceedingly slow during the first five years. Initially progress in demobilisation, disarmament and reintegration was slow with around I,00,000 irregular militia forces still in the country against around 70,000 regular troops one year after the Bonn agreement. In January 2006, it was calculated that there were still at least 2753 armed groups in Afghanistan, totalling nearly I,80,000 men and at least 90 of the 249 candidates who gained seats in parliament following elections in 2007 were recognized militia leaders.
The Taliban offensive
The British discovered that the US, between 2002 and 2005 had not bothered to monitor the Taliban activity in four provinces in south Afghanistan or across the border in Quetta. In the winter of 2005-2006, NATO intelligence estimated that Mullah Dadullah, the overall Taliban commander in the south had just three hundred men under him and that the Taliban’s total manpower was no more than just 2000. Then in the first week of February Dadullah threw three hundred Taliban into a bid to capture Sangin, the district headquarters in Helmand. The Taliban lost forty men but battled for three days, before NATO air strikes forced them to retreat. The Taliban then launched their own offensive. Over several days, starting from May 18th, 2006, the Taliban launched attacks in four provinces involving up to one thousand fighters, storming towns just a twenty minutes drive from Kandahar. It was the worst violence since 2001 and more than 300 Afghans were killed. Relief convoys could not get through to the British garrison in Musa Qala for a month. In Sangin a hundred paratroopers fought back 44 Taliban attacks in 24 days!
The British, who were deployed in platoon posts in Helmand area, came under intense attacks by the Taliban. They were thus forced to call for air strikes that caused heavy collateral damage. Civilian casualties were inevitable, ensuring a steady stream of local recruits to the Taliban. Through 2007 and into 2008 the security situation continued to deteriorate. Between 2007 and 2008 there was a one third increase of attacks on international forces.
Kabul itself was the scene of a number of high profile attacks. The Serena hotel was attacked in January 2008 and in July the Indian embassy was subjected to a suicide bomb attack that killed over 40 people. Admiral Mike Mullen, the Chief of US forces admitted “I am not sure that we are winning in Afghanistan.”
Between 2002 and 2006, Pakistan military operations allowed the Taliban to consolidate themselves in the FATA and the NWFP, which in turn enabled them to reestablish their power across the border in southern Afghanistan. This led to the birth of the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan led by Beitullah Mehsud in December 2008.
The analysis from Carlotta Gall
Carlotta Gall was one of the first journalists to visit the Afghan-Pakistan theater after the 9/11 attacks in the United States. She spent the next twelve years in the Afghanistan- Pakistan theater following the overthrow of the Taliban, feeling the excitement of the freedom and prosperity that was promised in its wake and then watching the gradual dissolution of that hope. A new constitution and two rounds of elections did not did not improve the lives of ordinary Afghans The Taliban regrouped and found increasing numbers of supporters for their guerilla actions by 2006. They mounted an offensive to retake southern Afghanistan and unleashed more than a hundred suicide bombers. It was clear that a deadly and determined opponent was growing in strength. She toured the bomb sites and battle grounds of the Taliban resurgence. The Afghans kept telling her that the organisers of the insurgency were in Pakistan especially in the western district of Baluchistan in Quetta. In December 2006, she flew to Quetta and met with families of local people who were grappling with the realisation that their sons who had been admitted in Madrassas in Quetta had blown themselves up in Afghanistan after indoctrination! She traced a Madrassa that had trained children and was able to confirm that the patron of the Madrassa was Mullah Muhammad Omar. The strategy that was evolved in Pakistan was to make a show of cooperation with the US, fight against terrorism, while covertly abetting and even coordinating militants linked to the Taliban and Al Qaeda. The linchpin in this two pronged and at times apparently oppositional strategy was the ISI.
One clear conclusion can be deduced from the facts quoted and narrated. This is that there is a clear division in Afghanistan. The Pashtuns living in the east and bordering the FATA of Pakistan which also gave rise to the Taliban have been converted to the philosophy of the Jamiat-e-Ulema-Islam (JUI). Pakistan under the guidance of the Army and especially the ISI has nurtured the insurgency of the Taliban in Afghanistan. The sanctuary for the insurgents was basically in the FATA and specifically in the North Waziristan agency. There is a clear division in Afghanistan between the Pashtuns on one side and the Tadjiks, Uzbeks, Hazaras and the Heratis on the other. It is clear that these groups cannot coexist with the Talibanised Pashtuns anymore. This has again been proved by the present elections in Afghanistan. The two candidates for President were Abdullah, a half Tadjik, half Pashtun and Ashraf Ghani a Pashtun. In the first round of voting Abdullah Abdullah won a clear majority. In the second round, it was the Pashtun who got a majority. Abdullah cried foul and claimed that the polling was fabricated in favour of the Pashtun and has rejected the second polling count. Very obviously the Pashtun feel that only a Pashtun can head the government of Afghanistan. Seeing lurking dangers of another civil war-like situation, which can reverse the gains of over a decade, the US hurriedly initiated back-channel negotiation. As part of this, two US Senators, John McCain and Lindsey Graham, travelled to Afghanistan and met the two candidates in the first week of July. On the other hand, James Dobbins, the US special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan, suggested forming a ‘coalition government’ during an event organised by the Asia Society in Washington an idea which was rejected by both sides outrightly. Clearly Afghanistan stands divided.
Robert d Blackwell, a former ambassador of the US in Afghanistan had come up with a formula for the future in the background of the situation there. He called it the Plan–B. The argument put forth by him was that the US and its allies are not on course in defeating the Taliban militarily.
The quality of governance emanating from Karzai’s deeply corrupt government will not significantly improve without a comprehensive reform of the Afghan government US success is virtually impossible as the counter insurgency expert David Kilkullen stresses-“You are only as good as the Government you are supporting.”In that context Dexter Filkins quoted in the New York Times that Afghanistan is now widely recognized as one of the world’s premier gangster states.
The Afghan army will not be ready to hold its own with the Taliban or take over major combat missions from the ISAF in southern and eastern Afghanistan in any realistic time frame. According to the Economist, less than 3 per cent recruits are from the troublesome Pashtun south from where the Taliban has a base. Few will sign up fearing ruthless intimidation against government collaborators. Northern infantry are not too keen to operate in Pashtun areas.
The time has come therefore to switch to the least bad alternative—acceptance of a de facto partition of the country. Washington should accept that the Taliban will inevitably control the Pashtun south and east and the price of forestalling that outcome is far too high for the US to continue paying. The US and its partners should simply stop dying in the south and east and let the local correlation of forces there take its course, while deploying US air power special forces for the foreseeable future in support of the Afghan army and ensure that the north and west of Afghanistan do not succumb to the Taliban.
Reluctantly accepting a de-facto partition of Afghanistan is hardly an utopian solution. But it is better than the alternatives.
By E N Rammohan
(The writer is former Director General, BSF)