The Taliban is in a fighting mood and in no mood to talk to anyone, least of all the Afghan Government. The Taliban is aware that the US is the one in a rush and in order to make an exit look good will go to any lengths to negotiate….writes Dr Sakariya Kareem
The killing of Abdul Raziq, Kandahar’s strong police chief in an insider attack on 17 October 2018, just prior to the Parliamentary elections in Afghanistan has sent shock waves in the Afghan government. Claimed by the Taliban, the killing creates uncertainty over the election process and the long-term stability of Kandahar Province. General Razzaq had been solely responsible for keeping the peace in the province in the last decade or so. The nature of the insider attack, the number of causalities on the Afghan side, all point to the Pakistani hand, Creating confusion on the eve of the elections and targeting prominent commanders in the fight against the Taliban is the hallmark of the Pakistani ISI.
That the US Force Commander General Scott Miller escaped unhurt is providential, for only a few days ago reports came in of a meeting between the new US Special Envoy for Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad and the Taliban in Qatar. Khalilzad is an old Afghanistan hand, but will find it difficult to tackle the present crisis because of several reasons.
First, the Taliban is today in a fighting mood and in no mood to talk to anyone, least of all the Afghan Government. The Taliban is aware that the US is the one in a rush and in order to make an exit look good will go to any lengths to negotiate. Plus, the Taliban knows that the Afghan government is not in the loop on the talks, just as they wanted! Taliban has long argued that President Ghani’s government is a puppet government and has no legitimacy to speak on behalf of the Afghan people. To that extent, all is suits Pakistani plans to the hilt.
For a moment though, going back to the Kandahar attack one finds that Gen. Raziq was a powerful and rich man, with business interests in Dubai. However, he managed to keep a hand on the till and ensured that Kandahar Province remained a government held area. His presence within Afghanistan was tolerated by Ghani for the simple reason that he was so totally anti-Taliban and had survived some 20 attacks on him to prove it. Like many others in the business, Raziq was also corrupt. But his main foe was the Taliban and that was sufficient for Pakistan to target him.
With his passing, the Taliban may well gain an upper hand in this crucial southern Province. In 2015, Razzaq had himself said that the Taliban was not an independent organization, but one controlled by Pakistan. This truism holds good even today and present instability is obviously in Pakistan’s interest. With Presidential elections due in April next year, Pakistan is trying its level best to take control of things in Afghanistan.
Pakistan has been trying for the past year to get the Taliban to take control of more territory or at least stake claim to more. Not only have levels of violence peaked this year, but the area of Afghanistan under control of the Taliban has increased from around 49% to 54%. Recent initiatives under Operation al Khandaq have included attacks on major cities and district centres. Ghazni city was the scene of the Taliban’s main assault in recent times.
The fact that 132 Pakistan nationals were killed by the Afghan National Security Forces in the counter-attack on the Taliban in Ghazni city lends credibility to the argument that Pakistan continues to be deeply involved in guiding the military operations of the Taliban in Afghanistan. Pakistan’s ISI has sent LeT and JeM cadres into Afghanistan with a view to their bolstering the Taliban’s fighting ranks. In addition, retired army officers are being seconded to the Taliban to provide leadership and tactical planning for operations.
The Pakistani narrative on Afghanistan is based on its consistent aim of having a government in place which is favourable to it. This objective also has in mind that India should not be able to be active in Afghanistan. It is this single-minded focus that ensures that Pakistan is able to control and guide the Taliban. It is a fact that the Quetta Shura is fully controlled by Pakistan’s ISI and while there are other players like Iran and Russia in the Taliban ranks, the primary controller remains Pakistan.
The new dispensation in Afghanistan under Prime Minister Imran Khan also known as “Taliban Khan”has no control over his country’s policy towards Afghanistan; it continues to be the domain of the ISI. Afghanistan is today in hard situation. This is because of inexorable links between its internal situation and external dynamics. The Taliban being provided support by Pakistan counts as the main destabilising factor. Countries like Iran and Russia are playing their own strategies with the Taliban to suit their interests. Ultimately though, all these end up strengthening the Pakistani hand. What needs to be looked at is how the Pakistani hand can be weakened in Afghanistan.
This will require a combination of international financial sanctions and swift military action inside Pakistan to decimate the Taliban leadership. The US strategy under President Donald Trump is in fact aimed at minimising losses and letting the Afghans do the fighting. By itself, this cannot be faulted, as the main aim appears to be to get out of Afghanistan. However, the US owes Afghanistan a lot and it can repay this by getting rid of the Taliban, through Pakistan. This by itself would provide an outlet for Afghanistan to articulate its point of view in the international order.
The cause of regional security would be well served if India were to take an active role in explained this situation to its interlocutors, including the US and Russia. While initial difficulties would ensue, it is reasonable to assume that in the long run, the Indian voice would be heard. The degree to which nations balance their national interests with that of stabilising Afghanistan, will determine the direction for the future.