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The Afghan graveyard

Updated Mar 06, 2017 03:33pm


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AFGHANS often proudly refer to their country as “the graveyard of empires”. Today, unfortunately, it has become just a graveyard. The latest UN Report on Afghanistan chronicles the large and escalating human toll of its prolonged war. Afghanistan has also emerged as the primary source of regional instability.

The major catalysts for the current chaos in Afghanistan were: the 1979 Soviet intervention; the subsequent rise of religious extremism and terrorism; and the two wars fought by the US in Afghanistan — the first to support religious extremists against the Soviet Union and the second against the spawn of these extremists ie Al Qaeda and the Afghan Taliban.

After 15 years, the loss of thousands of lives and the expenditure of hundreds of billions of dollars, the US and its allies have been unable to eliminate Al Qaeda or defeat the Taliban. The unending violence unleashed by the ‘war on terror’ has, if anything, intensified the terrorist threat from Afghanistan.

US president Obama wanted to cut US losses and leave Afghanistan. He was prevented by his generals from doing so. They could not admit to being stymied by ragtag religious militants. They blamed Pakistani ‘safe havens’ and duplicity for their failure and pressed Pakistan to fight their fight. This remains the Washington consensus.

The continued presence of the US-Nato forces in Afghanistan serves several unstated goals: to prevent the collapse of the US-installed Kabul regime; to exert pressure on Pakistan and Iran in the context of counter-proliferation and other US regional objectives; to counter the rising influence of Russia and China in Afghanistan and the region.

Most of the TTP and Afghan Taliban have moved to the vast ungoverned areas of Afghanistan.

Pakistan was a willing ally in America’s first Afghan war and a reluctant one in the second. The 2001 US invasion pushed many of the Afghan Taliban (as well as Al Qaeda terrorists) into Pakistan. Pakistan’s unpopular alliance with the US, and its early military operations in South Waziristan, fed extremism and eventually led to the creation of the so-called Pakistani Taliban (TTP). Pakistan’s initial actions in Swat and Fata were mainly against the TTP. But the Zarb-i-Azb operation in North Waziristan enveloped all the militant groups located there, including the Afghan Taliban and the Haqqani network.

Most of the TTP and Afghan Taliban fighters have now moved to the vast ungoverned areas of Afghanistan. Although the ‘good’ and ‘bad’ Taliban distinction has been derided, there is a clear difference between the Afghan Taliban and the TTP. The Afghan Taliban have a feasible political agenda: to secure or share power in Afghanistan. The TTP espouses the nihilistic aim of overthrowing the Pakistani state. The Afghan Taliban do not attack Pakistan; the TTP does — with the sponsorship of Afghan and Indian intelligence. The TTP is now also allied with the militant Islamic State group whereas the Afghan Taliban are fighting it.

IS has announced the extension of its ‘caliphate’ to the ‘Khorasan province’ (encompassing Afghanistan and parts of Pakistan and Iran). It has found recruits mainly from the ranks of TTP, Al Qaeda, the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan and the East Turkmenistan Islamic Movement (ETIM).

The emergence of IS in Afghanistan and its attacks in Pakistan have alarmed Iran, Russia, China and the Central Asian states. They fear that IS will use Afghanistan as a springboard to spread terrorism across the region.

Iran sees IS, with its extremist Sunni ideology, as a mortal enemy which it is fighting in Iraq, Syria and elsewhere. As the ‘enemy of its enemy’, Iran has reportedly extended support to the Afghan Taliban. (Mullah Mansour was killed in Balochistan after visiting Iran).

Moscow has also established contacts with the Afghan Taliban. Russia recently hosted consultations on Afghanistan with Pakistan and China. It was only after protests from Kabul and New Delhi that they were invited to a subsequent meeting in Moscow. The US was not invited to either consultation. Russia is strongly suspicious of the US relationship with IS. Iran has openly accused the US of ‘creating’ IS.

China is also concerned because ETIM is associated with the TTP and now with IS. Apart from preventing destabilisation of Xinjiang province, China also wants to ensure that the threats emanating from Afghanistan do not disrupt the implementation of President Xi Jinping’s ambitious One-Belt One-Road project, especially the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor.

India has sought for decades to confront Pakistan with a two-front threat. The 2002 installation of the Northern Alliance-led regime in Kabul revived that possibility. As openly admitted by the Indian national security adviser, Ajit Doval, India is using Afghan territory to destabilise Pakistan by sponsoring TTP terrorism and Baloch insurgents. Despite the visible alliance between the TTP and IS, India will not easily give up its ‘assets’ in Afghanistan nor reverse its strategy. On the contrary, if the cross-border attacks on Pakistan are stopped, India’s former army chief has advocated unleashing unrestrained violence within Pakistan by having “Pakistanis kill Pakistanis”.

Appeasing Narendra Modi’s India will not avert India’s plans for widespread subversion and terrorism in Pakistan. This can be achieved by decisive action against the TTP and the eradication of India’s ‘sleeper cells’ within Pakistan.

The timely ECO summit in Islamabad demonstrated India’s failure to isolate Pakistan. The summit’s declaration illustrated the growing regional consensus that sustainable regional security requires an end to the Afghan chaos and that IS and its allies, like the TTP, must be opposed and eliminated.

The incoming Trump administration is now the wild card in the endeavour to create durable security in the region. Apart from its hostility towards Iran, the new administration has not pronounced its policies on Afghanistan, Pakistan or the region. Pakistan and other concerned states must seek to convince Washington that, one, peace in Afghanistan can be achieved only through a negotiated settlement between Kabul and the Afghan Taliban; two, IS and its associates, including the TTP, are the primary threat to the security and stability of Afghanistan and the region; and, three, India and its Afghan collaborators must be persuaded to terminate their support to these terrorists.

The current Afghan chaos was created by unilateral military interventions. Ending it needs active international cooperation.

The writer is a former Pakistan ambassador to the UN.

Published in Dawn, March 5th, 2017


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The views expressed by this writer and commenters below do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.

Comments (38) Closed

Sher khan Mar 05, 2017 07:25am

Good analysis.

Indian Mar 05, 2017 08:30am

only blame I can see in the article

precious Mar 05, 2017 09:08am

excellent analysis. very clear. Thats why I prefer Dawn to prepare for my Current Affairs paper. Dawn Thank you

singayju Mar 05, 2017 09:13am

nice impartial analysis of the whole scenario of the deadly triangle between Afghanistan and other two...!! now afghan is transforming into Bermuda triangle if her leadership does not realize the regional problems and not seek any lesson from the history...they must stop to use for others, should live in peace with neighbor, designate such policies to avoid confrontation.

KHALID AZHAR Mar 05, 2017 09:30am

Another very well articulated piece. I am extremely to glad read the articles of Mr. Munir Akram. He has the courage to raise voice against the actual threat i.e., India's subversive activities against Pakistan. It was India who introduced cross-border terrorism in South Asia-lest not forget separation of East Pakistan. However, unfortunately, except few, the authors are falling prey to the Indian propaganda and voice against supporting the Kashmir freedom struggle. I congratulate and urge Amb. Munir Akram to continue his audacious approach by writing such columns.
Long Live Pakistan!

Subhan Mar 05, 2017 09:31am

@Indian No, it contains a valuable suggestion; peace through negotiation, not through spilling blood.

singayju Mar 05, 2017 09:40am

Deadly triangle is now transforming to Bermuda , players should stop their ominous hypocritical interest and should work for the betterment of Afghan on humanitarian ground.. Afghan political leadership must realize the regional challenges and leave in harmony with neighbors.

Ans Mar 05, 2017 10:05am

Very clear analysis & a good Suggestion.

A Mar 05, 2017 10:06am

Not admitting own mistakes and blaming every one else

Jst Question Mar 05, 2017 10:28am

But who are facilitating these Taliban and moving them to these so called ungoverned areas in Afghanistan is a million dolor question in itself.!

Qamar Mar 05, 2017 10:53am

A very very good article. An eye-opener for our policymakers. Above all the rootcause of evil is US. For their benefits they do not care anyone but the interest

Farhan Mar 05, 2017 11:19am

Excellent analysis from Munir Akram, as usual.

Abc Mar 05, 2017 11:49am

Munir akram Sahab's analysis are highly recommendable to all the bearocrats of Pakistan ..people like munir sahab are real assets and should be placed in the strategic analyst institutions of the country..

Rashid Mar 05, 2017 12:28pm

In the end Afghan puppet govt. will be the only loser.

zs Mar 05, 2017 12:43pm

Brave analysis of Afghan Taliban and TTP and their diffetences.

ayub Mar 05, 2017 02:24pm

@Jst Question agree with you if the bad and good still persists in extremists regional stability remains illusive.

Khalid Azhar Mar 05, 2017 04:13pm

Excellent piece like always. Amb. Munir Akram's writing is an eye opener.

Taimoor khan Mar 05, 2017 04:20pm

Brilliant analysis as usual.

Zakaria Mar 05, 2017 07:18pm

@Indian It is very difficult for you to understand this type of sophisticated analysis as you are looking through myopic ultra -nationalist glasses.

Observer Mar 05, 2017 08:17pm

@Jst Question good question but Pakistan doesn't want that question answered.

Harmony-1© Mar 05, 2017 08:18pm

@Subhan - Thank you! This is what I keep saying in my comments, negotiations and dialogues is the only way forward towards peace and harmony.

brr Mar 05, 2017 08:34pm

@KHALID AZHAR Wish you would read Irfan Husain from yesterday. You will be proven wrong.

Asif Mar 06, 2017 12:24am

You nailed it sir ...Very realistic and brief analysis ....every word seems true and depictive of real situation ....

No name Mar 06, 2017 01:13am

Master piece!! Excellent analysis

Indian Mar 06, 2017 06:15am

Munir Akram for Prime minister of Pakistan!!!

Tanvir Mar 06, 2017 07:27am

"The current Afghan chaos was created by unilateral military interventions. Ending it needs active international cooperation. " No. the current Afghan Chaos was also created by active international cooperation or conspiracies - the starting point was not 2001, but 1979 when Russia invaded and the US, Saudis and Pakistan supported the Afghans to push Russia out.

IteLlYou Mar 06, 2017 07:37am

China has praised India for its effort in Afghanistan in the recently concluded china-India strategic dialogue. So, China sees India as an important partner on Afghanistan.

danny Mar 06, 2017 11:04am

@A very true. million dollars answer.

danny Mar 06, 2017 11:11am

@No name depend on which side of the river you standing.other side always looks green. judge always think his son is innocent.

PAKISTANI Mar 06, 2017 02:37pm

Crystal clear, as always!

Sania Mar 06, 2017 03:02pm

Could not agree more.

ADVIT Mar 06, 2017 04:13pm

only problem with Munir's analysis, he never discusses extremist ideologies in his articles.

No name Mar 06, 2017 04:50pm

good elaboration of role of each one country in aggravating the prevailing situation in region

raheel Mar 06, 2017 05:49pm

Great analysis and as always.. Its smacks the nail on its head

Donald Mar 06, 2017 08:55pm

Clear as mud; as always.

madamanc Mar 06, 2017 09:18pm



FRANKENSTEIN Mar 07, 2017 12:56am

@Jst Question no one needs to facilitate them. They are not facing any sort of resistance so there is no need for anyone to facilitate them

Akil Akhtar Mar 07, 2017 03:53am

Even today the Afghan leaders are choosing the wrong path of siding with india against Pakistan.....they are making sure the future of Afghanistan remains bleak...