Geopolitics

Afghanistan - under sustained attack
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Issue Net Edition | Date : 22 Apr , 2016

When Kunduz, Afghanistan’s fifth-largest city, fell to Taliban last September-October under the stewardship of Mullah Akhtar Mansour, it was a big blow to Afghanistan’s National Security Forces (ANSF). Large parts of the city remained with the Taliban despite the presence of some 7,000 Afghan National Army (ANA) troops. The main highway from Kabul to Tajikistan was cut off and Russia was forced to increase its troop strength in Tajikistan with whom Russia has a military arrangement. The Taliban operation was far beyond its traditional strongholds. If the Taliban withdrew from Kunduz after few days, it was of their own choosing having demonstrating their prowess and indicating the shape of things to come.

The April 19 bombing reinforces concerns that Afghanistan is being dragged into a worsening spiral of violence.

Undoubtedly, Pakistan’s ISI has achieved some spectacular landmarks through its linkages with multiple terrorist organizations; some 15 all told including the Taliban (both Afghan and TTP), Al Qaeda and ISIS. Keeping the death of Afghan Taliban Chief Mullah Omar under wraps and installing Mullah Akhtar Mansour (religious teacher of the Haqqanis based in Pakistan over past three decades) as his successor was a strategic masterstroke.

Over the years Pakistan had been portraying, with the US playing along, that the Afghan Taliban and the TTP are daggers drawn whereas the two were very much linked and helping each other. Daniel S Markey, Council on Foreign Relations exposed the myth in June 2014 when he said, “Afghan Taliban help Pakistani Taliban; provide inspiration, provide training, access to financing, and sometimes even fighters.” Under ISI direction, the TPP assisted by Afghan Taliban had undertaken a recruitment drive in North Afghanistan, which became vital to the capture of Kunduz. That is also the reason why an ISI operative was lodged in a hospital in Kunduz while the battle raged, as disclosed by US SOF sources, which led to eventual bombing of that hospital. 

Pakistan’s military also has managed to insert hundreds of regulars in Afghanistan, mixed with millions of Pakistani refugees that fled to escape the indiscriminate aerial bombings and artillery barrages that are the hallmark of the continuing Op Zarb-e-Azb without much damage to the terrorist leadership. If Pakistan maintains there she doesn’t have any regulars in Afghanistan, it is perhaps because Mujahid troops are not regular army, albeit ISI is 100% army on deputation.

Most Afghans believe that ISIS in Afghanistan actually is cover name of ISI.

The US intelligence describes the ISIS in Afghanistan as a conglomerate of disgruntled elements of Afghan Taliban and TTP, creating an impression it is some disjointed outfit. In actual fact it is an organized Brigade level organization mixed with Mujahid and ISI cadres of Pakistan, mustered and trained in Peshawar under ISI tutelage and pushed west into Nangarhar Province of Afghanistan, which obviously the CIA would be aware of. If they are maintaining low profile for the present, it is perhaps because of a schedule that they are adhering to. Most Afghans believe that ISIS in Afghanistan actually is cover name of ISI.

The current Spring Offensive by Taliban has been named ‘Op Omari’ after Mullah Omar, erstwhile Taliban chief whose death was announced last year albeit he is known to have died two years earlier in a Karachi hospital. When Taliban announced commencement of the Spring Offensive on April 12, they warned they would “employ large-scale attacks on enemy positions across the country” during this offensive. The Taliban apparently are in very strong position, having successfully captured large parts of Kunduz city last year, still maintaining effective presence in Badakshan region of north Afghanistan bordering Tajikistan and the Wakhan Corridor, and having given major reverses to ANSF in Helmand region to the South.

The Taliban obviously meant business in following through their warning issued on April 12. The first major attack has come with massive bombing and gun assault on a government security building during morning rush hour in central Kabul on April 19. Some 28 people have been killed and more than 320 wounded.

With full backing of China and the US, the Pakistani military has a virtual free hand to expand her influence and consequentially her cherished strategic depth in Afghanistan.

Abdul Rahman Rahimi, Afghan National Police (ANP) chief, says civilians and members of the Afghan security forces were among those killed and wounded when a suicide vehicle-bomber blew himself up outside the wall of a National Directorate of Security (NDS) office. One attacker tried to slip into the NDS building through a destroyed wall after the blast, but he was spotted and killed. Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack saying they carried out the suicide bombing on “Department 10”, an NDS unit responsible for protecting government ministers and VIPs. Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid claimed their fighters had managed to enter the offices of the NIDS, which Afghan officials denied. A second explosion hit Kabul in the evening but no serious casualties were reported from the blast.

The Afghan Interior Ministry has termed the April 19 attack as an “a war crime” while President Ashraf Ghani has condemned it the “strongest terms”. The US embassy in Kabul issued a statement saying, “Afghanistan deserves peace and security, not attacks that victimize parents taking their children to school, workers on their morning commute, and people who have stepped forward to help defend their fellow citizens.” No doubt, it was the worst single terrorist strike in Kabul since 2011, when some 60 people died in a suicide blast outside a mosque. But then last year on August 7, a truck bombing had struck Kabul killing 15 and wounding 400, which the NDS had described carried out by elements of the Pakistani army with the help of the Haqqani terrorist network.

Significantly, Afghan clerics gathered at the site of last year’s truck bombing had given a call for jihad against Pakistan stating, “Afghan people are Muslims and Jihad is eligible against Pakistan’s military intelligence – Inter Service Intelligence and Punjabi military; the country’s army and intelligence is directly involved in the ongoing violence and savagery in Afghanistan.”

…the problem is that the zebra in Pakistan refuses to change its stripes with US and China fence-sitters. So, 2016 may turn out to be a bloodier year for Afghanistan.

The April 19 bombing reinforces concerns that Afghanistan is being dragged into a worsening spiral of violence. But the portents were there to see with Taliban making territorial gains incrementally especially in the in the southern province of Helmand. The ANSF are fully stretched and have been struggling to contain the insurgency, with some 5500 Afghan troops killed last year, which is the worst ever. In February this year, the US assigned more troops to Helmand region. Col Michael T Lawhorn, US military spokesman had then stated the new deployment would provide protection for the current Special Operations troops in Helmand and give extra support and training for the 215th Corps of the ANA. He, however, reiterated their mission “remains the same: to train, advice, and assist our Afghan counterparts, and not to participate in combat operations.” So, it is the ANA that is in the forefront, with an across the board shortage of air, artillery, transport, logistics and medical; forcing it into defensive mode.

With full backing of China and the US, the Pakistani military has a virtual free hand to expand her influence and consequentially her cherished strategic depth in Afghanistan.

On the Indian side, happenings in Handwara and abduction of a former Indian naval officer working in Iran with valid documents to showcase him as a spy posted in Balochistan, are manifestations of the unequivocal Chinese and US support that Pakistan gets advertently or inadvertently. Pakistan is also saved from her failed pretense she could get the Taliban into the reconciliation process with the issue  successfully palmed off as responsibility to the  Quadrilateral Coordination Group (QCG), latter being non-starter with launch of the Taliban’s Spring offensive.

During a panel discussion in Jinnah Institute on April 8, Omar Zakhilwal, Afghanistan’s Ambassador to Pakistan, while sharing the dais with Sartaj Aziz, said it was important to build an environment of trust given the main hurdle to peace in the region was a trust-deficit with Pakistan – his explicit message being that Pakistan is the main hurdle in achieving peace with Taliban. But the problem is that the zebra in Pakistan refuses to change its stripes with US and China fence-sitters. So, 2016 may turn out to be a bloodier year for Afghanistan.

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The views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily represent the opinions or policies of the Indian Defence Review.

About the Author

Lt Gen Prakash Katoch

is a former Lt Gen Special Forces, Indian Army

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4 thoughts on “Afghanistan – under sustained attack

  1. how this indian hindu writer is making lie(every hindu tells lie) as per his nature>actually ist time indian raw agent who is serving navy officer and was sent in raw and raw sent him in pakistan through iran for terrorist activities. this is fact india is only terrorist country in asia. all world knows.

  2. Taliban ans ISIS are tools required by tgd powers to be for 2 reasons.
    1) To chanelise these into your country whilst also chanelising your arm forces to become toothless .
    This so that the creators of this evil can then act like saviours and be welcomed by you.

    2) In the race to convert the world ; the competition to the papals n dayals comes only from the faith of the mullahs.
    To demean the faith thru out the world would deciminate this competition. But it has to be done wisely using the mullahs themselves.
    The powers of M.East were made by these same. From bestowing power to the saud family to many such. These to maintain their power will cooperate or will be disgraced and eliminated like gadaffi n saddam after showcasing them destructors. After all Who in the worlhewill cry over a king of a kingdom that stones.
    women

    Pakistan plays the same role. To suit arms lobby ,Pak leadership was hijacked. To support taliban during soviet-afghan war, Pak was an ally. To supply taliban and to weaken us, Pak comes into play. These leaders are so entrenched that they have no choice.

    Thus it is imperative to understand that Pak will only be allowed to diminish after the 2nd point is near achieved

  3. Finely articulated without any gloss or loss of words, as always, Sir.

    Spring Offensive has sprung rather offensively in Afghanistan. Unless we Indians spring into action now, our ride in future will be hard and bumpy, like in a truck without any spring. We owe our off-spring that much security anyway.

    India must at this point take a firmer decision on level of commitment to Afghanistan. This commitment will bear out for stability of Afghanistan in short term and for India itself in long run. Not awaiting any UN mandate or marching orders from US, it’s time India enters into an independent bilateral security agreement with democratically elected government of Afghanistan and put boots in uniform on the Afghan soil. As a show and guarantee of commitment, India could start with 10000 personnel involved in active and pro-active support of Afghan Defence Forces and step up to 50000 in due course. The initial agreement could be for six months that could be further revised for the same period durations if requirement so seeks. India could commit to using armoured vehicles and aerial vehicles for recon cum target acquisition and neutralisation, if Afghan government so does allow. In fact acceptance of the right to use of any force to protect deployed Indian forces and the Afghan people must be a paramount clause in any such agreement. If we are ready to build the roads why are we hesitant to take out the toads ? Moreover, India will get geographically posted to oversee and threaten (if need be) all the economic assets – developed and under development – of the rogue powers in the vicinity. While regaining lost territory, it would be an icing on a cake.

    Now the question that is likely to pop up from babudom -“Who will pay for all this ?” Well, we are already paying for ALL THIS, aren’t we ? Like the Rajputs of yore we have allowed the Ghoris and Taimurs to get more and more powerful each passing day since 1948. Any time now is a good time to start the nip and snip.

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