Afghanistan: In the Grip of Spiraling Instability
Violence-stricken Afghanistan continues to find itself being helplessly crushed under the weight of spiraling political instability and mindless killings, which are often sponsored from across the border, with no peaceful end in sight. Just two days ago, the Islamic State – a Sunni terrorist outfit – targeted a peaceful procession of the minority Shia Hazaras, killing over 80 and injuring over 200.
That the masterminds behind most of these attacks remain in neighbouring Pakistan is universal knowledge; a country that zealously seeks an elusive “strategic depth” against India for itself in the land of Hindu Kush.
Pakistan, in its undying obsession for a pliant regime in Kabul, continues supporting the Afghan Taliban, Haqqani network (HQN), whilst also giving to leaders of these Afghan terror networks safe havens in North Waziristan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. For the first time since the launch of Operation Enduring Freedom by the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in 2001 (now dubbed as Operation Resolute Support after the NATO troops drawdown in December 2015), American drones targeted Afghan Taliban leaders inside Pakistan in May 2016 killing their leader, Mullah Akhtar Mansour, generating a flicker of hope for the beleaguered Afghan government in Kabul.
Pakistan, apart from some not so obvious rumblings and not overtly protesting the maiden US intrusion into North Waziristan, showed the double dealings of the Pakistanis. In the Country Reports on Terrorism 2015, the US State Department had also administered a scathing rebuke to Pakistan for its failure to police various terror groups in the Waziristan region, opining that “Pakistan did not take substantial action against the Afghan Taliban or HQN or substantially limit their ability to threaten US interests in Afghanistan”.
Meanwhile, a look at the current political and security landscape in Afghanistan clearly displays the near failure of US’s strategic goals in this troubled nation since US and the ISAF landed in Afghanistan in 2001. Notwithstanding over 3,500 US and other NATO troops killed and hundreds of billions of dollars spent since 2001, the US mission of stabilizing Afghanistan and bringing peace to this impoverished and restive region remains nowhere in sight for a variety of reasons.
US President Barack Obama, now in the final lap of his presidency, has an unflattering history of having the Afghan war continue right through two tenures of his being in the Oval office with mixed results. Thus, the recent announcement by the White House that the US would deploy at least 9,800 US troops with the necessary air power to assist the Afghan National Army to combat Taliban, has been welcomed by both the Kabul government and those who wish for stability in Afghanistan.
Among the major internal problems ailing Afghanistan, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani’s National Unity Government (NUG) being seriously afflicted by internal dissensions is one of the most serious causes for troubles that continue to brew in this war-torn country. President Ghani faces serious policy differences with his Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah; corruption within the government is commonplace and most of the regional governors and senior officials are mostly filling up their personal coffers leading to insensitive governance with the Afghan public not only suffering but getting fed up with the current dispensation. Elections to the Afghan Parliament and in the districts, otherwise overdue, have not yet taken place owing to a variety of administrative shortcomings. In fact, a fair number of observers say that the NUG may not even survive till the end of this year.
However, the NUG should be supported by well-wishers of Afghanistan, else, all efforts and the marginal progress achieved in Afghanistan since 2001 will negate all endeavours of the US, the international and regional community in stabilizing Afghanistan. The only force to fill this vacuum will then be the Afghan Taliban conglomerate with its terror liaison the HQN, Hekyatmar faction, Mullah Nazir Group and, of course, the perpetrators of Kabul’s unending agony, Pakistan’s ISI. The ISIS has been gradually expanding its evil footprint in Afghanistan – an alarming development for the region including for India, Iran and China.
Afghanistan is the first country in the world where the global war on terrorism (GWOT) was launched after 9/11, and, thus it is primary for the international community to succeed in achieving what it had set out for itself. Though, much depends on the overall efforts of the US to ensure a “strategic reversal” for all its efforts does not take place. Equally, regional powers are important stake-holders for ensuring this GWOT to become a befitting example of international cooperation in eliminating the scourge of terrorism in this region and the world.
The US will have to take the lead in more ways than one. Firstly, it must unequivocally announce to all and declare its intention to stay put in Afghanistan till the successful culmination of Op Resolute Support and a stable and strong Afghan government is in place. Secondly, it must chalk out, under the aegis of the UN, a five year Reconstruction and Development Plan for the whole of Afghanistan and pledge a few billion dollars for the hapless nation’s economic growth. Thirdly, it must endeavor to not only train but equip the Afghan National Army with the necessary military wherewithal, including aerial capabilities to sustain itself and acquire some offensive capability against the Taliban/IS/ other terror outfits. In addition, the US must get regional powers like Russia, China, Iran, India on board to carve out a unified strategy to ensure stability and peace in Afghanistan. Getting Pakistan, an important player, on board for Kabul’s stability by getting it to subjugate its mischievous agendas in the overall regional interest will not be easy.
Meanwhile, India which has age-old civilization links with Kabul and is widely respected by the Afghans must continue with its ‘soft power forays’, assist in Afghanistan’s economic development and not get deterred by Pakistani terror acts targeting Indian civil and infrastructural assets in Afghanistan. As it must augment Afghan security forces military capabilities now with some lethal weaponry, India need not put any ‘boots on the ground’. India should also take the lead in getting powers of this region on the same page to bring politico-military stability to Afghanistan.