Post Pullout Strategy Begins to Takes Shape in Afghanistan
Brig Arun Sahgal
There is growing realisation within the US that wars are an ineffective means of countering terrorism and defeating a terrorist networks. Analysis of major terrorism or counter insurgency movements indicates that they usually end through political processes in which they are made stakeholders and not through the use of military force (Sri Lanka is an exception). At best military force provides an enabling environment to kick start and sustain political dialogue.
A currency is gaining among the elites and administration in United States that the presence of foreign troops is the primary factor motivating armed resistance and insurgency in the region. Something which President Karzai has been repeatedly pointing out and in fact is seen as the most important factor responsible for mobilizing support for the Taliban.
The question is also being raised to differentiate between the Taliban and Al Qaeda. While acknowledging Taliban and Al Qaeda are closely intertwined, former is seen as a diverse network of Pashtun militia groups, fighting to retain territorial control over homeland from which they were ousted in 2001 within the larger framework of Islamic order. Al Qaeda, by contrast, is a global terrorist organization focused on a global agenda of attacking Western interests. Argument is being made that Taliban groups do not have a transnational agenda. The Taliban is seen to be driven by ideology and purpose, and united in their determination to rid the region of foreign forces and angst against the Afghan government, above calls for critical re-evaluation of current strategies.
Shift in strategy being contemplated include concentrating on suppressing Al Qaeda and Jihadi extremists as part of focussed counter terrorism strategy, together with above the broader COIN strategy which is seen as troop consuming and leading to large scale collateral damage. To address the alienation of Afghan people and to reduce collateral damage, US forces propose to undertake focussed military operations which in addition to destroy Taliban resistance will result in protecting the Afghan people, and defending development and construction. A sub set of the above strategy is to concurrently initiate dialogue with Taliban leadership (Quetta Shura) to work out modalities that could lead to cessation of hostilities and acceptable power sharing.
Plan in Outline
Based on above broad understanding; talks have been initiated by the afghan government with the Taliban leadership to work out a detailed blue print of power sharing between the two. Interlocutors comprising some senior leaders of Quetta Shura, have been drafted in the process as a part of understanding reached between the US Government and President Karzai. Not only has their safe passage been guaranteed by the US and NATO forces but they are being ferried in US helicopters and planes. The overall package in addition to political agreement comprises security, social and diplomatic compacts in addition to possible deployment of interim peace keeping force (separate from ISAF) to maintain peace during the transition phase.
The plan in outline includes hammering out a negotiated deal that will allow Taliban to become a stake holder in governance and a partner with present Kabul Government. Political conditions expected to be created and time lines for their achievement are now under discussion and negotiation. The fundamental aim is to prevent possible Taliban take over post pull out but instead make them a stake holder under negotiated conditions as part of incremental devolution process.
Towards above; aim is to offer Taliban seat sharing arrangement in the present Government and includes retention of present constitution at least for next 5 – 10 years to prevent it being tampered with. Afghan security forces are seen as the guarantor in the run up of the process together with the balance US and NATO forces that will remain in Afghanistan to prevent Taliban from hijacking the entire process. While no details are available about I&R (integration and rehabilitation) process of the Taliban fighters, this will logically follow if they have to be accommodated in national mainstream and made stake holders.
The plan also includes supporting political reconciliation with elements of the Taliban that are willing to cooperate in removing safe havens and preventing the use of their territory for launching terrorist strikes. Here the aim is focus more on ‘Build’ than ‘Clear’ or ‘Hold’ strategy in a bid to provide peace dividend to the locals. In an apparent bid to reduce collateral damage the revised strategic thinking is also looking at limiting the number of air strikes, including drone attacks, which kill large numbers of civilians and multiply hostility. There is also a thinking to seek formal agreements with the Afghan government on the manner in which military force should be used; statement of president Karzai of limiting foreign boots on the ground in Afghanistan is significant.
The social compact of the policy includes strengthening of political governance including support to fight corruption and foster sustainable development. The aim being to bring New Democratic Afghanistan with all its aspirations and desires to be a normal country with increased focus on good governance, sustainable development, women empowerment and education on the forefront and make them a partner in peace and stability of their own country. Added to above is to induce warlords to become stake holders in countries stability, this could only happen if the writ of Kabul was to expand incrementally through a participative process and greater devolution of power to provinces.
Next step of the process is to seriously look at engaging regional stake holders who have stakes in afghan stability. It is understood elements within the US Administration are coming round to a view that Iran will need to be engaged for lasting peace and security in the region. Iran is often berated for running with hare and hunting with hounds given its long standing face off with the United States, yet it is seen as a rational actor with stakes in the stability of Afghanistan which could have a destabilising effect if Taliban was to gain unbridled power once again. There is also a growing perception that China which has managed to stay out of the current imbroglio in Afghanistan also needs to be brought into picture and made a stakeholder in the stability of Afghanistan. It is also seen Chinese commercial interests and infrastructural developments could provide the Afghan economy a much needed boost as it invests in resource and infrastructural sector.
There is an emerging perception that Western Afghanistan with outlet at Chahbhar can be developed as an alternative route for extracting Turkmenistan gas via pipeline which can be called Turkmenistan – Afghanistan – Iran pipeline, serving two purposes one providing much needed Caspian gas to South Asia and even importantly access to land locked central Asian states to the Indian Ocean. Afghanistan becoming a major transit corridor for trade and gas will result in major boost to its economy. A perspective that Russia will also
In the obtaining scenario, Pakistan remains the only negative factor. Ahmed Rashid writing in the latest issue of Foreign Policy has acknowledged that “For nearly a decade, there has been no progress in US attempts to persuade the Pakistani military to treat all terrorist groups as equally culpable. The military’s Inter-Services Intelligence directorate still allows Afghan and Central Asian terrorist groups to operate from Pakistani soil and refuses to clamp down on the anti-Indian terrorist groups operating from Punjab province, including the Lashkar-e-Taiba, which launched the 2008 Mumbai attacks”. According to Ahmed Rashid “Pakistani Army admits that it has not gone after Al Qaeda in Pakistan since 2006”. This malign neglect has allowed foreign militants to radicalize Pakistani Pashtun tribes, which have now linked up with militant groups in Punjab — with the aim of overthrowing the Pakistani state. Yet Pakistani strategists still think they can crush the home-grown militants while maintaining the Afghan Taliban as a proxy force for a final settlement in Afghanistan.
On the other hand Pakistani strategist’s dilemma is how much to support the US in the wake of its failing Afghan mandate and growing back lash within Pakistani heartland. In addition there is lurking fear that plot in Af – Pak could get out of control, leading Pakistan to be increasingly drawn into low intensity conflict, that could sap its energies and open the wounds of ethnic fault-lines. It is this fear that is perhaps preventing full cooperation, and forcing the military to cut deals, and continue to support its strategic assets.
Above is also leading to Pakistan seeking a role and seat in the settlement of Afghan imbroglio, and as a sign of their frustration they at times are interfering in the movement of interlocutors or arresting them. Important issue is that for any lasting settlement, Pakistani army will have to be reigned in and most importantly made the prime stakeholder in the security but stability, and well being of the Pakistani state rather than Afghanistan. As seen from the statements of president Obama during his recent visit to India there remain major differences within the US administration on policy approach toward Pakistan. Unless this issue is resolved and Taliban safe havens in North Waziristan are tackled and nexus between Taliban and Punjabi Jihadi groups broken no lasting solution can be found.
Interim International Peace Keeping Force
The last element of proposed settlement is creating an Interim Peace Keeping Security Force drawn essentially from Muslim nations which will oversee the implementation of the proposed accord. While the contours of such a force are not known in an scenario exercise such a proposal was discussed, wherein a peace keeping force comprising moderate Muslim nations to include, Turkey, Bangladesh, Indonesia, Central Asian Republics etc was conceived. The basic aim is to repose confidence among the two parties that such a force will not be biased and work against the interests of one or the other.
Here it is important to point out the experience of Nepal, where given the deep rooted ideological differences between the democratic parties and the Maoists till date closure of peace process which essentially entails Integration of Rehabilitation of Maoist Combatants has not taken place, and if recently leaked documents are to be believed Maoists have no intention of integration but only on its own terms. Taliban having fought US and its allies for over 10 years will seek a major stake in the Afghan security forces is it something that is possible and on what terms.
In conclusion it can be said that preliminary work on seeking lasting solution to Afghan problem has begun which is at best at its infancy. Many hurdles and misgivings remain which can be overcome only through sincerity and honesty of purpose an exercise in which both the Afghan people and regional stakeholders must be equal partner. While it is easy to dismiss the present attempts as doomed to failure, but steps per se indicate a desire to move away from military solution to engagement, something that needs to be encouraged.
Brigadier Arun Sahgal is Consultant Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies, and Distinguished Fellow School of Geopolitics Manipal Academy of Higher Education.
- NATO set for end-2014 withdrawal from Afghanistan (thehimalayantimes.com)
- Mullah Omar rejects reports of peace talks, highlights Taliban strategy (longwarjournal.org)
- NATO readies for 2014 withdrawal from Afghanistan (reuters.com)
- Afghan moves (bbc.co.uk)
- Afghanistan: No Withdrawal, No Reconciliation (my.firedoglake.com)
- Petraeus and Karzai Argue (crooksandliars.com)
- Time for NATO partners to do more in Afghanistan: UK (reuters.com)