Afghanistan’s neighbours in a quandary The Excelsior 07 Oct 2021 Maj Gen Harsha Kakar

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Afghanistan’s neighbours in a quandary

Afghanistan’s neighbours in a quandary The Excelsior 07 Oct 2021

          The US and NATO withdrawal from Afghanistan appeared to send a message that the country would now be a playground for Russia, China, Iran and Pakistan, all nations with whom US relations have been frosty. These countries had provided all support to the Taliban to ensure its swift capture of the country in Aug. They had held endless rounds of discussions with the Taliban leadership based in Doha, which the Pakistani ISI sidelined as soon as it got the opportunity. Recently their representatives met the new Afghan leadership to evolve future plans. As events continue to unfold it becomes evident that the ISI is responsible for the world ignoring Afghanistan and enhancing concerns of its neighbours.

          The Pakistan’s ISI created Afghan leadership has sidelined moderate Taliban Doha negotiators and inducted hardliners, dominated by the pro-Pak Haqqani network. It has been a setback for all other Taliban allies including China, Russia and Iran. This has possibly been done with the intention of removing those whom the world could interact with, thereby making every country proceed through Pakistan in its engagement with Afghanistan. There has been no sighting of the supreme leader of the Taliban, Hibatullah Akhundzada, leading to speculations on his elimination. Simultaneously, there are rumours that Mullah Baradar, the head of Doha negotiators and the global face of the Taliban, is in the custody by the Haqqani’s.

Hence, the government should not be termed as a Taliban but a Haqqani government. No country, including its neighbours, believe that the current government in Afghanistan will deliver its promises of curbing terrorist groups. An Afghan spokesperson had earlier stated that the ETIM (East Turkestan Islamic Movement), which China seeks to eliminate, has left Afghan soil. If they are not in China, where else can they be, except Afghanistan. Hence, China doubts the words of the Afghan leadership. As per reports from Afghanistan, the current leadership has informed Al Qaeda, TTP (Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan), IMU (Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan) and ETIM that they cannot use Afghan soil to attack other countries including the US, Pakistan, China and Uzbekistan. It has not asked them to surrender or disarm.

          Pakistan had hoped that the Haqqani led pro-Pak interim government would curb the TTP. The Haqqani’s have washed its hands off and advised Pakistan to engage the TTP in dialogue. Subsequently, they stated that the TTP does not exist on their soil. Post the Haqqani takeover, attacks on the Pak army have increased manifold. In the past one month alone, over 35 Pak troops and 50 civilians have been killed by the TTP.  

Calls for amnesty by the Pak government have been rejected by the TTP. The availability of US weapons in Afghanistan has enhanced the TTP’s capabilities and firepower. These weapons are being made available through the Afghan leadership. Pak is being forced to negotiate with some elements of the TTP, responsible for over 80,000 deaths, only because the Haqqani led government refused to act against them.

          Added is the growing confidence of the Baluch freedom fighters. They are exploiting the turmoil in Afghanistan to regroup. This has enhanced Pak-Iran tensions with reports of cross-border firings. Iran is unhappy with the direct participation of Pakistan in the Afghan government formation as it sidelined pro-Iran members of the Taliban. It also displayed anger at the involvement of the Pak army in the battle for Panjshir. The targeting of Hazara’s has been criticized. Iran believes that it has been let down by Pakistan.

          The world continues to insist that the Afghan government adhere to its Doha promises as a pre-condition for recognition and releasing of aid. The Haqqani led government, having sidelined moderates, cannot bow to global pressure. Afghanistan’s deputy information minister and national spokesperson stated in a press conference, ‘Pakistan or any other country has no right to ask the Islamic Emirate to establish an inclusive’ government in Afghanistan.’  

The Taliban announced recommencing its executions and amputations of hands, as with their previous regime as also stopping education for women. This further distanced the west. No global body is currently willing to recognize the Afghan government, implying there could be humanitarian aid, nothing else. Afghanistan’s request to address the UN General Assembly was not accepted. Even Pakistan and China are hesitating to recognize it, fearing a global backlash.

The internal scenario is Afghanistan is anything but stable. In Panjshir, while the Taliban may have captured the valley, the National Resistance Front (NRF) is far from collapse. It is currently supported by Tajikistan and Iran. There are rumours that the NRF leadership has moved into Tajikistan to regroup. The NRF is likely to continue being globally supported, albeit clandestinely. ‘We plan to announce formal resistance to the Taliban within a month,’ said Pedram, an NRF leader, who has a $200,000 Taliban bounty on his head, in a recent interview. 

Other warlords, sidelined by Kabul, including from Uzbek and Hazara communities, are being encouraged to rise in revolt. The intention is to keep Afghanistan in turmoil.

IED attacks, by the ISIS-K, targeting the Taliban, are on the rise. As Faran Jeffery writes, ‘While the ISKP is nowhere nearly as strong as it used to be until a couple of years ago, it still is powerful enough to carry out attacks deep inside Kabul.’ The Taliban announced launching operations against the ISIS-K, accused by Russia and China of being supported by the west. The Afghan government neither has funds nor resources to create a capable force to stall these rising movements.

          This scenario could result in increased internal turmoil. Imran Khan, in an interview to the BBC, warned of the risk of a ‘civil war’ in Afghanistan if the Taliban is unable to form an inclusive government there. This could be speeded up in case of an economic collapse in the country which would impact Pak and China the most. Hence, Pak and China have been demanding that the world must engage with the current Afghan leadership and prevent an economic and humanitarian catastrophe.

Having left Afghanistan in a hurry, the west would be formulating strategies, involving allies, to keep its neighbours involved in the country and insecure. For this, Afghanistan should remain in a condition of continued turmoil. The presence of terrorist groups in Afghanistan, without capability for global outreach, would draw in its immediate neighbours, all of whom are US antagonists.

The Pak ISI has unwittingly helped the globe by forming a government dominated by UNSC proscribed terrorists and hardliners, which no nation is willing to engage. The world will watch as Afghanistan’s neighbours struggle with growing lawlessness within the country.