Murkier by the day

…diverse factors imperilling Afghan situation

Dr. Javid Iqbal
Srinagar, Publish Date: Jan 23 2018 11:38PM | Updated Date: Jan 23 2018 11:38PM
Murkier by the dayFile Photo

Among other factors emergence of IS in Afghanistan is making the situation murkier by the day. US led NATO forces are being increasingly questioned on the emerging scenario. It has gone beyond casting doubts on the role of NATO forces staying put in the country without meeting declared objective of stabilizing Afghanistan.  Thursday last week, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Igor Morgulov accused US-led NATO forces of helping the dreaded ISIS fighters to set up base in Northern Afghanistan. The Russian minister was participating in a discussion at Raisina Dialogue, a geo-political conference organised jointly by GOI’s Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) and a think-tank Observer Research Foundation (ORF). Lending credence to the accusation, former Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai said--US has to explain the rise of ISIS and extremism?  This was not the first time Karzai had questioned US. In October last year, Karzai in an interview asked, how under the watch of US intelligence and military ─ the militant Islamic State (IS) group emerged in Afghanistan over the past few years? 

Russian minister Morgulov asserted that his government has video evidence of ISIS being transported in helicopters to North Afghanistan. He questioned "We want to ask NATO and also to the Kabul government--who provides those helicopters. It is Kabul that controls Afghan airspace." Karzai considered being a western plant during his presidency emphasised in support of the Russian contention--problem now is the support terrorists were getting from the western world in terms of weapons and funding. The similarities of views expressed by the Russian minister and Karzai have to be weighed with emerging factors imperilling the Afghan situation. If what is asserted has a grain of truth in it, the question emerges on the motives behind US move. Is it meant to blunt the edge that Af-Taliban is having in Afghan hinterland, if not in urban centres? Reports suggest that more or less 40 percent of Afghan land is Af-Taliban controlled. And, there is hardly any hope of US supported Af-regime prevailing over Af-Taliban. From Hamid Karzai’s presidency to Ashraf Ghani holding reins of power in Kabul, Af-regime continues to skid on slippery turf, with its credibility in question. Ashraf Ghani admitted as much.

In TV interview last week with CBS 60 Minutes, Ghani said, Afghan National Army will not last more than six months without US support and the Afghan government will also collapse. This reflects poorly on the regime’s credibility as a stakeholder in Afghan scenario, as also the ability of the regime to lead an Afghan initiative for restoring peace with other stakeholders. It has come to a state where Russians have started calling Af-Taliban a nationalistic force, while as it was taken to be obstructionist because of extremist religious views. The Russians with other regional countries—China, Iran, Pakistan are obviously concerned about the rise of IS. Hence, Af-Taliban has gained a measure of respectability, with even Iranians warming up to it, while as in the past it was kept at arm’s length. Geo-strategic considerations of regional countries stand in variance with how the US led NATO alliance views it. It could get to a situation where Afghan situation might become much more complicated than is presently the case. Injecting the IS element, whatever the manner of its coming about has definitely heightened the stakes. US word in the emerging situation is at variance with its deed.

While US talks of restoring peace by an Afghan led process, more and more troops are being pushed into Afghanistan.  At a New Year weekend news briefing, Defence Secretary Mattis said, that Pentagon will induct more advisers into Afghan army, as Afghan forces with American mentors tend to win battles. Explaining why the Afghan army needs more time to win against the Taliban militants, the US defence chief said: “As you put together an army that’s going to try to restore some degree of normalcy and protect people … it takes time to do it.” Sometime indeed! US is in Afghanistan since 9/11 for more or less 17 years and as the statement of Secretary Mattis implies, it hasn’t had right type of mentors for Afghan forces to win battles. And, it still needs time to restore some degree of normalcy and protect people? As it stands, US needs a reason to stay put in Afghanistan, in order to have a base to oversee events in Central Asian states and continue to pursue its South Asian interests. More important, Afghanistan provides an ideal ground for keeping an eye on Russia and China in strategizing global events. 

Varied reports of peace talks in Turkey and Islamabad, or through quadrilateral grouping of US, China, Pakistan and Afghanistan lead to an obvious conclusion. The diplomatic options are being kept open for US exit strategy, were the pitch to get sticky in Afghanistan. Pressurizing Pakistan is obviously meant to make the South Asian state neighbouring Afghanistan amenable to accommodate US pursuits, instead of pursuing its own interests in the region. To put Pakistan in place has assumed urgency, given the fact of India emerging as a global partner of US. The pursuit of US interests has obvious implication for South Asian state of affairs, where ‘K’ dispute heads the list of concerns. Analysing that would take would take another column.

 

Yaar Zinda, Sohbat Baqi [Reunion is subordinate to survival]