Syed Haider A. Gardezi
The U.S. invasion of Afghanistan began shortly after the horrible September 11, 2001, attacks, however before the formal invasion, a covert operations Unit, of the 5th Special Forces Group of the U.S. Army landed in Afghanistan, with a mission to coordinate with the Northern Alliance to launch a campaign against the Taliban regime. This mission has been discussed in detail in the book ‘Horse Soldiers’ written by Doug Stanton. This task force was given the mandate to serve as advisors to the Northern Alliance Warlords, to coordinate with U.S. Military and defense establishment and to call in air strikes in support of advancing Northern Alliance forces.
A few weeks in to the invasion, the United States Coalition and the Northern Alliance had toppled the Taliban regime, and Kabul was secured. The Taliban had fled to the mountains, their command and control infrastructure was destroyed and they were in military terms crippled. By December 2001, it seemed that Taliban are history and U.S. Operations against Al-qaeda terrorists and Afghan Taliban leaders were in full swing. Meanwhile United States installed a regime to govern Afghanistan under Hamid Karzai, which had a herculean task to rebuild the institutions in Afghanistan from scratch.
By 2002, the Afghan Taliban had consolidated themselves, and they made a comeback by stepping up operations against the U.S. and NATO forces stationed in the country. This is also known as the resurgence of Taliban in Afghanistan. From here on, the U.S. and NATO forces faced a tough resistance, and the Taliban which started off as hit and run guerilla operations, had started capturing districts and announced their De Facto government, calling themselves as the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan. This government was not just a name, but they established courts, and administrative institutions, in the districts they controlled. The locals also resorted to using these institutions as they provided better services than the government institutions. Hence a parallel shadow government of the Taliban has been operating in Afghanistan ever since.
Karzai government went, Ghani Government was formed, the Taliban kept on gaining momentum. The CIA and ISAF forces in Afghanistan started using a litmus test for assessing their progress in the country, known as the district maps. It consisted of Afghanistan with all districts marked on it, and the regions colored as to where U.S. NATO and Afghan government were in control, districts that were in Taliban control, and districts which were contested areas, where there was a mixed government, or a fight to control it was going on. These were the most popular maps for bureaucrats and high-ranking Generals and officials in Washington as it laid out the picture simply and clearly for them. This was a problem for the U.S. Forces fighting in Afghanistan as it undermined the complexity of their war fighting effort, which was more complex than attacking capturing and holding a district, only to hand it over to Afghan government, which was again retaken by Taliban.
The Pashtun population of Afghanistan, is widely against the foreign presence in the country and also against post invasion governments, since they strongly believe that they are being discriminated against, in this new form of system. Which is true, the Pashtun population, which forms the major bulk of the ethnicities, is far away from power structures, as they do not have equal representation in the national landscape, hence one of the reasons why they prefer Taliban over the Afghan government.
Recently after Pakistan defeated the Indian sponsored Pakistani Taliban (TTP), these terrorists fled to Afghanistan, where they aligned themselves, with the Islamic State Khorasan Province (ISKP). ISKP recently surfaced in Afghanistan, and operates as a franchise of the global Islamic State terrorist movement. ISKP, primarily operates against the Taliban. The Taliban often attack Indian infrastructure in their country, and hence, some analysts have deduced that ISKP might be working as a mercenary group for India. These terrorists have also targeted Pakistani forces, by staging themselves in Afghanistan, all the more reason to suspect Indian involvement in their operations. The presence of Islamic State in Afghanistan is a huge threat to Pakistani security and stability, as they have been launching attacks on Pakistan from Afghanistan and we cannot afford to have their footprint in our backyard.
The contemporary environment in Afghanistan is that Taliban control majority of the districts, with many of them contested, as battles for control between Afghan government forces and Taliban continues. Along with this aspect of conflict the Taliban are also engaged in a brutal fight with the ISKP, which is also contesting for control of various districts in eastern Afghanistan. This is a cause of concern for Pakistan as well as it cannot afford to have ISKP footprint especially in areas adjoining the Pakistan Afghanistan border.
The political state of Afghanistan is very unstable. The elections in the past, and the elections recently have been riddled with accusations of corruption and misconduct, along with very low voter turnout, since either Taliban do not allow elections to take place and the majority Pashtun population does not come out to vote.
The question now arises, where is the war in Afghanistan heading? This beautiful country has continuously seen war, conflict and unrest for almost half a century now, and there is still no peace in sight. From a realistic point of view, Afghanistan saw a very bright chance to establish peace, in the recent negotiations between the Afghan Taliban and the United States, facilitated by Pakistan, however, the sudden pulling out of President Trump from these negotiations, moments before the Taliban delegation was to meet Mr. President at camp David, served as a death sentence for the hope of peace in Afghanistan.
Although some still believe that Pakistan can bring United States, U.S. Government and Afghan Government back to the negotiating table, and I pray that this is the case, however the chances of this happening anytime soon are very thin. This is because United States cannot leave Afghanistan until it reaches some sort of agreement with Pakistan that guarantees a role for India in Afghanistan, since the new strategic partnership between United States and India dictates it to do so. This is something that is unacceptable to Pakistan since, having India in our backyard, is nothing short than a strategic and security risk for us. Since India has been sponsoring terrorism in Pakistan as a policy to keep Pakistan engaged and cause internal discord. Moreover, certain lobbies in the United States do not want to pull out of Afghanistan for certain capital and political gains.
This is one of the biggest challenges for Pakistan, to ensure that the Afghanistan of the future does not remain a threat to its national security. The future of Afghanistan depends on following things. Firstly, the regime in Afghanistan, which should be as per the aspirations of the people of Afghanistan. Secondly minimizing the role of hostile forces, including the Indian sponsored ISKP and Baloch separatists, that have been carrying out terrorist attacks across the border. Thirdly as Prime Minister Imran Khan has repeatedly said, the inclusion of Afghan Taliban in the national political landscape because they are a reality, and they have political capital in the country, representing the largest ethnic group of Afghanistan. Peace in Afghanistan is the only way forward, since Pakistan strongly believes without peace in Afghanistan, there can be no peace in Pakistan.