& Opinion
Monday 27 June 2016


The Indian quest for a trade route to Iran and Afghanistan extending to Central Asia is about to be achieved after the Chabahar port agreement was signed on Monday in the presence of the Iranian and Afghan presidents and the Indian prime minister.


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Afghans woke to the news on Sunday that the Taliban's leader Mullah Akthar Mansour had likely been killed in a U.S drone strike the previous day. The news spread like wild fire and within an hour it was trending world-wide on social media.

Reactions were strong – with countless people welcoming the move – a clear indication that action like this can be a huge morale booster to a country that is simply tired of war.

The public also saw the move as testimony to the commitment by the United States to help Afghanistan – especially as the attack took place across the Durand Line.

Questions are however being raised as to what the consequences of Mansour's likely death will be, especially after both President Ashraf Ghani and his CEO Abdullah Abdullah publicly appealed to the Taliban on

Sunday to appoint a new leader, lay down their arms and join the peace process.

Sentiments on this issue are divided with one camp saying there is a possibility this could happen but on the other hand, many people feel that it's just another pipe dream.

Mansour's likely death is however seen by many as a major blow to the Taliban who were thrown into crisis just a few months ago when news broke of the death of their former leader Mullah Omar.

This announcement threw the group into total disarray – resulting in a split within the group and sporadic fighting between the factions.

However, Haqqani network leader Sirajuddin Haqqani was credited just over a month ago of having played a key role in resolving the leadership crisis.

At the time, Pakistani media reports indicated that through Haqqani's mediation he was able to largely unite Taliban leaders and secure top positions within the group for Mullah Omar's son, Mullah Yaqoob, and for his brother, Mullah Abdul Manan.

In addition it was reported that Haqqani himself secured a spot in the group's hierarchy – as Mansour's second in command.

Speculation late last year was rife that it had in fact been Pakistan's spy agency Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) that orchestrated the move for Haqqani to join the Taliban.

Media reports at the time stated this was done to "protect" him from the Americans.

But many analysts felt that ISI was simply using Haqqani as a proxy to further its own interests.

Since Haqqani's appointment, some believe there has been a change in the Afghan insurgency and that it has in fact been Haqqani calling the shots from within the group.

A spokesman for the U.S and NATO forces in Afghanistan concurred with this theory and said a while back that Haqqani appears to be running the day-to-day military operations of the Taliban.

But in the likelihood of Mansour's death, the question now on everyone's lips is who would take over as leader. By all accounts, on paper, Haqqani could be the one.

It would simply be a step up for him – seeing as he has reportedly been well-and-truly ensconced in the position as second in charge for the past few months.

The question remains however as to whether history will repeat itself and see yet another leadership crisis emerge. Will the Taliban's foot soldiers defect along with some leaders – either to the dissident Taliban group run by Mullah Rassoul or to other groups. Or will the Taliban continue on as it has been – as a resurgent group?

In fact it could go either way.

Either way, the fate of the Taliban at this stage hangs in the balance. Only time will tell as to whether the head of the snake has indeed been chopped off.

But in the wake of Saturday's move, Afghans feel that finally there is some glimmer of hope. Just over a month ago Ghani changed tact and said he was taking a hardened approach to the war.

Shortly after a joint session to both houses of parliament, in response to a deadly bombing against a security force installation in Kabul city, that claimed the lives of 64 people and wounded well over 300, Ghani sent six death row prisoners to the gallows.

All six had been guilty of acts of terrorism over the past seven years.

This was the first move of its kind in 15 years – and was widely welcomed across the country.

Now this – Saturday's direct attack to take out the Taliban's leader.

U.S officials said Sunday that the Afghan government had been aware of the plan and that it had been a coordinated attack.

No details were given as to how much government, or for that matter Ghani knew, but all indications point to the fact that while Afghanistan was aware of the intended attack, Pakistan was not.

This alone speaks volumes – with U.S Secretary of State John Kerry going on record on Sunday indicating that he personally called Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to inform him of the attack.

This was quoted in the past tense – indicating that Pakistan only knew of it post facto.

Not giving Pakistan the heads up on such an assault, speaks volumes in terms of both the U.S's commitment to Afghanistan and to its honesty in fighting terrorism, but also to Afghanistan's determination to bring an end to the ongoing war.

Even if Pakistan's Prime Minister was aware of the plan, it was a well-kept secret – with so-called spies within both governments completely unaware of the planned mission.

This in itself is also testimony to Ghani trying to make good on at least one pre-election campaign promise – to defend the sovereignty, freedom and borders of Afghanistan.

In fact a second one can be added – that of "begin talks with the Taliban but refuse to sacrifice any gains made".

Ghani gave the Taliban ample opportunity to lay down their arms and come to the peace talks tables – invitations they flatly rejected.

Both the Afghan government and the U.S's stance on this was that Mansour had been given a chance and in rejecting the hand of peace was impeding progress in the country.

But this brings us back full circle and once again begs the question about whether the head of the snake has been removed?

If not, one wonders if certain foreign powers will see this as an opportunity to further their own interests by simply repositioning leaders whom they know will not only follow orders but also carry out plans methodically, strategically and viciously.

But, politics aside, Afghans around the country felt a glimmer of hope Sunday, knowing that all was not lost and that maybe, just maybe, one day, there will be light at the end of the tunnel – light that could lead to peace and prosperity in a country desperately tired of war.

Blogs & Opinion - Opinion


In his recent policy shift, President Ashraf Ghani flipped a Pakistan-oriented peace negotiation talks process with the Taliban to an Afghan-owned process, vowing more robust and harsher military action against militants who continue to wage war and refuse to endorse the Afghan constitution. In doing so however, Pakistan has also appeared unwilling to cut ties with terrorist groups.

Although the president's new policy on insurgency has to some extent elicited a positive response from those monitoring the situation, and from a wider public audience, it has at the same time raised the question for me as an Afghan citizen as to whether his new stance is a practical approach.

This question is surely also being asked by the wider segment of society who, on a daily base, see their countrymen fall at the hands of militants waging war, violence and suicide attacks.

This new policy shift looks a bit confusing as it is now clear both peace and war in Afghanistan have international and regional facets to them as the majority of insurgent groups, including the Taliban hardliners, are enjoying ties with foreign intelligence services and states beyond Afghanistan's geographical boundaries - which definitely makes our dreams of peace in Afghanistan elusive.

I come from a country that has been coping with a wide of range of problems for many years and is basically embroiled in a war that many interpret as one having been imposed on us - a proxy war by certain regional players.

Even I am branded as being part of the 'generation of conflict'; who after learning the basics in life watched his country burning in flames of war and violence; the wars that have widely affected our nation's socioeconomic, cultural, financial and national infrastructures.

What can we understand from President Ghani's war and peace policy?

I was in a state of confusion recently after hearing President Ghani's rare address to a joint session of the Afghan parliament - when he thumped Pakistan and criticized Islamabad's perception of good and bad terrorists; but when it came to the Taliban's bloody insurgency, the president said that while we no longer expect Pakistan to convince the Taliban to join the peace talks process, the peace window for those Taliban factions that do not shed blood and believe in peace will still remain open.

In my perception, such a policy will not heal the wounds of a nation still under attack in the face of Taliban's ongoing insurgency. This, because President Ghani's predecessor Hamid Karzai, pleaded with the Taliban for more than a decade not to harm their country on orders of foreigners and to endorse a peace process.

But the Taliban never bothered to respond positively to Karzai's persistent calls for peace; instead the Taliban increased attacks on certain targets in which Afghan civilians including women, children and man were killed.

As part of government's goodwill gestures over the years, Karzai also released hundreds of militants from jails to motivate the group to join the peace process, but nothing was achieved from this, which instead proved a one-sided measure.

Many of those freed from jails rejoined their former militant groups and continued to fight the Afghan forces.

Analysts argue that the policy of classifying the Taliban into good and bad 'moderate or extremist' terrorists make the peace process more complicated. This despite the group reportedly being split into several factions following the announcement of the death of group's longtime leader Mullah Omar.

What the people want to know is which Taliban faction is willing to join the peace process - this while there is no clear indication for peace from the Taliban's side.

While the Taliban has outlasted an untold number of operations by the world's most potent military forces such as the U.S and the NATO military alliance, what does President's Ghani hasty declaration of war really convey?

We should not forget that the Taliban, as an insurgent group, created major challenges to thousands of foreign troops who were deployed in Afghanistan after 2001 when the U.S-led western coalition toppled the regime from power.

This despite foreign forces having been equipped with the latest technology and modern weapons.

But Ghani's declaration of war against the militants comes at a time when our embattled forces are already defending our nation's honor and dignity on multiple fronts and sacrificing their lives during battles while not having a fully-fledged air force nor sufficient weapons, artillery and armored military vehicles.

The scale of human casualties among the Afghan forces is estimated to be between 10 and 15 soldiers a day, which is a devastatingly high number of victims. Remembering that every fallen soldier leaves behind a devastated family.

Although we have to fight our enemies by keeping the principles of patriotism in mind, at the same time we have to focus on the support the Taliban and other militant groups are getting from other countries such as Pakistan.

The current insurgency in Afghanistan is not summarized only in the structure of a group known as Taliban. But it has a regional facet and particular nations try to fight their proxy war on our soil. Pakistan wields a strong influence over the Taliban and Pakistani leaders have at different times confirmed this.

But the world must realize that the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) are battling the war for global peace and security. The ANSF is paying the price, soldiers are sacrificing their lives on the front lines in their quest to defeat terrorism so that the world can live in peace. This should help us to forge an international coalition against Pakistan's anti-Afghan policies.

The Afghan insurgency has its roots beyond Afghanistan's geographical borders and had it not been the case, the Taliban, on their own, could wage a war on such a large scale as is currently happening.

Therefore, the government of Afghanistan, under President Ghani and his CEO Abdullah Abdullah's guidance, must sketch a comprehensive war and peace strategy which are both practical. Otherwise, assumptions and a superficial look at the war cannot help us defeat our enemies.

The government must raise the issue of the war in Afghanistan on international platforms such as the United Nations, the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) and the Organization of Islamic Cooperation and appeal to them to use their influence on Pakistan to stop harboring terrorist groups and the Taliban leadership on its soil.

At the same, the government needs to push for the implementation of segments within strategic partnership agreements and the Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA) with the United States to curb the insurgency and violence. In line with the BSA, Washington had committed to defend Afghanistan against external threats, but today Pakistani military attacks our border regions and no voice is heard from the U.S nor others over these incursions.

The U.S, as Afghanistan's strategic partner, should not pursue a dual policy regarding insurgency in Afghanistan despite the fact that Islamabad is supporting the Taliban.

In line with the BSA, the U.S should also back the Afghan air force and provide more Tucano fighter planes.

The need for a national consensus and political unison

While President Ghani tried to talk with militants from a national platform, on a political level, there is still no sign of unity among government leadership on major national policy issues including a Taliban policy. On 25 April the President delivered a key address in parliament – his own CEO and other influential politicians clearly absent.

President Ghani needs to define a national consensus on policy issues. But to do this, all of Afghanistan's political elite and the security forces must unite in favor of government so that an effective and strong government can emerge. A stable and strong political system can only help address and rectify national challenges.

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