By Rangin Dadfar Spanta
After the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, Afghanistan became a rare example of international consensus. The global community, amid competing regional and international interests, undertook a military intervention endorsed and legitimized by the U.N. Security Council. It was common knowledge that al-Qaeda had created a haven in Afghanistan with the support of Pakistan’s intelligence agency. Dismantling this regional terrorist infrastructure was considered vital to the international counterterrorism strategy.
Then-U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage delivered a message to Pakistan’s president, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, in November 2001: It could join the international coalition or be bombed “back to the stone age.” Across the border, the Afghan people persecuted by the brutal rule of the Taliban and al-Qaeda, as well as by the lordship of Pakistani generals, welcomed the international community with open arms. We have made significant progress in recent years. But our achievements in education, health, development and civil rights have been overshadowed and eroded by terrorist attacks.
There is ongoing domestic and international confusion in identifying Afghanistan’s friends and foes. The Afghan people are wholeheartedly grateful to the international community for its sacrifices in blood and treasure. Unfortunately, the military-intelligence establishment of one of our neighbors still regards Afghanistan as its sphere of influence. While faced with a growing domestic terrorist threat, Pakistan continues to provide sanctuary and support to the Quetta Shura, the Haqqani network, the Hekmatyar group and al-Qaeda. And while the documents recently disclosed by WikiLeaks contained information that was neither new nor surprising, they did make public further evidence of the close relations among the Taliban, al-Qaeda and Pakistani intelligence.
The international community is present in Afghanistan to dismantle these international terrorist networks. Yet the focus on this fundamental task has progressively eroded and has been compounded by another strategic failure: the mistaken embrace of “strategic partners” who have, in fact, been nurturing terrorism.
Much has been said about the political will of the Afghan government, governance in our country and corruption. These are mainly domestic variables. It is true that an exhausted and desperate political elite in Afghanistan, faced with predatory and opportunistic individuals in and outside the power structures, allowed the mafia to penetrate into politics. State institutions were undermined and the rule of law weakened. Undoubtedly the absence of transparency in contracts and the presence of private security companies clearly connected to certain officials — contributing ultimately to the privatization of security and thus insecurity in our country — are matters of grave concern. But the international terrorist presence in the region is not entrenched solely because of Afghan corruption. Britain, Spain, Turkey, China, Germany and India have all been victims not of Afghan corruption but of international terrorism — emanating from the region.
It is my firm conviction that securing our people, districts and towns from terrorists; institutionalizing the rule of law; and fighting corruption are necessary steps toward building a strong and responsive state. But that is not enough. No domestic measure will fully address the threat of international terrorism, its global totalitarian ideology or its regional support networks. Dismantling the terrorist infrastructure is a central component of our anti-terror strategy, and this requires confronting the state that still sees terrorism as a strategic asset and foreign policy tool.
To be clear, Afghanistan opposes the expansion of conflicts into other countries and opposes unwarranted military interventions in the internal affairs of sovereign nations. But global efforts to counter terrorism will not succeed until and unless there is clarity on who our friends and foes are.
The conflict we are engaged in is becoming a long and expensive war for us and our international partners. The Afghan people are rightly frustrated and exhausted by a war in which the line between friends and foes is blurred. Global opinion has also turned against us. Yet surely it is understandable that we have failed to mobilize people for a cause where the fighting is in one place and the enemy is in another. How can we persuade Afghans, or the parents of young soldiers from coalition countries, to support a war where our “partners” are involved in killing their sons and daughters? While we are losing dozens of men and women to terrorist attacks every day, the terrorists’ main mentor continues to receive billions of dollars in aid and assistance. How is this fundamental contradiction justified?
The Afghan people are no longer ready to pay the price for the international community’s miscalculation and naivety. The aggressor understands only one language: that of force and determination. Afghanistan, along with the United States and many other nations, is a victim of terrorism. The international community must establish a clear alliance among such victims. We cannot mobilize the Afghan people with uncertainty, confusion or appeasement of those who sponsor terrorism.
The writer is national security adviser of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan. He served previously as foreign minister.