In Afghanistan, the US Is Accused of Backing Both Sides

Afghanistan and Pakistan are both U.S. allies, but the latter is accused of destabilizing the former with U.S. help.

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani gave a blistering speech on April 25 to a rare joint session of parliament, accusing Pakistan’s government of aiding and abetting Afghan Taliban officials in Peshawar and Quetta.

“Today, I want to make it clear that we do not expect Pakistan to bring the Taliban to the peace talks,” Ghani exclaimed. “The time for an unjustifiable amnesty is over.”

Ghani’s threatening words were well-received by frustrated parliamentarians, coming just days after the Taliban managed to drive a minibus packed with explosives into the vicinity of the Ministry of Defense—right next to one of Afghanistan’s most important buildings: Afghanistan’s Intelligence service, the National Directorate of Security, or NDS.

The car bombing and subsequent firefight killed up to 60 people and wounded nearly 400. The majority of the casualties were civilians, including women and children. Windows were blown out miles away, including at the Ministry of Defense, and the Presidential Palace was forced to go into lockdown.

Within hours of the attack, Ashraf Ghani and his team set to Twitter to express outrage over the attacks and share photos of Ghani with survivors at the hospital. The president declared: “This attack shows the weakness of the Taliban.” But how does attacking a high-value target such as the NDS and making the presidential palace go into a lockdown make one weak?

This past winter in Kabul alone, the Taliban managed to attack the Spanish embassy; they attacked an upscale French restaurant that catered to foreigners and the Afghan elite; they bombed Kabul International Airport—twice in the same day; they hit the Italian embassy with two rockets; and in probably the most shocking episode, carried out a suicide car bomb attack against Tolo TV.

It makes calling the current “Spring Offensive” a misnomer. There has never been a break in the violence.

The Taliban’s “Spring Offensive”

Quadrilateral peace talks between Afghanistan, Pakistan, China and the United States were set to resume in March, but a week before talks could begin the Taliban released a statement stressing that several demands be met before talks could be held.

“We want to repeat our stance once again,” the insurgent group declared, “that until the occupation of foreign troops ends, until Taliban names are removed from international blacklists, and until our detainees are released, talks will yield no results.”

Within a month the Taliban launched their annual “Spring Offensive,” achieving a near takeover of Kunduz, the nation’s fifth-largest city—something the Taliban temporarily accomplished only seven months prior.

Although the ANA (Afghan National Army), working in concert with other Afghan security apparatuses, were able to repel these recent attacks quicker than what happened during last years takeover, the Taliban have again proved whether materially of simply symbolically that “security” in Afghanistan is an illusion and the Afghan central government can not bring “safety” to its citizens.

The growth and strength of the Taliban makes the United States’ continued mission in Afghanistan confusing. The U.S. military has stated time after time that, “Afghans must take the lead in the fight against Taliban forces.” However, when Afghans see that the Taliban are able to fight elongated battles and take over large swaths of land while at the same time hitting high-value targets in areas deemed safe—especially within Kabul’s supposed “Green Zone”—it makes them wonder why the world’s greatest superpower is stuck in a stalemate with a group believed to be on its death bed by the end of 2002.

Is it that the U.S. does not have the willpower to fight sustained guerrilla warfare? Does the U.S. lack the military know-how? There is even the possibility that “defeating” the Taliban is not part of the U.S. policy regarding Afghanistan at all.

A Possible Comeback?

President Ghani’s fiery speech at parliament was welcomed by Afghan parliamentarians, a rare moment for a president who came into the Afghan presidential elections an underdog. Similar to the campaign of Barack Obama, Ghani sold Afghans citizens a new and fresh way forward— promises were made and “hope and change” was on its way.

Within a year’s time that support disappeared, making Ghani a mostly weak political figure, seen to be echoing Western leaders while chastising his own Afghan population, especially with Ghani’s embrace of the EU’s hardline anti-refugee sentiment whom Ghani himself infamously said he has “no sympathy” for.

President Ghani however, did made his message clear at the joint session. “It is our expectation that if Pakistan is unable to take action against them (the Taliban)….then they should be handed over to our Islamic courts so they are tried and punished for their crimes,” he said. Ghani went even further and threatened to lodge these complaints with the United Nations Security Council, another claim that was met with enthusiasm by lawmakers.

But is the blame being directed where it should be?

Word on the Street

Ask an average citizen of Afghanistan, “Who is funding and facilitating the Taliban?” and 9 out of 10 will tell you that it is the Pakistanis and their intelligence service, the ISI. This widely held belief isn’t just a theory shared through gossip on the streets, but the theory of choice among those who would know: former Mujahideen.

In conversations with multiple ex-Mujahideen leaders this question was also posed and the answers remained the same: that the Pakistani government is aiding and facilitating Afghan Taliban commanders with the planning and orchestrating of attacks to further destabilize neighboring Afghanistan.

When pressed on how they knew or could prove this allegation of ISI and Pakistani state involvement, former Mujahideen repeated the same thing: that they were also trained and supplied by these same people- the ISI and Pakistani state during the Jihad against the Soviet occupation.

Misdirected Blame?

The blame currently being directed at Pakistan is valid and necessary. Pakistan for far too long has been able to deflect the allegations being made that the government is aiding Taliban fighters—an allegation being made by most of Afghan society—are well documented.

One particular embarrassing point of reference is a tweet by Taliban spokesperson Zabiullah Mujahid, who made the mistake of tweeting without turning off his GPS locator, which placed Mujaihid somewhere near Sindh, Pakistan.

There’s a strange disconnect, though, when it comes to how all of this could possibly be orchestrated by Pakistan, a country that is facing its own political turmoil, wanton violence and a failing economy.

In February 2016, the Times of India reported that U.S. President Barack Obama had proposed nearly US$900 million in aid packages, some to help “stabilize” Pakistan’s economy, but that US$300 million would go specifically for counter-insurgency measures meant to disrupt Al-Qaida and other “extremist elements” functioning inside Pakistan’s borders.

Just this past month, however, a damning US cable was declassified through freedom of information requests by a private research group. According to The Guardian, the heavily redacted cable claims the Inter-Services Intelligence directorate (ISI), Pakistan’s top military spy agency, facilitated an attack with US$200,000 paid to the Haqqani Network, an insurgent group allied to the Afghan Taliban. That payment was made following a meeting with two Haqqani representatives, directly implicating Pakistan as having a role in a major attack inside Afghanistan that killed seven CIA agents, the deadliest day in CIA history.

Here is where the confusion of U.S. interests in the region lie: How, on the one hand, can the U.S. and NATO occupy a country for over 15 years, maintaining that they will stand with the Afghan Unity Government to ensure its success, while at the same time the U.S. continues funding and supplying those who are known to be bolstering the armed opposition in Afghanistan?

In talks with former Mujahideen in the eastern city of Jalalabad about the role of Pakistan in the destabilization of Afghanistan these very questions were brought up: If we know the Taliban is being funded, equipped and trained by Pakistan’s ISI, Just like in the past with the Mujahideen, where are the Pakistanis getting their arms, supplies and weapons? Without hesitation the reply from a former Mujahideen fighter was: “We got our training in the mountains on the border regions between Afghanistan and Pakistan. It was well known much of the support was coming from Pakistani intelligence, they were even present in the refugee camps. And we were certain those arms and supplies were coming from the U.S., the CIA in particular.”

Just More Rhetoric?

President Ashraf Ghani finds himself at a pivotal moment, having gained some sympathy and political capital for his strong statements made during his speech, but he will need to spend that capital quickly and wisely to regain even a fraction of the support he once held.

It has yet to be seen whether or not Ghani will follow through with the threats he’s made against Pakistan and the Taliban, but what is clear is Ghani is either not willing or unable to go “all the way” and get to the root of the problems that Afghanistan is facing—and that’s the United States impunitive involvement in the country, the number one recruitment tool for the Taliban.

Mohammed Harun Arsali is a writer based in Afghanistan. Follow him on Twitter: @ArsalaiH

Mohsin Khan Mohammed is an independent journalist based in Afghanistan.

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