[Afghan News] March 1, 2012 - 03-03-2012, 10:14 AM
By Michael Georgy | Reuters
KABUL (Reuters) - Two American soldiers were shot dead on Thursday by two Afghans, including a man believed to be a soldier, Western and Afghan officials said, an attack likely to raise further questions about the future of Afghanistan's struggling security forces.
The killings in south Afghanistan came after two senior U.S. officers were gunned down in the Afghan Interior Ministry on Saturday by what Afghan security officials say was a police intelligence official.
At least five NATO soldiers have been killed by Afghan security forces since the burning of copies of the Koran at a NATO base last month triggered widespread anger and protests.
The killing of the U.S. officers in the Interior Ministry stunned NATO and cast doubt on its strategy of replacing large combat units with advisers as the alliance tries to wind down the war, now in its eleventh year.
NATO immediately moved to withdraw all its advisers from Afghan ministries in Kabul. Britain, Germany and Canada then withdrew their advisers.
The Obama administration will not swerve from plans to move into an advisory role in Afghanistan, U.S. officials say. But Afghan officials worry that further attacks by Afghan forces on Western troops could damage ties with NATO.
According to the U.S. Pentagon, about 70 members of the NATO force were killed in 42 insider attacks from May 2007 through to January 2012.
Such incidents became more frequent after the United States sent tens of thousands of more soldiers to Afghanistan as part of a surge to fight in Taliban strongholds.
"There are Taliban sympathizers in uniform inside Afghan security forces who are not in fact sent or recruited by the Taliban," said an Afghan government official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
"Despite tighter vetting procedures, such unfortunate incidents do occur. This problem will not go away. We need more time, more resources and manpower."
Some of Washington's partners have shown even greater sensitivity to insider attacks. In January, French President Nicolas Sarkozy suspended training and support operations and announced that France would withdraw entirely by the end of 2013 after four French troops were killed by a rogue Afghan soldier.
The United States hopes Afghan forces will be able to confront the Taliban and handle security on their own before NATO combat troops' scheduled departure by the end of 2014.
Insider attacks on NATO troops have deepened doubts about the commitment and effectiveness of Afghan forces.
"Unfortunately, this situation is a point of concern for us," General Afzal Aman, head of the operations department at the Ministry of Defence, told Reuters.
(Additional reporting by Mirwais Harooni and Hamid Shalizi; Editing by Robeert Birsel)
NATO troops killed by Afghan security forces: Timeline of rogue attacks
By Anup Kaphle The Washington Post
Two NATO coalition troops were killed at a joint base in Zhari district in Kandahar on Thursday after two Afghan men, one of whom was apparently a soldier, turned their weapons against them.
Thursday’s shootings come less than a week after two NATO troops were shot and killed inside the Interior Ministry in Kabul. The Taliban took responsibility of the killings and said that the shooter was an insurgent infiltrator in the Afghans’ security forces. The incident prompted the top U.S. general in Afghanistan to recall all NATO personnel working in Afghan ministries in Kabul.
The shootings are the latest in a series of attacks by Afghan security forces — or militants disguised in their uniforms — against U.S. and other members of the coalition forces.
Last year, there were 566 coalition military fatalities in Afghanistan. This year, there have been more than 40 deaths so far. Here are some of the major incidents since 2009 of attacks by Afghans wearing police or army uniforms against NATO forces.
Feb. 1: 2012: A man wearing an Afghan army uniform shoots and kills a NATO service member in southern Afghanistan.
Jan. 20, 2012: An Afghan soldier kills four French soldiers and wounds more than a dozen at a mountaintop base northeast of Kabul.
Dec. 29, 2011: A man wearing an Afghan army uniform fatally shoots two French service members in eastern Afghanistan. The Taliban claims responsibility.
July 16, 2011: A man wearing an Afghan National Army uniform turns his gun on NATO soldiers in southern Afghanistan, killing one.
Aug. 4, 2011: A man wearing an Afghan National Police uniform kills a NATO service member in eastern Afghanistan.
May 2011: A man wearing an Afghan police uniform kills two U.S. soldiers in Helmand.
April 27, 2011: An Afghan air force pilot opens fire inside a NATO military base, killing eight troops and a contractor, NATO officials say. The shooting takes place inside the North Kabul International Airport, the military compound that houses the NATO coalition’s joint command and is adjacent to the city’s civilian airport.
April 16, 2011: A newly recruited Afghan soldier blows himself up at Forward Operating Base Gamberi, the headquarters of the Afghan Army 201st Corps, in Laghman Province. He kills five NATO troops and four Afghan soldiers.
April 15, 2011: A man in an Afghan police uniform blows himself up in the courtyard of the Kandahar provincial police headquarters, killing the police chief, Mohammad Mojayed, and two other policemen.
Feb. 18, 2011: A man wearing an Afghan National Army uniform opens fire on German soldiers in Baghlan Province. He kills two solidiers and wounds 8 others.
Jan. 22, 2011: The Taliban claim that an Afghan soldier fired on French troops in Kabul Province and killed three French soldiers. Afghan officials dispute this claim.
Nov. 29, 2010: An Afghan border police trainee opens fire on his trainers at a base in Nangarhar province, killing six American soldiers.
Nov. 6, 2010: An Afghan soldier kills two American soldiers on a military base in Helmand province and flees.
Aug. 25, 2010: An Afghan policeman kills two Spanish soldiers who were training the police and an interpreter in Badghis province.
July 20, 2010: An Afghan army sergeant kills two American civilian trainers at a shooting range in Balkh province.
July 13, 2010: An Afghan soldier kills three British soldiers using rocket-propelled grenades and other weapons in Helmand province.
Nov. 2, 2009: An Afghan police officer kills five British soldiers on a roof of a British-Afghan checkpoint in Helmand province.
Source: Washington Post staff and wire reports; iCasualties
Obama says his apology over Koran burnings calmed anti-US violence in Afghanistan
Fox News - Thu Mar 1, 12:45 am ET
WASHINGTON – President Barack Obama said his apology for the burning of Korans at a U.S. military base has "calmed things down" in Afghanistan, after the incident triggered an outbreak of violence that left four U.S. service members and dozens of Afghans dead last week.
On Thursday, two more American troops were reported killed by an Afghan soldier and civilian opening fire on them.
In an interview with ABC News' Bob Woodruff that aired Wednesday, Obama was asked if he thought his apologizing to Afghan counterpart Hamid Karzai had improved the situation on the ground. The president replied, "It calmed things down."
"We're not out of the woods yet," Obama added.
"The reason that it was important is same reason that the commander on the ground, General Allen, apologized and that is to save lives and to make sure our troops who are there right now are not placed in further danger."
Deadly protests erupted in Afghanistan after it was revealed coalition forces burned copies of the Koran in an incinerator at Bagram Air Field, north of Kabul, last week.
U.S. ambassador to Kabul, Ryan Crocker, delivered a letter from Obama to Karzai, apologizing for the incident.
Though the White House and top U.S. military officials said the burning was unintentional, Taliban insurgents called on Afghans to kill foreign troops in revenge. The incident set off seven successive days of protest and violence, with the death toll estimated at about 40, AFP reported.
All the Republican presidential candidates, with the exception of Texas Rep. Ron Paul, criticized the president for issuing the apology.
Newt Gingrich called it an "outrage."
Rick Santorum said that "to apologize for something that was not an intentional act is something that the president of the United States, in my opinion, should not have done."
Mitt Romney said the president's apology "sticks in the throat" of the American people.
"We've made an enormous contribution to help the people achieve their freedom and for us to be apologizing at a time like this is something which is very difficult for the American people to countenance," he said.
Last Thursday, two American service members were killed when Afghan soldier opened fire on a US base in the eastern Nangarhar Province. Days later, two military advisers were allegedly shot dead by an Afghan colleague in their office at the Interior Ministry in Kabul.
There was also a grenade attack at a base in Kunduz Province and a suicide car bomb attack at Jalalabad airport in eastern Afghanistan, where NATO forces have a base.
Obama's assertion that tensions have been subsiding in Afghanistan came a few days after Pentagon spokesman Capt. John Kirby in Kabul told reporters that protest activity was declining.
Woodruff interviewed the president ahead of a White House to honor veterans of the Iraq War.
Obama said the dinner "is a celebration of the men and women who carried out an extraordinarily difficult mission and did so with honor, integrity, and courage and, as a consequence, were successful in being able to give Iraq a chance to build a representative, democratic country."
U.N. in Afghanistan says Koran burners should be punished
By Amie Ferris-Rotman
KABUL (Reuters) - The United Nations joined Afghan President Hamid Karzai on Thursday in calling on the U.S. military to take disciplinary action against those who burned copies of the Koran at a NATO air base, calling the incident a "grave mistake".
Despite an apology from U.S. President Barack Obama, the burning of the Muslim holy book at the Bagram base north of the capital ignited a wave of anti-Western fury across the country.
At least 30 people were killed in protests, including two American soldiers who were killed by an Afghan soldier who joined the demonstrations.
"After the first step of a profound apology, there must be a second step ... of disciplinary action," Jan Kubis, special representative for the U.N. secretary-general in Afghanistan, told a news conference.
"Only after this, after such a disciplinary action, can the international forces say 'yes, we're sincere in our apology'," added Kubis, without elaborating on what action should be taken.
Obama, in a letter of apology to Karzai last week, said the burning of copies of the Koran had been "inadvertent" and an "error".
Distancing the United Nations from the anti-Western uproar, Kubis lamented the attack on a U.N. compound in Kunduz province in the north last week, which angry demonstrators charged with weapons. U.N. staff was relocated around the country.
"We were not the ones who desecrated the holy Koran," Kubis said. "We deeply, deeply, profoundly respect Islam."
In some of the toughest language yet from an international organisation over the Koran burnings, Kubis added:
"We were very hurt that the international military allowed the desecration of the Koran. We rejected and condemned this act, it doesn't matter that it was a mistake.".
The call from the U.N. Assistance Mission in Afghanistan for action come after Karzai demanded the Koran burners -- whom he said were American soldiers -- be put on public trial and punished.
NATO's International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) says any disciplinary action "deemed necessary" would be taken by U.S. authorities after a thorough review of the facts in an investigation.
Results from separate investigations by NATO and Afghan authorities into the Koran burnings last month are expected soon. New protests could erupt if the investigation teams are seen as too soft on the Koran burners.
The Koran desecrations are also believed to have spurred a 25-year-old policeman to kill two high-ranking American officers inside the Interior Ministry.
The attack has raised questions about NATO's strategy of replacing large combat unit with advisers as the alliance tries to wind down the war.
(Reporting by Amie Ferris-Rotman; Editing by Michael Georgy and Robert Birsel)
Northern route agreement will allow supplies to enter, leave Afghanistan
By Walter Pincus The Washington Post
The United States has negotiated approval from five countries to expand the so-called northern route for supplies to enter and leave Afghanistan, mitigating some of the damage done when Pakistan closed truck routes from the south in November in reaction to a NATO airstrike that killed 26 Pakistani soldiers.
“We now have a two-way approval to move equipment back out of Afghanistan,” Air Force Gen. William Fraser III, head of the U.S. Transport Command, told the Senate Armed Services Committee this week. The agreement will allow non-lethal supplies and equipment plus wheeled armored vehicles to enter and leave Afghanistan, something that was not permitted before, Fraser said.
Arms and lethal weapons have been carried by aircraft, which are still being used to transport materiel brought to Pakistan by ship, Fraser said.
The expanded northern route agreement involves Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Russia and will help remove troops and motorized equipment as a reduction in U.S. and coalition forces takes place over the next two years. Fraser said the new approach must still be tested. He added, “We need the Pakistan g[round]-lock open because of the large numbers that we’re talking about that we need to bring out in a timely manner.
“We’re tasked this year to bring another 23,000 troops out by the first of October,” he said, noting that excess equipment is already being identified. In addition, all cargo-capable aircraft that now fly into Afghanistan are being used to remove excess equipment, Fraser said.
In the past, Pakistan’s truck routes to Afghanistan carried 60 percent to 70 percent of NATO supplies while the northern route handled the rest.
U.S. General Says Closure Of Pakistan Supply Routes Complicates Afghan Pullout
February 29, 2012 Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty
The U.S. military's top transport commander says overland cargo routes through Pakistan must be reopened to NATO for the United States to complete its pullout from Afghanistan by the end of 2014.
Pakistan closed overland cargo routes for NATO supplies in November amid deteriorating relations with the United States and the NATO alliance.
U.S. General William Fraser told the Senate Armed Services Committee on February 28 that the so-called Northern Distribution Network, which passes through Central Asia, was unable to handle the large number of shipments or all of the types of cargo that need to be moved out of Afghanistan to keep the withdrawal on schedule.
Fraser said existing agreements with Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Kazakhstan allowed equipment that is now in Afghanistan to pass through their territory as the war draws down -- but not any weapons.
He said the U.S. military was exploring routes to move nonlethal supplies and some types of armored vehicles through those countries.
His remarks suggest that lightly armored U.S. Humvee vehicles relied upon by U.S. troops in Afghanistan -- and possibly Bradley armored personnel carriers -- could pass through Central Asia without violating existing agreements if they are stripped of their guns.
But an alternative solution likely would be needed to bring out the heavily armored M1A1 Abrams tanks deployed in Helmand Province in early 2011.
Fraser also said Russia and Uzbekistan had endorsed transit routes for withdrawing equipment.
In Tajikistan, Defense Ministry spokesman Farhod Ibodulloev told RFE/RL's Tajik Service on February 29 that Fraser visited Dushanbe last week for talks with Defense Minister Sherali Khayrulloev.
Ibodulloev said the two agreed that their existing agreement on transit of cargo allowed transport both to and from Afghanistan, and that no new treaty would be needed for the withdrawal of nonlethal equipment or some types of armored vehicles.
Tajik specialists note that the United States in 2007 completed a $37 million bridge across the River Panj linking northern Afghanistan to Tajikistan.
They say that bridge makes it possible to transport NATO cargo overland out of Afghanistan to French aircraft based in Dushanbe, to a German air base in Uzbekistan, or to Kyrgyzstan where the U.S. military leases part of Manas International Airport for its transport hub on the Northern Distribution Network.
Equipment also could be loaded onto railcars in Tajikistan for shipment across Russia to seaports in the Baltics.
At the February 28 hearing, Fraser also said every U.S. flight that delivered supplies into Afghanistan was now being fully loaded with nonlethal cargo as part of the withdrawal, which aims to reduce U.S. troop levels from a surge peak of 110,000 to 70,000 by the end of 2012.
Nevertheless, he said, the closure of overland routes through Pakistan that were used to ship much of the U.S. military equipment into landlocked Afghanistan had already slowed the schedule for the drawdown.
Defense officials from the United Kingdom are also trying to develop new exit routes for bringing British troops and military cargo out of Afghanistan.
British Defense Secretary Philip Hammond was in Uzbekistan on February 29 for talks after signing an agreement with Kazakhstan's government on February 28 for the air transit of military supplies and troops.
The British Defense Ministry says Hammond and Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev also agreed to start negotiations on a land-transit agreement.
In Astana, Hammond said Britain faced a "major logistical operation" to take some 11,000 cargo containers and about 3,000 armored vehicles out of Afghanistan -- and that Britain must "work with our partners in the region to do so."
Kazakh Defense Minister Adibek Dzhaksybekov said after his talks with Hammond on February 28 that "international military cooperation" was one of the most important and crucial components for "ensuring regional security"
British Armed Forces Minister Nick Harvey plans to follow up Hammond's negotiations with visits this week to Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Turkmenistan.
Written by Ron Synovitz, with reporting by RFE/RL's Tajik Service correspondent Iskandar Aliev
Afghanistan Unable to Take Over Prisons, Night Raids: Khalilzad
TOLOnews.com Wednesday, 29 February 2012
Former US Ambassador to Afghanistan, Zalmai Khalilzad, told TOLOnews on Wednesday that Afghanistan does not have the necessary ability to take over prisons and responsibility to carry out night raids independently.
Mr Khalilzad warned of lack of confidence about the future in Afghanistan and stressed on the importance of long-term strategic partnership between Kabul and Washington.
He said the security situation in Afghanistan was worrying, but expressed optimism about peace talks with the Taliban.
Putting an end to night raids as well as the transfer of Bagram prison to Afghans are preconditions of the Afghan government to sign a long-term strategic agreement with the US.
"Practically, and based on current capacities and the previous experiences in Afghanistan, it requires some time before Afghan are able to take over all responsibilities. It is not in the interest of Afghanistan, if responsibilities are taken over before having the necessary ability to do so," Mr Khalilzad said.
Currently two main agendas of international community and the Afghan government are to bring anti-government armed groups to negotiation table in order to end the war in the country.
"If Europe has finally come to a conclusion that Afghanistan is on the path to democracy and the rule of law and if the warring sides reconcile and stop fighting, it will be a big achievement," Mr Khalilzad said.
Asked about the 2014 troop drawdown schedule, Mr Khalizad said Afghan forces may not be able to take over all responsibilities to defend the country on their own if all foreign troops leave by the end of the mentioned timeline, especially taking into account the regional challenges.
He said if there are still security challenges after 2014, foreign troops' presence will have to be extended for some time.
It comes as experts believe Afghanistan will witness new uncontrollable waves of violence if it loses the chance to sign a long-term strategic pact with the United States.
Afghan suspect's village in shock over killing of US officers
Reuters By Hamid Shalizi Feb 29, 2012
KORARAM, Afghanistan - Family and friends are baffled how a policeman who grew up in one of Afghanistan's most peaceful areas may have carried out the high-profile murder of two U.S. officers that has rattled NATO and the Kabul government.
Afghan security officials believe Abdul Saboor, 25, shot the officers at close range multiple times in their foreheads on Saturday deep inside the Interior Ministry, one of the country's most secure buildings.
But residents of Koraram village are shocked one of their own could become a wanted man.
The villagers, who boast of fighting the Taliban when they were in power from 1996 to 2001 before being toppled, can't believe Saboor or anyone else from here would have links to militants who may have wanted the Americans dead.
The only thing that is clear is that the two officers were killed in the midst of nationwide fury over the burning of copies of the Koran at a NATO base.
The incident may have made Saboor anti-American overnight.
His distraught mother Gul Bibi, speaking through sobs, said he never mentioned the desecration of the Korans the last time she saw him.
"I don't know why he did this or even if he did it," she said, shivering from the severe cold in her poorly heated mud home. "He just had his breakfast and left."
Saboor spent the Friday holiday at home, then set off from the mountaintop village about 120 km (75 miles) north of Kabul and headed to work at the interior ministry, where Afghan officials say he gunned down Lt Colonel John Loftis, 44, from Kentucky and Major Robert Marchanti II, 48, of Maryland.
The two worked as advisors in the ministry.
Policemen were stationed around the snow-carpeted village, ready to pounce on Saboor should he return. Black and white "wanted" posters with a stern-looking Abdul Saboor have started appearing in the capital Kabul.
The audacious attack raised questions about NATO's strategy of replacing large combat units with advisors as the alliance tries to wind down the war.
NATO immediately moved to withdraw all its advisors from Afghan ministries, followed by Britain, Germany and Canada.
Despite an apology from U.S. President Barack Obama for the burnings, which NATO called a tragic blunder, days of violent protests killed at least 30 and Afghan leader Hamid Karzai demanded the Americans who burned them be put on public trial.
Afghan security officials said there could be a link between the double murder, allegedly carried out by Saboor, and the Koran burnings.
The prospect of the Taliban, or anti-Western insurgents, garnering new support amongst parts of the country that are relatively peaceful is troubling eleven years into an increasingly unpopular war.
Saboor's village is in Salang district, part of the northern Parwan province, which saw some of the fiercest resistance against the Pashtun-led Taliban during the 1990s.
Many from the Tajik-dominated village fought alongside anti-Soviet and anti-Taliban guerrilla hero Ahmed Shah Masood.
It has seen little of the violence that engulfs other parts of the Pashtun-majority areas in the country penetrated by insurgents.
Koraram village elder Malek Saifuddin shook his head in confusion when asked about the possibility that Saboor killed the Americans in cold blood.
"People here are just not violent, this village sacrificed lives fighting the Taliban," Saifuddin said, clad in a long black overcoat and sunglasses.
"We were all so shocked to learn that Saboor could be a killer. But even more shocking was why," he said to approving nods from other villagers, who had gathered around him.
For a village of around 450 people, Saboor's quick rise in the security forces was impressive. He started work as a teaboy in a ministry, then decided to become a policeman.
The village chief said Saboor was highly ambitious, choosing to pursue a career with the police in Kabul rather than listen to pleas to return home to take care of his dying father.
"He never listened to anyone," he said.
At one point he was fired from his job and had to wash cars to make a living. But his connections to intelligence officers in Kabul helped him get his job back.
Villagers said Saboor became increasingly aloof as he rose up the ranks of the police, and was difficult to read.
Many say he has brought them shame, and a burden. Saboor was the only breadwinner in his family, which is now supported by neighbours.
"This has created a heartache for the whole village," said Saifuddin. (Writing by Amie Ferris-Rotman; Editing by Michael Georgy and Sanjeev Miglani)
Fantasy and reality in Afghanistan
By Fareed Zakaria, The Washington Post
The controversy over the desecration of copies of the Koran in Afghanistan and the murder of Americans that followed is, on one level, one moment in a long war. But it also highlights the difficult and ultimately unsustainable aspect of America’s Afghan policy. President Obama wants to draw down troops, but his strategy remains to transition power and authority to an Afghan national army and police force as well as to the government in Kabul, which would run the country and its economy. This is a fantasy. We must recognize that and pursue a more realistic alternative.
The United States tends to enter wars in developing countries with a simple idea — modernize the country, and you will solve the national security problem. An articulation of that American approach came from none other than Newt Gingrich during a 2010 speech at the American Enterprise Institute. We are failing in Afghanistan, Gingrich argued, because “we have not flooded the country with highways, we haven’t guaranteed that every Afghan has a cellphone, we haven’t undertaken the logical steps towards fundamentally modernizing their society, we haven’t developed a program to help farmers get off of growing drugs.”
Now, assuming that every Afghan got a cellphone and could travel on great highways, here is what would not change: The Afghan national government does not have the support of a large segment of its population, the Pashtuns. The national army is regarded as an army of Tajiks, Uzbeks and Hazaras — the old Northern Alliance that battled the Pashtuns throughout the 1990s.
And, simply put, Afghanistan’s economy cannot support a large national government with a huge army. (The budget for Afghan security forces is around $12 billion. That is eight times the amount of the government’s annual revenue.)
As America has discovered in countless places over the past five decades, there are problems with the nation-building approach.
First, it is extremely difficult to modernize a country in a few years.
Second, even if this were possible, the fundamental characteristics of that society — ethnicity, religion, and national and geopolitical orientation — would persist.
In Iraq, the United States believed it had an opportunity to remake the country into a model pro-Western democracy. It went in with grand ambitions and an unlimited budget. Today, Iraq has become a Shiite-dominated state that has systematically excluded Sunnis, driven out almost all of its Christians, and tilted its foreign policy toward Iran and Syria. The Kurds have effectively seceded, creating their own one-party statelets in the north. Iraq is much, much better off than it was under Saddam Hussein’s rule, but the country has developed along the lines of its history, ethnicity and geopolitics — not American ideological hopes.
We need to come to terms with Afghanistan’s realities rather than attempting to impose our fantasies on it. That means recognizing that the Afghan government will not magically become effective and legitimate — no matter how many cellphones we buy or power lines we install. Because they represent many Pashtuns, the Taliban will inevitably hold some sway in southern and eastern Afghanistan. More crucially, we will not be able to stop Pakistan’s government from maintaining sanctuaries for Taliban militants. And no guerrilla movement that has had a set of sanctuaries — let alone the active help of a powerful military like Pakistan’s — has ever been eliminated.
Accepting reality in Afghanistan would not leave America without options. Even with a smaller troop presence, we can pursue robust counterterrorism operations. We will be able to prevent the Taliban from again taking over the country. The north and east — populated by Tajiks, Uzbeks and Hazaras — will stay staunchly opposed to the Taliban. We should support those groups and, more crucially, ally with the neighboring countries that support them. The natural, and historic, allies of the Northern Alliance are India, Iran and Russia; they have permanent interests that will keep them involved in the region. We should try to align our strategy with those countries’ strategies (obviously, the alignment will be tacit with Iran).
The United States could, of course, maintain its current approach, which is to bet on the success of not one but two large nation-building projects. We have to create an effective national government in Kabul that is loved and respected by all Afghans, whatever their ethnicity, and expand the Afghan economy so that a large national army and police force are sustainable for the long term. To succeed, we would also have to alter Pakistan’s character to create a civilian-dominated state that could shift the strategic orientation of the Islamabad government so that it shuts down the Taliban sanctuaries and starts fighting the very groups it has created and supported for at least three decades. Does anyone really think this will happen?
Advisers Inch Back to Work in Kabul
Wall Street Journal By DION NISSENBAUM February 29, 2012
KABUL - The U.S.-led military coalition started sending its advisers back to work at Afghan ministries after pulling them out last week in the aftermath of a Quran-burning controversy, according to Western officials.
Four days after two high-ranking U.S. officers were shot and killed in a secure office at the Afghan Interior Ministry, a small number of advisers resumed working in Kabul on Wednesday with an Afghan security force that, beginning March 20, is supposed to supplant most private security companies in protecting development projects, businesses and convoys.
Afghan and U.S. officials are still working to increase security for Westerners working at the ministries after the burning of Qurans by American soldiers at Bagram Airfield prompted violent demonstrations and attacks that left at least two dozen Afghans and four members of the American military dead before abating this week.
Officials said the decision to withdraw advisers was slowing down work on urgent issues, such as setting up this Afghan Public Protection Force. "We have to keep this thing moving," a Western official said.
The military advisers who returned to work with the APPF "were taking some additional force-protection measures," a military official in Kabul said who declined to discuss details.
Some Western advisers who continued to work with the Afghan government said they now travel with private security guards who stand watch outside their meetings.
U.S. Marine Gen. John Allen, commander of coalition forces in Afghanistan, ordered the withdrawal of hundreds of advisers on Saturday after the attack at the Interior Ministry, in which the leading suspect is a young Afghan driver for the ministry who had access to the office and disappeared after the shooting.
Along with the military coalition, the U.S., Britain, France, Germany and Canada temporarily withdrew their advisers from the Afghan ministries pending an assessment of the risks the Westerners face.
The ministry shooting appeared to be the most jarring blowback from what U.S. officials said was a mistaken attempt by American soldiers to incinerate copies of the Quran that had been used by detainees at Bagram to trade notes and share extremist writings.
President Barack Obama apologized to Afghan President Hamid Karzai for the Quran-burning. Gen. Allen is overseeing an investigation into the incident. Military officials in Kabul said results of a preliminary investigation could be released as soon as this weekend.
It remains unclear what, if any, disciplinary actions the U.S. troops might face over the incident. One coalition attorney working on the case said none of the American forces would face trial under Afghan law. Any disciplinary action wouldn't likely be carried out until the full military investigation is completed—a process that could take weeks.
While the investigation proceeds, Western leaders are seeking new assurances from the Afghan government that their advisers will be safe when they return to work.
Before Saturday's shooting, the coalition had begun dispatching armed guards to keep watch on some meetings with Afghan officials.
Western advisers continue to stay in touch with their Afghan counterparts by phone and email, Afghan and U.S. officials said.
Write to Dion Nissenbaum at email@example.com
A version of this article appeared Mar. 1, 2012, on page A11 in some U.S. editions of The Wall Street Journal, with the headline: Advisers Inch Back To Work In Kabul.
Cancelled aircraft deal an embarrassment: US general
WASHINGTON - The US Air Force chief said Wednesday the cancellation of a contract for new light attack aircraft for Afghanistan was an "embarrassment" and vowed to quickly renew the contest.
"There's no way to put a happy face on this," General Norton Schwartz told reporters.
He said the Air Force would move "quickly" to relaunch the contest for 20 light support planes for the Afghan military as funds for the program will expire at the end of fiscal year 2013.
"We will work with all dispatch," he said.
The Air Force on Tuesday abruptly cancelled the $355 million contract after awarding the project to the US firm Sierra Nevada Corp. and Brazil's aerospace manufacturer Embraer, saying it would open an investigation after a legal challenge from rival American aerospace firm Hawker Beechcraft Corp.
The move comes as a damaging setback for the Air Force, which has tried to reform its weapons-buying practices after a drawn-out competition for a new aerial refueling tanker that was plagued by scandal and controversy.
Schwartz said it would be "a profound disappointment" if facts showed that the Air Force had botched the contract, and expressed regret that the cancelation would delay the delivery of an aircraft vital to Afghanistan's military.
"That is one of the things I'm truly sad about -- not withstanding the embarrassment of this to us as an Air Force, it's the fact that we're letting our teammates down here," he said o.
The four-star general warned of drastic disciplinary action if the investigation reveals the contract was derailed by wrongdoing.
"I can assure that if it wasn't an innocent mistake, there will be hell to pay," he said.
He said the "stakes are high" and that the Air Force would work hard to remedy the problem. "We will work our asses off," he said.
The contract for 20 Embraer AT-29 Super Tucano aircraft was awarded in December as part of plans to arm the Afghan military amid a NATO troop drawdown.
But the US Air Force said it was not "satisfied" with the paperwork supporting the decision.
The AT-29 Super Tucano is a turboprop aircraft designed for low threat environments.
Hawker Beechcraft Corp, based in Wichita, Kansas, protested the award in federal court, arguing that its AT-6 plane was unfairly shut out of the competition.
Both sides in the contest have claimed that their companies would produce a better aircraft and generate more jobs in the United States.
Why We Couldn't Change Afghanistan
When the West finally leaves after more than a decade of war, the country will not be so different than how we found it.
The Atlantic By Michael Hart Feb 29 2012
The West's military engagement in Afghanistan is entering its eleventh year and has another two years to go before the end of combat operations in 2014. Whatever the result of the international conferences that began last year in Istanbul and Bonn to elicit support for a successor state, one thing is clear: after Western forces draw down, Afghanistan won't bear much resemblance to the Western vision that fueled the intervention in the first place. However effective Western military organizations are in transitioning to Afghan control, the country's future will not be decided primarily by the residual structures and legacies of Western involvement, the current Taliban insurgency or even any formal process of reconciliation. Rather, it will be decided more by the country's ethnic character, the particular nature of local and national governance, and the influence of neighboring powers with enduring geopolitical and strategic imperatives in the region far stronger than those of the West.In other words, the future of Afghanistan will be determined by forces that antedate the latest Western effort to direct a turbulent area--and which probably will long survive this and future efforts to dominate the country.
Thus, it is possible to discern a picture of an Afghan future and to predict it will fall far short of the high hopes that attended American and Western engagement there following the al-Qaeda attacks in America on September 11, 2001. These were hopes of an Afghanistan ruled effectively by a central government in Kabul aligned with the West and capable of keeping the Taliban at bay. Instead, Western influence will be severely reduced. The central government in Kabul will probably be weak, as it has been for most of Afghanistan's history. The centrifugal effect of Afghanistan's ethnic geography will be exacerbated by intensified involvement, directly and by proxy, of competing external powers. Pakistani, Indian and Iranian influence will increase, as will that of the Afghan Taliban in Pashtun-majority areas and probably within the Kabul political establishment. In the absence of a significant improvement in the relationship between India and Pakistan, their geopolitical competition, played out by proxy, could become the dominant ideological conflict inside Afghanistan. Given the weakness of the Afghan national polity, endemic corruption and economic dependence on international aid, the long-term survival of any successor regime is doubtful, even without the challenge of a Taliban insurgency more coherent than the mujahideen insurgency of the 1990s.
Two fundamental strategic questions emerge from this picture of the Afghan future. First, in the event of a failure to manage the insurgency in the South and East, where the Taliban is strong and likely to remain strong, can a non-Taliban redoubt be sustained in northern Afghanistan? And, second, how effectively could influence be projected into the Pashtun South in order to prevent, if necessary, al-Qaeda from reestablishing an operational base in that area? On the first question, historical precedent suggests a non-Taliban North can be sustained. Before 2001, ethnic connections among Tajiks, Uzbeks and Hazara, combined with external powers, provided sufficient support to the Northern Alliance to prevent a complete Taliban takeover of the North. But it should be noted that Taliban successes in first Herat and later Kunduz provided an opening for the organization's later campaign against the Northern Alliance. This indicates that future durability is likely to depend on preventing any Taliban footholds outside the Pashtun-majority areas in the South and East. But given the strength of Iranian connections in western Afghanistan, this probably would mean accepting significant Iranian influence over the outcome.
On the second question, it would appear that sufficient influence could be projected into the Pashtun South and East to prevent the area from reverting to an operational base for al-Qaeda, should that prospect emerge as a danger to the West. In other words, al-Qaeda's freedom of operation can be disrupted after 2015 on both sides of the Durand Line, the porous and vaguely marked 1,600-mile border between Afghanistan and Pakistan that bisects the region's ethnic Pashtuns. That is because the demands of providing support to a major counterinsurgency operation in Afghanistan would be significantly reduced after the military drawdown by America and its allies and because the example of the successful campaign which ejected the Taliban from power in 2001 is well understood by all Afghan political players.
Perhaps the key strategic lesson of more than ten years of Western involvement in Afghanistan is that, despite the West's economic, technical and intellectual strength as well as its sophisticated expertise in counterinsurgency, it can't effectively compete against neighboring powers such as Pakistan, India and Iran, whose strategic interests in the region make their involvement both nondiscretionary and enduring. If the West wishes to maintain the ability to project power in Afghanistan following 2014, it will have to leverage the antipathy toward the Taliban of non-Pashtun peoples in the northern and western areas. This in turn will require a willingness and ability to work effectively with neighboring players in the region that have significant influence with certain of those non-Pashtuns of the North and West. It will also require a measure of diplomatic humility.
Any effort to assess prospects for Afghanistan after 2014 must begin with an examination of the current military state of play. Since 2010, it has become possible to assess the military surge in southern Afghanistan, particularly in the provinces of Helmand and Kandahar, and the picture is somewhat positive at the local level. It should be noted, however, that the increased military presence--and the intensified pressure on the Taliban--was never intended to be permanent. The aim was to provide the Afghan government and the international community with sufficient breathing space to allow them to establish governance with sufficiently strong roots and legitimacy to endure and an Afghan security apparatus with the strength to protect it.
Thus far, where Western forces, particularly Americans, are present in strength, the combination of numbers and the professional expertise developed over a decade of counterinsurgency has disrupted--and in some areas reversed--the Taliban's tactical momentum. The success can be measured in the reduced number of violent incidents where troop densities are highest--down by more than 40 percent since 2009--and in the change in tactics forced upon the Taliban. Before 2008, for example, the Taliban pursued direct engagements, but Western tactics later forced it to make adjustments. In 2009, the balance shifted toward ieds, and from 2010, with the Taliban increasingly pressured in Helmand and Kandahar, the insurgents turned to assassinations of Afghan government officials and high-profile gun and suicide-bomb attacks in Kabul.
But the Taliban's tactical adjustments represent a double-edged sword. One edge reflects the effective counterinsurgency campaign pursued by America and its allies. But the other reflects the adaptability and resilience of the Taliban. Indeed, notwithstanding tactical and local gains by America and the West, it is clear that the insurgency, rooted in Afghan Pashtun society and protected by cross-border sanctuaries, will endure well past 2015. As the cessation of combat operations approaches, the ability of Western military forces to control events will wane significantly.
This does not mean that Western actions between now and 2014 are irrelevant. Effective transition to an Afghan security apparatus is essential. For one thing, the institutional reputation of Western armies is at stake. But beyond that, it is clear that without an effective transition, no Afghan successor state can survive long. This makes the style, timing and nature of the West's withdrawal from combat operations highly significant. Precipitate or sudden withdrawal is likely to damage the fledgling Afghan National Army and will deny time for local police forces to become effective.
But the transition, however it unfolds, is unlikely to define the long-term Afghan future. That future will emerge from deep historical, political, cultural, economic and geopolitical forces and trends, both in Afghanistan and across the region. These forces and trends almost inevitably will sap Western influence in the region as the influence of Afghans and their neighbors will increase. This can be best understood through an examination of the country's ethnic makeup; its weak central government; the tribal and other cultural elements of the South and East dominated by Pashtuns, and of the North and the Hazarajat, largely anti-Pashtun territory; and the geopolitical imperatives of Afghanistan's neighbors.
Ethnicity is a key determinant of identity in Afghanistan. It also affects how neighboring countries interact with Afghans. The country's population includes Pashtuns, Tajiks, Uzbeks, Hazara, Baluch, Kuchi and Uighurs. The largest ethnic group is the Pashtun, with about 44 percent of the population, most of it concentrated across the southern areas of the country (and in northern Pakistan). There are also a number of Pashtun enclaves in northern Afghanistan, established by the British in the nineteenth century. The Uzbek and Tajik populations are centered north of Kabul, the Hazara in the mountainous areas to the west of Kabul.
This ethnic geography carries immense weight in determining the Afghan future. After Western withdrawal, the Taliban will probably not be able to exert effective control over the whole of Afghanistan. Essentially a Pashtun phenomenon, it will be difficult for the Taliban to command sufficient support in non-Pashtun areas to hold sway there. But the Taliban is strong enough amongst the Pashtuns to rapidly exert control over large areas in the South and East if residual structures fail.
Afghanistan's central government also poses a big question mark for the country. The government almost surely will be weak--a consequence in large measure of President Karzai's two terms in office. His government has been undermined by corruption, familial and Pashtun nepotism, and a failure to engage consistently with the wider Kabul polity. At the provincial level and below, Karzai's political situation is not much better. Lack of effective government and the Taliban challenge have undermined his standing, and his support among Pashtuns in the South has declined precipitately. There are surface parallels between Karzai's attempt to function as a national leader and the leadership of Mohammed Najibullah, head of the Soviet successor state in Kabul. Najibullah also sought to bring the nation together through his national reconciliation and pacification program of the late 1980s. But Najibullah was a far more effective national leader who understood and engaged with the wider societal and political issues of the day in a manner that Karzai has not been able to do. His People's Democratic Party of Afghanistan was a political party with national reach; the Karzai years have not spawned any such party organization with comparable influence. The 2011 formation of the Truth and Justice Party, which seeks to represent a broad range of ethnic groups and ideological positions, is a belated attempt to put this right. But however rapidly the party develops, it isn't likely to challenge successfully the well-established local and regional power brokers or take on the Taliban in the South and East.
Still, the events that preceded Najibullah's fall in 1992 have a depressing contemporary resonance. His government fell after the collapse of the Soviet Union led to the end of Soviet support for the Kabul regime. But even before that, the country's extended crisis contained elements of corruption, financial collapse, scarcity of resources and chronic overdependence on foreign support. In 1988, 75 percent of Afghan state revenue derived from projects dependent on Soviet support. And in 1991, internally generated revenue provided just 30 percent of a declining gdp. The inability of today's Afghanistan to generate the revenue to meet the financial burden of maintaining an expanded national army and police force is eerily reminiscent of the immediate post-Soviet era, after the abrupt collapse of Soviet support left the country economically on its own.
A joint Afghan and World Bank report issued in November 2011 stated that, assuming effective development of Afghan minerals and national economic growth of 5-6 percent a year for a decade, expenditures would still exceed gdp by some 25 percent, or $7.2 billion a year. Even when the cost of maintaining the security forces is removed, spending exceeds income by 11 percent. And this is based on the assumption that security will improve sufficiently to allow for the exploitation of mineral resources. That may not be a realistic assumption. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee issued a similarly pessimistic report. The international community may make available greater support than the USSR was able to give Najibullah, but it still may not be enough to offset the weakness of any national government following Western disengagement, not to mention the existence and durability of the Taliban. A more ideologically coherent opponent than the mujahideen of the late 1980s and early 1990s, today's Taliban is the dominant indigenous Afghan political influence in the South and East.
Then there are the twin issues of personality and deeply ingrained behavioral patterns at the national level. One might think that the civil war of the 1990s and the subsequent Taliban government, followed by the Taliban overthrow, would have brought new governmental and political players to the fore. But the Afghan national polity seems to be dominated by the same people as before, and it is striking how difficult it is for outsiders to break into it, even in the face of these major traumas. Many of the key figures have been major players in Afghan national politics far longer than Karzai, which may account for some of his difficulties. With the exception of Ahmed Shah Massoud and Burhanuddin Rabbani, both killed by the Taliban, almost all the key players of the 1990s remain active today.
But another important reality is that none of these men has obvious credentials as a potential national leader. They are distinctly ethnic or regional players. The result is that there has been a dearth of alternative potential national leaders. This reflects, in part, the ethnic and local nature of Afghan society and politics. But deliberate policy comes into play as well. Karzai raised concerns among American policy makers in 2010 when he sacked two top governmental officials--Interior Minister Mohammad Hanif Atmar and intelligence chief Amrullah Saleh--after they failed to prevent an attack on a Kabul peace council. Such actions belie any idea of an orderly political succession. Thus, the collective behavior of the Kabul polity is likely to revert to that of the early 1990s--jockeying for individual and ethnic advantage as well as the formation of unstable, shifting alliances susceptible to external exploitation and military pressure.
It should be noted that, in Najibullah's day, the expectation that Soviet withdrawal would precipitate a large-scale and successful mujahideen offensive effectively undercut Najibullah's policy of national reconciliation. When the mujahideen failed to capture Kabul following a military defeat at Jalalabad, the idea of reconciliation temporarily gained renewed momentum. A similar pattern could emerge today as imminent Western withdrawal is sensed. But a major Taliban defeat in southern or eastern Afghanistan isn't likely. Without active Western military partners, it is doubtful the Afghan National Army will prosecute a successful counterinsurgency campaign against the resilient and resourceful Taliban. Once the extent of Taliban political control over the hinterland becomes plain, the national army's Pashtun soldiers could leave en masse. That would mean the struggle taking on an ethnic cast, as the residue of trained Tajiks (overrepresented within the officer corps), Panjshiris and Uzbeks assume the bulk of resisting any Taliban spillover from the Pashtun areas. Thus there is a strong possibility that the country will return to the politics and conflict of the 1990s, characterized by ethnic and geographic divisions and passions.
It is premature and perhaps unduly pessimistic to talk of a Taliban protostate in southern and eastern Afghanistan. But after 2015, the Pashtun South and East will almost inevitably come under increased Taliban influence. Taliban strength and resilience are based as much on a natural affinity with the population as on intimidation or the Kabul government's weakness. Before 2010, each successive attempt to extend control and governance was followed by Taliban success in retaking that territory. Away from the areas of direct Western military control, Taliban "shadow governance" is far stronger than the writ of Kabul. It is true that the surge of American forces in southern Afghanistan has produced significant tactical gains, and Afghan forces, mentored by Western soldiers, have begun to perform more effectively. But once Western military forces are removed, Taliban influence and control will likely expand once again. The models of provincial governance imposed or attempted by the West are not sufficiently deep or rooted to endure in Pashtun-majority areas.
In Helmand, the residual British model, based as it is on an external technocrat, effectively relied upon one man, Governor Gulbuddin Mangal, for several years. Even without a Taliban challenge, in the absence of Western military forces, local rivals with genuine roots in Helmandi society such as Sher Muhammad Akhundzada would have rapidly engineered Mangal's removal. These men draw their power and authority as much from business interests, including narcotics, as from any traditional tribal structures or patronage networks, which were substantially destroyed in the Soviet occupation. However, despite their ability to raise and arm militias, they are unlikely to be any more effective in resisting the Taliban's political and religious appeal and military power in 2015 than they were in 1994-96. By 2011, the structures of governance underpinning Mangal were more resilient, but their viability in the absence of the security provided by Western soldiers remains questionable.
There are few reasons to anticipate durability in the U.S. model in the Pashtun areas of eastern Afghanistan. The practice was to install a strongman from outside the province as governor. In Nangarhar, Governor Gul Agha Sherzai established a credible level of security. But then bombings in a Jalalabad bazaar in 2010 demonstrated just how tenuous that security really was. The resurgence of Taliban influence was starkly illustrated by an attack on Kabul Bank in Jalalabad in early 2011. Residual tribal structures are stronger in the East than in the South, but there is little evidence that tribally based militias could resist a reversion to Taliban control. Western withdrawal would thus almost certainly be followed quickly in both the South and East by restored Taliban influence.
The Taliban will probably also increase its influence in areas of mixed ethnicity, such as Wardak and Logar, near Kabul. In the 1990s, these areas formed the initial boundary between Taliban and governmental forces. Since 2008, the Taliban, using the capabilities of the Haqqani network, has infiltrated suicide attackers through Wardak and Logar to targets in Kabul. The influence of the warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar and his militia, loosely affiliated with the Taliban, is also strong in the area.
Even at the apogee of its power, the Taliban never fully subdued the North, and there is little appetite for a return to Taliban rule in northern and western Afghanistan or the central Hazarajat. Given their experience with Taliban government, Uzbeks and Tajiks aren't likely to accept future Taliban domination. A similar reluctance to accept Taliban control amongst the Shia Hazara can only have been increased by the brutal attacks on Shia pilgrims celebrating Ashura in Kabul and Mazar-i-Sharif in December 2011. This antipathy could provide the basis for efforts to limit Taliban influence in northern and western Afghanistan.
Away from the Pashtun South and East, individuals such as Atta Muhammad Noor, governor of Balkh, have established security, provided the basis for local stability and economic growth, and denied the Taliban a foothold. This model of governance, rooted in local conditions and society, is inherently more sustainable than models imposed by the West. Governors such as Noor command respect and raise effective militias, and warlords such as Ismail Khan in Herat have sufficient authority and capacity to provide the basis for coherent resistance to Taliban encroachment. Crucially, they also have overriding personal and ethnic incentives to do so.
As Western military disengagement approaches, preventing the Taliban from persuading individual northern power brokers to change sides will be critical. This gives added significance to the northern Pashtun pockets and eliminating Taliban shadow governance within them. In its mid-1990s advance, the Taliban established almost unstoppable momentum by developing local shadow governance before launching military operations. This expedited its military success. In this way it captured Herat (which cut direct links from Iran to the Hazarajat and Mazar-i-Sharif) in September 1995, and then reinforced the Pashtun pocket of Kunduz (by air from Kabul) in 1997. This laid the foundations of its campaign against Mazar-i-Sharif. The revival of the National Front after the assassination of Rabbani indicates an appetite to prevent Taliban dominance of the North and the Hazarajat. The prospect of containment after 2015 depends on preventing the development of such Taliban momentum, which may persuade individual northern leaders that their best interest is achieved by cutting deals with the Taliban. Taliban shadow governance across the North, the West and the Hazarajat must be undermined and preferably removed before any pullout of international forces. Another imperative is the defeat of the mini-insurgency in Kunduz, which contains the seed for wider Taliban success in the North and provides a linkage with Uzbek militant groups. The security of Herat also is crucial, but this is most likely to be achieved by Iranian soft power preventing Taliban control of the area.
History suggests that whilst the West's preferred policy may be to support a national successor regime in Kabul, there is a valid alternative: support effective leaders in northern Afghanistan in order to provide a non-Taliban redoubt based in the Panjshir Valley, Mazar-i-Sharif (which dominates trade routes to central Asia), the Hazarajat and Herat. This approach is likely to be more fruitful than attempting to sustain a successor regime of limited strength and uncertain durability in Kabul.
Like nature, geopolitics abhors a vacuum. The looming cessation of full Western military engagement will precipitate intensified encroachment of Afghanistan's neighbors on the Afghan polity, economy, society and, in some cases, the insurgency. Iran, Pakistan, India, China and Russia have the ability to project influence and power into Afghanistan. Their geographical proximity and political, economic and cultural linkages with Afghanistan ensure depth and durability in their engagement. Their motivations range from ethnic and cultural affinity to complex interrelationships with external strategic issues such as Kashmir, which acts to drive both Pakistani and Indian policy in Afghanistan.
Western withdrawal will force Iran to consider its policy choices. Before 2001, it regarded Taliban-controlled Afghanistan as a major threat. Thus it deployed troops to the Afghan border and provided military support to the Northern Alliance. Once confronted with the reality of Taliban influence in southern and eastern Afghanistan, Iran will sharpen its ethnic, cultural and religious links with the Shia Hazara and its memory of Taliban repression of the Hazara in 1998-2000. Its ethnic interest will be to ensure that the Taliban remains confined to the Pashtun South and East. This could manifest itself in an agreement to allow a level of Taliban influence in western Afghanistan in return for nonrepression of the Hazara and the Hazarajat. But indirect intervention to ensure the security of Herat cannot be ruled out. Iran attempted that through Ismail Khan in the 1990s.
The strength of Iranian soft power in Herat and the Hazarajat gives Iran a level of durable influence in Afghanistan that the West cannot hope to match. Iran additionally remains well connected to the Kabul body politic and is adept at using political and economic levers (such as the periodic threat to expel Afghan refugees) to achieve political ends. This combination gives it significant influence over the sustainability of post-2015 governance in Afghanistan. In the context of Afghanistan's future, Western engagement with Iran--including American engagement--could become a necessity.
But it's possible that Iran's ethnic interest in Afghanistan could coincide with the geopolitical interest of the West. Whether Iran's supreme leader and the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps will allow ethnic interests in Afghanistan to override ideology and drive geopolitical behavior is a separate question, particularly if formal strategic-partnership agreements between Western powers and Afghanistan leave Western bases within the country. It is likely to depend in large part on external factors such as the state of tensions over the Iranian nuclear program, nervousness about the implications of the Arab Spring for Iran, wider relations with the United States, and Iran's perception of the level of U.S. threat after the departure of American combat forces from both Iraq and Afghanistan.
Engagement with Pakistan is equally essential. Pakistani involvement in Afghanistan is well chronicled and includes the willingness of elements of the Pakistani state, in particular its Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), to support or at least provide sanctuary for the Afghan Taliban. There is little evidence that the Pakistani military establishment has fundamentally changed its perception that the Afghan Pashtuns, particularly the Afghan Taliban, are the most effective Pashtun political force north of the Durand Line, providing essential strategic depth against India, as does the Kashmiri group Lashkar-e-Taiba. Personal relationships between ISI officers and senior Afghan Taliban leaders are deep and enduring. Western pressure is unlikely to change this. Western withdrawal from Afghanistan will lead Pakistan to seek to ensure Taliban control of the South and East and to gain as much influence in Kabul as possible, not least to ensure Indian influence is limited and the specter of Indian encirclement, whether real or imagined, is mitigated.
Following the fillip to Taliban morale that the cessation of full Western military engagement will undoubtedly provide, and notwithstanding the hope that the establishment of an Afghan Taliban office in Qatar will reduce Pakistani influence, Pakistan is likely to be the only external power with significant influence over the Afghan Taliban leadership. Whether or how the Pakistani government wishes to exercise such influence is a moot point. In the immediate aftermath of a Western withdrawal, viewed as a victory by elements of Pakistan's political and military elite and a significant majority of the Pakistani population, vague warnings of future destabilization will have limited effect. Like Iran, Pakistan is likely to regard any strategic partnership between the West and Afghanistan with deep suspicion, as it does the agreement signed between Afghanistan and India in November 2011.
One line of argument that may have potential in Islamabad is that Afghan Taliban control of southern and eastern Afghanistan, combined with a continuing Pakistani Taliban insurgency in the tribal areas, would threaten to bring about the de facto creation of a cross-border Pashtunistan and cross-fertilization between the Afghan Taliban and Pakistani militant groups such as Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan and Tehreek-e-Nafaz-e-Shariat-e-Mohammadi. This will probably not be sufficient to deter the ISI (whose attitude toward both the Afghan Taliban and Lashkar-e-Taiba suggests it is institutionally inclined to ride the tiger), but the potential threat it poses to the Pakistani state may offer pause for thought among Pakistan's military commanders and political classes.
Like Pakistan and Iran, India will be forced to recalibrate its Afghan policy as Western military operations cease. It is unlikely to reduce its involvement. Increased Taliban power will deprive New Delhi of its influence in southern and eastern Afghanistan and its intelligence on Kashmiri militants such as Lashkar-e-Taiba fighting and training in Afghanistan. Thus, India will probably seek to bolster Tajik, Uzbek and Hazara opposition to Taliban expansion. It may also increase support to Baluch separatists operating from Afghanistan against Pakistan and consider action against Kashmiri militants operating in Afghanistan. Continued and intensified Indian involvement in Afghanistan can only reinforce Pakistan's determination to ensure Pashtun influence in Kabul and on the Afghan side of the Durand Line. It is also likely to reinforce Pakistan's perception that this will best be achieved by an Afghan Taliban proxy. In the absence of a radical improvement in the relationship between India and Pakistan, which is itself probably dependent on a political shift in the Kashmir dynamic, the prospects for Afghanistan's future after 2015 are likely to be undermined by the strategic competition between the two powers, which will be carried out inside Afghanistan by well-resourced proxies.
Other neighboring powers also have enduring interests. Russia has strong ethnic and political links with Uzbeks and Tajiks in Afghanistan. After 2014, any atavistic attraction of watching the West "bleed" in Afghanistan may be usurped by the impending geopolitical reality of the potential for southern Afghanistan to develop into a neo-Taliban state with the power to export jihadism into Central Asia. Russia is therefore likely to provide material and political support to Uzbeks and Tajiks. Turkey has both ambitions as a regional Eurasian power and strong links with Afghan Uzbeks and will provide support to them.
China will secure its economic interests, particularly minerals, such as the Aynak copper mine, and probably protect ethnic Uighurs in Badakhshan. Uzbekistan has an incipient insurgency of its own and therefore has little interest in seeing a Taliban-controlled Afghanistan on its southern border. Similarly, Tajikistan's ethnic interest in northern Afghanistan is likely to translate into tangible support for Afghan Tajiks.
History suggests that Afghanistan ultimately always follows its own path, guided in arcane and often obscure ways by powerful competing forces of ethnicity, tribalism, religion, geography, regional feuds, a fervor of national protectiveness and unbending obstinacy. For centuries these forces have militated against a strong central government in Kabul and all manner of foreign incursion.
So will it be with the latest Western effort to fashion and direct the Afghan future. A measure of stability is possible following the decade-long Western involvement, if the Taliban can be confined to majority-Pashtun areas, if the non-Taliban North can resist Taliban incursion, if the influence of neighboring countries can help maintain an equilibrium of competing forces, and if Western nations--particularly America--exercise deft regional diplomacy combined with a measure of restraint commensurate with their ability to influence regional events.
After ten years of efforts to shape Afghan society in ways favorable to Western interests, the long-term societal and geopolitical consequences of Western engagement are very different from those envisaged in 2002.
This article originally appeared at The National Interest, an Atlantic partner site. Follow @TheNatlInterest on Twitter.
The views expressed in the article are the author's alone and do not represent those of Her Majesty's Government or the UK Ministry of Defence. This article was derived entirely from open-source, unclassified material.
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