Tag Archives: al Qaeda

Peace in Afghanistan: Can US Recipe be cherished in Afghanistan ever?

Major General S B Asthana,SM,VSM

US-Taliban talks at Doha earlier this year

After several rounds of US Taliban Peace Talks in Doha, the reluctantly agreed upon ‘so-called intra-Afghan dialogue’ scheduled on April 19, 2019 was abruptly cancelled on April 18 amid seemingly insignificant disagreements about the size and composition of the Afghan delegation, which Taliban objected to.

US State Department conveyed their disappointment to President Ghani on April 21 and condemned the Taliban’s announcement of starting another offensive in the spring. It however was waiting to happen, as Taliban was in no mood to talk to present Afghan Government calling them a puppet Government of foreign powers. Afghanistan current regime is also not too happy with a sense of isolation in various rounds of US – Taliban Peace Talks without their participation, as Taliban continued terror attacks on them.

Taliban destroyed ancient Buddha statues in Afghanistan

The Reality of Afghanistan
After 17 years of war Taliban seized more territory and controls at least 50% of the country. Taliban cannot be relied upon for any kind of peace settlement for the time being with Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar as their Chief negotiator, released from Pakistani jail last year, who has political ambitions, and has held various appointments in erstwhile Taliban Government prior to US invasion. They will eventually find reasons to rule the country, even if they promise to allow a peaceful democratic solution. The Government in power under President Ghani and CEO Abdullah do not give the confidence of being on the same page or being strong enough to face Taliban all by themselves. Taliban is unlikely to give up the ambition of ruling through Sharia laws, irrespective of the liberalised wordings they have been using during peace talks, because they have radicalised cadre, which needs to be satisfied by their leaders. The people may not be too happy as a large segment of population has got used to some liberties like women working at common place with men. Afghan military is not yet strong enough to take on Taliban in the entire country. It still needs lot of training, capability and military hardware. With continuous attacks by Taliban and splinter groups of Daesh getting into Afghanistan, peace is a distant dream.

Significance of US-Taliban Peace Talks
During US- Taliban Peace talks, there seemed to be some consensus regarding ‘Issues of Framework Agreement’. In principle US has agreed for phased withdrawal from Afghanistan after the final agreement. Timelines for withdrawal however have not been agreed as Taliban wants withdrawal in eighteen months and US is suggesting a period of five years linking it with implementation of agreement. Taliban have agreed to not to allow any terrorist group to operate from Afghan territory including getting rid of all foreign terrorist groups like ISIS and Al Qaeda. This however is unrealistic and in my opinion, unlikely to happen. A comprehensive ceasefire to pave way for electoral process was commonly agreed to but is lacking implementation. The main issues still under discussion had been withdrawal of US and its allies’ troops from Afghanistan in a phased manner from Afghanistan along with implementation of other clauses of the final peace agreement.Taliban had declined talks with present Afghan Government, but later reluctantly agreed to Intra Afghanistan Talks with all stake holders including present Afghanistan Government to reach consensus among all, which have now been called off.

The US Taliban exclusive peace talks have isolated the present regime in power under President Ghani. It is clear that unless the present democratically elected Government is on board, no peaceful elections can take place, even after expiry of its term in September this year. The democratic peaceful elections are unlikely in near future unless intra Afghanistan talks take place. The ingress of pockets of Daesh in Afghanistan make situation even more complex. US want to withdraw as per their time table and President Trump wants to make such announcement before the next election. President Trump’s decision to withdraw from Afghanistan will definitely alter the strategic balance in favor of Taliban, Pakistan, China and Russia. It however poses a question mark that is US willing to concede this important strategic space in Af-Pak region to its competitors so easily, after 17 years of war, knowing that China and Pakistan are waiting to grab it? Is domestic pressure on President Trump is so heavy due to election promises made by him. In an interview to CNN he had indicated that Russia, China, India and Pakistan should replace US troops in Afghanistan and resolve this problem as a regional issue. In my opinion treating it is a regional issue may not be realistic, because with radicalisation of Pakistan, growing strength of Taliban, and some existence of al Qaeda, Haqqani network and Daesh, I see a large caliphate in making, with levers of power with radicalized organisations. If the entire globe had to put in synergised effort to deal with Taliban and Daesh earlier, it is going to be even more difficult when the new grouping of radicalised elements emerges again.

The Position of Other Stake Holders
There are conflicting interests of each of the stake holders. Pakistan nurtured Taliban and al Qaeda, hence would be happy if Taliban is in driving seat, but it will not compromise on Durand line because it wants strategic depth. Taliban also will not compromise on border issue with Pakistan, as they did not do so earlier. US is fed up of fighting there, but if it withdraws from this strategic space, it will be lost forever to China, which has plans to develop communication links with China Pakistan Economic Corridor there, exploit all natural resources of Afghanistan including developing cross communication links up to Iran and preferably use their port as well. Russia had entered Afghanistan earlier to deny the US influence there during cold war period. US helped Mujahedeen to counter Russia. Later Russia found the occupation unsustainable and withdrew unilaterally. I do not think that they will do the same mistake again. Russia however has been considering establishment of second military base in southern flank of Tajikistan and Turkmenistan bordering Afghanistan to fulfill its strategic interest. Russians also hosted Peace Talks on Afghanistan with all stake holders and invited India. I learnt was that some observers did attend it, but not as a formal participation by the Indian Government.

Sino- Pak Interest
China has been actively engaging with Taliban in the recent past and Pakistan harbored them even when Multi-national Forces were fighting with them earlier. I therefore see no reason why Pakistan will not be amenable to Afghanistan under Taliban Islamic rule. If Taliban guarantees China’s that it will not support ETIM operating in Xinjiang, and if Chinese feel that they can manage Taliban, they may also be amenable to Taliban Islamic rule. If China is comfortable with Islamic Republic of Pakistan, I see no reason why they will not accept Islamic rule under Taliban, so long it meets Chinese national interest. China and Pakistan will definitely see a Taliban government as a major strategic gain against USA and India. Taliban will have to be managed by China, financially or otherwise for stability of China´s New Silk road and the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, because even Chinese will not trust a jihadist group for stability of its economic assets. Pakistan will expect Taliban as a facilitator of new strategic depth against India, but it cannot take them for granted because the last Taliban Regime did not compromise with Pakistan on border issue. Pakistan will celebrate if Indian investments in Afghanistan go waste, but any government in Afghanistan is likely to welcome Indian assistance.Taliban if brought to power will be interested in development of Afghanistan and the New Silk road, but I have my doubts that China and Pakistan will believe Taliban’s guarantee that it won´t be a safe haven for terrorists and jihadist and won´t interfere in internal affairs of China in Xinjian or question the Durand line, because both these countries are well familiar with ideology of Taliban. In my opinion Taliban may accept these conditions on paper to come to power, but will subsequently do what it suits them most.

President of Afghanistan Dr Mohammad Ashraf Ghani and Prime Minister of India Narendra Modi at the Heart of Asia Summit, (Dec 4, 2016-representative image)

Implications for India India is the largest regional donor to Afghanistan and fifth largest donor globally with over $3 billion in assistance. It has helped the country in infrastructure and capacity building of the nation and invested over $10 billion cumulative amount since 2002 in doing so. Construction of Salma Dam, Parliament building, various connectivity and power projects and supply of some military hardware are examples of the assistance provided by India. India is the largest export destination of Afghanistan and their exports stood at $ 740 million to India in 2018. The new route through Chahbahar has been activated bypassing Pakistan, to which US had granted exception from sanctions imposed on Iran, post withdrawal from JCPOA, for humanitarian assistance and rebuilding Afghanistan. Any new dispensation in Afghanistan involving Taliban if not friendly to India may jeopardize India’s investments in Afghanistan, but it will be at a huge loss to its people. Indian investment in Afghanistan including Chabahar port, connectivity projects to Afghanistan and onward to CAR republics would require the support of Afghanistan Government; therefore a friendly regime is desirable. Increased influence of Pakistan in Afghanistan is detrimental to Indian and US interest. US withdrawal will embolden Taliban and other terrorist groups and may influence the ongoing militancy in Jammu and Kashmir also. Turkmenistan- Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) project passes through Afghanistan and Pakistan, hence its success or otherwise is dependent on Indo-Pakand and Indo Afghanistan relations amongst many other factors. All four countries are stake holders in this project; hence any obstruction in the project is going to be a collective loss for all. India´s has worked with all Afghan governments so far; hence I visualise that India will continue to deal with the Government of the day, as hither to fore, even if there is any change.

Taliban may not want to speak to Afghan establishment/their representatives but the talks with US only have no meaning if Afghan Government is not part of it, as the electoral process cannot begin otherwise. Peace talks should not mean that Afghanistan be handed over to Taliban unanimously by all stakeholders, despite their continued offensive and power of militancy, which will be construed as a victory against super power and global community through terror. The gesture of Taliban talking about bringing a women representative for talks is good optics, but does not make them moderates or believers in democratic institutions or equality to women.The US on their part is not going to give up its efforts to create conditions for its smooth pull out from Afghanistan.Their special envoy for Afghanistan reconciliation, Zalmay Khalilzad, is already on new regional trip to Qatar for a new round of negotiations with the Taliban, aiming to find a political solution to the Afghan war despite the disappointment of cancellation of ‘Intra-Afghan dialogue’.

Maj Gen SB Asthana, SM, VSM

The author, MAJ GEN S B ASTHANA,SM,VSM is a veteran Infantry General with 40 years experience in international fields and UN. A globally acknowledged strategic & military writer/analyst; he is currently the Chief Instructor of USI of India, the oldest Indian Think-tank in India. Former Additional DG Infantry. Member Board/Governing Council CEE,IOED,IPC, other UN Organisations.

Reputed scholar and historian compares today’s Kashmir with Syria

Newsroom24x7 Network

Inside Syria

Chandigarh: Pointing to Kashmir and its fabled sufi culture that has not been visible for thirty years now, historian Rajiv Lochan draws an analogy with the present situation in Syria by underscoring that Syria was a secular country before the outside terrorists stepped in to create havoc in that country.

To draw home his point, Rajiv cites extensively from the interview of Flemish Father Daniël Maes (78), who has witnessed the civil war and lives in the sixth-century-old Mar Yakub monastery in the city of Qara, 90 kilometers north of the capital Damascus. The interview was published under the title ‘The Media Coverage on Syria is the Biggest Media Lie of our Time’ by Ron Paul Institute for Peace and Prosperity.

Excerpts from Father Daniël’s interview:

“The idea that a popular uprising took place against President Assad is completely false. I’ve been in Qara since 2010 and I have seen with my own eyes how agitators from outside Syria organized protests against the government and recruited young people. That was filmed and aired by Al Jazeera to give the impression that a rebellion was taking place. Murders were committed by foreign terrorists, against the Sunni and Christian communities, in an effort to sow religious and ethnic discord among the Syrian people. While in my experience, the Syrian people were actually very united.

Before the war, this was a harmonious country: a secular state in which different religious communities lived side by side peacefully. There was hardly any poverty, education was free, and health care was good. It was only not possible to freely express your political views. But most people did not care about that.”

“When thousands of terrorists settled in Qara, we became afraid for our lives. They came from the Gulf States, Saudi Arabia, Europe, Turkey, Libya, there were many Chechens. They formed a foreign occupation force, all allied to al-Qaeda and other terrorists. Armed to the teeth by the West and their allies with the intention to act against us, they literally said: “This country belongs to us now.” Often, they were drugged, they fought each other, in the evening they fired randomly. We had to hide in the crypts of the monastery for a long time. When the Syrian army chased them away, everybody was happy: the Syrian citizens because they hate the foreign rebels, and we because peace had returned.”

ISIL recruiting youth in Afghanistan, training kids to kill

Newsroom24x7 Desk

isil terrorist schoolKabul/ Islamabad/New Delhi: Coinciding with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Kabul visit to inaugurate the Parliament complex built with Indian help, which was followed by his surprise visit to Lahore to greet his Pakistani counterpart Nawaz Sharif on his Birthday there is news of increasing chaos in Afghanistan, where it has been reported that the ISIL has set up terrorist schools and children as young as 3-years were being trained to kill.

RT (Russian Television) today reported that Taliban defections to ISIL are on the rise after the US-led combat troops began pulling out from Afghanistan.

Kabul based journalist of New York Times Ahmad Shakib has also reported about ISIL’s Afghan radio station located in the Nangarhar Province near Kabul and close to the Pakistan Border.

This radio station is working overtime and spreading terrorist propaganda to enroll the youth into the ISIL ranks.

Reports point out that the ISIL, which is under pressure when it comes to smuggling oil from territories under its control in Syria and Iraq, wants to control the money spinning activity of heroin production and trafficking in Afghanistan and also expand its network in Central Asia.

The latest reports about ISIL activities in Afghanistan has added another dimension to the security environment in the region which has been reeling under the impact of the militant groups, especially the Taliban. Some of these militant groups that are said to be supported by the Pak ISI have been involved continuously in acts of terrorism in Kashmir.

Hardline violent groups like al Qaeda, Pak Taliban and the Afghan Taliban that had fled Afghanistan after the US controlled troops took control of their territory 14 years ago had merged with the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), which later came to be known as the Pak-Taliban when the US had started mounting pressure on Pakistan for coordinated action in the war against terror after 9/11.

The militants network, with several hundred thousand members, is now deeply entrenched in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) and the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa area. The Pak Taliban has also made deep inroads in Baluchistan. The Haqqani group, which is part of the militant network is supposed to be a non-state arm of the ISI.

Then we also have the Lashkar-e-Taiba in Pakistan. It is the armed wing of Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JD), a fundamentalist organisation operating freely in Pakistan. Its founder leader is Hafiz Mohammed Saeed. Lashkar-e-Taiba is closely linked to the ISI and India has evidence that it was directly responsible for the Mumbai attack in 2008. Lashkar-e-Taiba is also active in spreading terror in Kashmir.

In Pakistan, the fight for control over natural resources in Baluchistan also turned violent in recent  years after the militant Sunni Islamist groups began targeting the Shias. Other parts of Pakistan were also not free from the violent impact of this.

Pakistan under siege: Sectarian war, target killings, militant networks and what not

Lalit Shastri

Karachi attack4Karachi is once more reeling under the impact of a brutal attack on a Ismaili Shia bus which left at 45 people dead on May 13. Earlier in January, a suicide bomber had triggered a blast killing 61 at a Shia mosque at Shikarpur not far from Karachi. In the latest incident, the attackers got into a bus and shot the passengers on the head at point blank range after asking them to bend forward and to lower their heads.

Karachi, historically a very important port city and the commercial capital of Pakistan, had witnessed a wave of violence, in the last week of August 2014, when several persons, including those from the Police and a doctor, were shot dead in different parts of city. Such target killings of the Muhajir people (those who migrated to Pakistan during the 1947 partition) are common in Pakistan and more particularly in Karachi. With political parties,like the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM), founded to serve the interests of the Muhajir people, and other political contraptions thriving on divisive lines, there has been a rise in targeted killings and aggravation of the Sunni-Shia conflict.

Recently when I asked a friend across the border, who is a top Pakistani journalist, to share his views on Kashmir, he had responded by saying: “what to talk of Kashmir when they can’t keep their own house in order. The writ of the elected Pakistani Government, excluding some parts of the Punjab province, does not run in other parts of the country beleaguered and besieged by violence, terror and sectarian strife, he observed.

We have Baluchistan, which is endowed with huge natural wealth. Instead of using the massive deposits of copper, gold and coal for the growth and development of the country, what we are witnessing in Baluchistan is endless violence, my friend pointed out. When reminded of Sher Shah, the medieval ruler, who has the credit of building the grand trunk road connecting Kolkata with Peshawar, and told that the situation of law and order during his regime was such that a young woman laden with gold ornaments could walk fearlessly on the streets even in the middle of the night, the Pak journalist responded by saying: “what a contrast, even a man possessing only a mobile phone is not safe on Pakistani streets.”

My Pakistani friend had opened the window and helped me take a closer look at the situation prevailing in Pakistan. Here is a narrative of what I gathered from the “man on the spot” :

Militant Islamist groups and more particularly the Taliban are spreading terror within Pakistan and are also locked in regional battles in Baluchistan. Some of these groups, aided and supported by the Pak ISI, are also involved in acts of terrorism in Kashmir and what they call the “global jihad”.

The violent and hardline Islamist groups comprise of the al Qaeda, Pak Taliban and the Afghan Taliban that fled Afghanistan after the US controlled troops took control of their territory fourteen years ago. When the US started mounting pressure on Pakistan for coordinated action in the war against terror after 9/11, those supporting the Afghan Taliban in the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa area of Pakistan—earlier called the North-West province– provided the base and a fertile ground to the Afghan Taliban to regroup. In this scenario, several militant groups became part of the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) now known as the Pak-Taliban.

The militants network, with several hundred thousand members, is now deeply entrenched in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) and the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa area. The Pak Taliban has also made deep inroads in Baluchistan. The Haqqani group, which is part of the militant network and is supposed to be a non-state arm of the ISI is considered the biggest threat by the US.

Any discussion on the hardline Islamists groups of Pakistan would be incomplete without focusing attention on the Lashkar-e-Taiba, the military wing of Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JD), a fundamentalist organisation operating freely in Pakistan. Its founder leader is Hafiz Mohammed Saeed. Lashkar-e-Taiba is closely linked to the ISI and India has evidence that it was directly responsible for the Mumbai attack in 2008. It is also active in spreading terror in Kashmir.

The Taliban presence and activities in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa region is only one side of the picture. Baluchistan is another problem area where the separatists are fanning sectarian violence. In this region, the fight for control over natural resources has turned deadly with the militant Sunni Islamist groups targeting the Shias and this is leaving a violent impact even in other parts of the country. Sectarian violence has reduced Baluchistan into a Sunni-Shia battleground-especially with the Sunni militants continuously targeting the local Hazara population, which is in minority. Baluchistan has also been rocked by ethnic violence and settlers have been forced to leave the province. The Pakistani Government has lost even a semblance of control in this region.

US Secretary of State John Kerry condemns the Karachi attack

The American people, Kerry said in a statement on Thursday, stand in solidarity with the people of Pakistan, and with the global Ismaili community on this tragic day. Make no mistake: There is more strength by far in the respect and solidarity that we feel towards one another than there could ever be in any terrorist attack.

Extending his personal condolences to the families of the victims, and to the Aga Khan, who has led the Ismaili community in investing in so many important development and education projects not only in Pakistan, but around the world.Kerry said: ‘We will support efforts to bring all those responsible to justice and stand ready to provide assistance to the investigation of this tragic attack.’