Those who had any illusion of peace in NATO-occupied Afghanistan are in for a big disappointment. Successful attacks in Kabul in the last nine months are a sufficient testimony to the fact that NATO forces are losing ground in Afghanistan. Along the ground, they are losing patience and sanity. The latest turban-bomb attack to kill Afghanistan’s anti-Taliban peace ambassador shows that as long as Karzai and company (read: Uncle Sam) holds the reins of power in Kabul, peace can never return to this hapless country. The assassination of the representative of non-Pashtun minority but a key Afghan political figure Burhanuddin Rabbani, head of the commission meant to negotiate with the Taliban, the High Peace Council (HPC), signals the massive challenges ahead in efforts to end the war. This indicates one thing in clear terms; the peace initiative to be successful has to come from the ethnic majority in Afghanistan.
As expected, the blame for this murder has been laid at the doorstep of Haqqani Network. And to justify NATO forces’ inability to maintain order in Afghanistan, the Network is being shown as a Pakistan-supported formidable force. Before analyzing the situation and drawing conclusion if the Network indeed has its home-base in Pakistan, let us look at the timeline of recent attacks in Afghanistan:
Sept 20 - A Taliban representative meeting with Rabbani, the head of Afghanistan's High Peace Council, detonates a bomb hidden under a turban and kills him at his Kabul home.
Sept 13 - Insurgents holed up on five different floors of a partially constructed building shower Kabul's diplomatic enclave with rocket-propelled grenades and gunfire for 20 hours, while three suicide bombers -- one prevented -- strike police compounds elsewhere in the city. Five Afghan police and 11 civilians, including children, are killed. The U.S. blamed the attack, the most coordinated militant assault on Kabul since the war began in 2001 on the Taliban-linked Haqqani network based on Pakistan's northwest border with Afghanistan.
Aug 19 - Taliban attackers lay siege to a British cultural centre, killing at least nine people during an hours-long assault on the 92nd anniversary of Afghanistan's independence from British rule. A suicide bomber in car blew himself up in front of the gate of the British Council before dawn, and another car packed with explosives detonated moments later while four attackers, three of them men clad in burqa cloak worn by Afghan women, stormed the compound.
June 28 - At least 10 Afghan civilians are killed when suicide bombers and heavily armed Taliban insurgents attacked the Intercontinental hotel, Afghan officials said.
May 21 - A suicide bomber kills six people and wounds 23 when he strikes the cafeteria of a military hospital in a heavily guarded area.
Jan 28 - A suicide attack on a supermarket in the embassy district kills at least nine people, including a prominent Afghan doctor, his rights activist wife and four of their children.
The series of attacks deep inside Kabul speaks clearly that it was more for failure of NATO forces than anything else that the attacks were successfully planned and executed. Pakistan could be a convenient scapegoat but realistic view of the events would reveal that the accusations are only meant to cover the ineffective intelligence network and inefficient response system. This also indicates that majority of Afghan citizens have sympathies with the attackers which totally blinded the intelligence assets of Afghanistan and NATO. Daily Express Tribune, in an article titled, America’s SPECTRE syndrome in Afghanistan has very brilliantly analyzed why Pakistan has nothing to do with these attacks and why North Waziristan Agency cannot be home-base for the attackers. According to this analysis, the Afghanistan problem is not just about the Haqqani Network. Afghanistan has multiple problems, most of which have nothing whatsoever to do with the Haqqanis. Even if the Haqqani Network were entirely taken out, Afghanistan would remain largely the same. In fact, if the only stumbling block between an Afghanistan gone bad and an idyllic Afghanistan were the Network, Afghanistan would have been a piece of cake, not the wicked problem it has become.
According to the article, the attacks clearly show that the line of communication of the insurgents cannot stretch back to North Waziristan. All these attacks have happened deep inside the Afghan territory and indicate the steady loss of control of territory by the Afghan government and the foreign troops. If, for the sake of the argument it is conceded that the Taliban line of communication does extend back to North Waziristan, then the ability of the fighters to go deep in and mount attacks makes an utter mockery of the military and intelligence capabilities of the US and its allies despite the tremendous resources at their disposal.
Is this network operating to further the aims of al Qaeda? The evidence suggests that it has nothing to do with this outfit as it does not target Pakistan, its citizens and its security apparatus. It has confined its operations in Afghanistan and against the occupation forces. A recent interview of Siraj Haqqani with Reuters suggest that they rejected previous attempts at talks by the US and the Afghan government because those overtures were aimed at “creating divisions” among the Taliban. It is therefore misleading to suggest that the Haqqanis operate outside the overall strategic objectives of the Taliban.
Mullah Omar’s Eid-ul-Fitr message, more reconciliatory than the one delivered previous year, speaks about some change in their stance. This message deals with three basic points: the Afghanistan-specific focus of the Taliban; their readiness to negotiate meaningfully, and a warning to the neighbors to desist from interfering in Afghanistan’s internal affairs. Another important motif running through that message was Taliban’s inclusive approach to governance. This also shows that Taliban have come to accept that they cannot rule Afghanistan to the exclusion of other entities.
But the world has to make a clear distinction between the Afghan Taliban and the TTP and its affiliates.
In view of the fact that Haqqani Network may not be the sole reason of humiliating defeat of the mightiest armies, it is beyond comprehension that USA is pressuring Pakistan into launching an attack on the so-called sanctuaries of the Network in NWA. This is particularly disturbing in view of the circumstantial evidence (ability of the Network to operate deep into Afghan capital) that the sanctuaries may have been relocated to somewhere in Afghanistan. Is this pressure a sincere effort to salvage Afghanistan situation for the US? For the sake of argument, if we concede that the Network is indeed hiding in NWA and Pakistan Army’s operation will weaken their ability to attack US interests in Afghanistan, will this give some sort of face saving to the retreating NATO forces? What should be the priority of Pakistan’s security establishment? To attack and eliminate the elements of TTP and al Qaeda attacking Pakistan or further thin out its resources to fight those who are a threat to NATO forces? This is where interests of Pakistan and USA do not converge and they will have to find a middle ground to come to an understanding. The circumstances point to the fact that the problem exists within Afghanistan and should be sorted out by NATO and Afghan National Army.
The only way-forward to peace in Afghanistan is purely home-grown initiative keeping in view the demographic realities. Any proposal based on any other consideration will complicate the matters further and push Afghanistan into a never-ending chaos and anarchy.