Outsiders caught up in the Afghan imbroglio

The USA has invested a huge amount of infrastructure and money in Afghanistan over the past decade and is unlikely to want to relinquish the bases it has built up. In particular, it seems it will want to maintain its presence in Afghanistan as a strategic outpost in Asia, and because Afghanistan borders countries where it feels it has strategic interest – such as Iran, China and an increasingly unstable Pakistan. After 2014, it is likely the USA will leave behind several tens of thousands of troops and undercover (possibly CIA) and special forces troops to continue with the policy of night raids. It seems that the hope is to get the war off the front pages, but it is likely to continue below the radar.

NATO, despite having been the junior partner to the USA as regards the choice of strategy in Afghanistan, has increased its role significantly since 2003. NATO’s initial role was to provide security in the cities of Afghanistan, but from 2003, when it was allowed to operate in the countryside, it has built up a series of ‘provincial reconstruction teams’. These have been controversial because they have increasingly attempted to weld the military actors with those undertaking development. In recent months, NATO has faced new difficulties in implementing its role of training and mentoring the various elements of the Afghan national security forces.

Pakistan is increasingly accused of having played a ‘double game’ over Afghanistan, particularly since the discovery of Osama bin Laden near the main military academy at Abbottabad in April 2011. Elements of the Pakistani Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) and military have fostered militancy over the past decades (in the 1980s with the overt support of the USA). A recent report by the New World Strategies Coaltion talks of a systematic attempt by Pakistan to destroy the Afghan tribal system through assassinations of leaders (who traditionally built consensus) and their replacement with the imported Wahhabist extremism of the Taliban.

The Haqqani network of Afghan militants have received shelter from Pakistan since the 1970s. This group has carried out several high-profile attacks in Kabul over the past year, and continues to operate from its base in North Waziristan. It remains to be seen whether the recent designation by the USA of the Haqqani network as a ‘foreign terror organisation’ will have any impact. Certainly, the Pakistan-sponsored militant network of Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, Hezb-e-Islami, continues to operate with impunity.

Al-Qaeda’s relationship with the Taliban is not as solid as it has sometimes appeared to be. The Taliban were willing to break with al- Qaeda both pre- and post-9/11. Abdul Haq understood this and wanted to exploit that reality, partnering with those less extremist elements of the Afghan Taliban in order to close the political and strategic space for al-Qaeda within Afghanistan. Much of this was to have been done through working with tribal leaders, as well as with former Taliban who were willing to defect to the new order orchestrated by Haq around the ex-king. The Western bombing campaign and the early years (post-9/11) of continued reliance upon the Pakistani intelligence establishment for strategic direction in the Afghan campaign meant this opportunity was lost.


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