Some questions and then more questions came my way about recent events in Afghanistan. My two cents put together in the piece.
Afghanistan – Next Round Afghan Style
“However tall the mountain is, there is a road to the top of it”. Afghan Proverb
United States and Taliban signed an agreement in February 2020. The agreement was to pave the way for withdrawal of US troops and integration of Taliban in Afghan political system. The next step was exchange of 5000 Taliban and 1000 Afghan government prisoners. This also proved to be the first hurdle. Afghan President Ashraf Ghani insisted on linking prisoner release with cease fire. Taliban rejected it and under US pressure, Ghani released few hundred Taliban prisoners.
In the deal with US, Taliban agreed not to threaten “security of US and its allies’. Taliban defined only Europeans as ‘US allies. Off course they don’t consider Afghan government as US ally therefore they continued to attack government forces. On the start of the Muslim holy months of Ramazan, Ghani asked again for a ceasefire. Taliban representative in his response called this call ‘illogical’. Organization of Islamic Countries (OIC) also called for a ceasefire during negotiations between Taliban and Afghan government. Taliban are not likely to agree to this. They see attacks on Afghan security forces as a lever to extract more concessions. Taliban also want to calibrate its military operations to keep momentum of its cadres. If they agree to a prolonged ceasefire and few months later need military operations, they may face difficulties in re-activating its own cadres.
Current violence in uneven geographically. Violence has decreased in Taliban controlled areas in south and east and large cities. In Taliban controlled areas, night raids by Afghan forces and air strikes by US forces and attacks by Taliban on government posts and convoys, Improvised Explosive Device (IED) attacks and target killings was the main engine of violence. Afghan forces have stopped operations in Taliban controlled areas resulting in marked reduction of violence. In government controlled large cities, Taliban were attacking government and civilian targets. They have markedly reduced these attacks that resulted in reduction of violence in large cities. In some parts of eastern Afghanistan, Daesh was responsible for most attacks. An unlikely alliance of US, Afghan forces, Taliban and local militias confronted Daesh from all sides eliminating most pockets of Daesh that contributed to marked reduction of violence. In all these areas, with reduction of violence, general public feels somewhat secure with economic activity picking up in towns and rural areas. Continue reading “Afghanistan, Next Round”
[Author’s note: With the celebrations of Guru Nanak’s 550th Anniversary and the opening of the Kartarpur Corridor being in the news, this is an opportunity for discussing the importance of the Sikh message, not just from a religious perspective – for Sikhs – but for Indian history. This article places the founding of Kartarpur, and Guru Nanak’s message, in a historical context – juxtaposing it with Babur’s founding of the Mughal Empire.]
I. Turning of the Wheel: Baba Nanak and Babur
In 1519, Babur invaded India – ‘ever since coming to Kabul we had been thinking of a Hindustan campaign, but for one reason or another it had not been possible,’ he writes in the Baburnama (translated by William Thackston, see pp 270-280). For some time his armies had been campaigning on the frontiers of the Hindu Kush, but these campaigns had yielded ‘nothing of consequence to the soldiers’. So, he turned to Hindustan. In the next few months, despite dogged resistance by the Afghans, Gujjars and Jats of the upper reaches of the Jhelum and Chenab, northern Punjab was subjugated, and plundered, by Babur’s armies. Babur himself spent most of his days inebriated, contemplating the legacy of Timur and setting poems to rhythmic metres. While his next great invasion of Punjab would come few years from then, in this interregnum, Punjab burned.
Among the towns and villages devastated was the settlement of Sayyidpur.
Special thanks to Mayuresh Madhav Kelkar for sending this. I would start watching this excellent Dari Farsi documentary 1 minute 19 seconds in. There are many excellent ancient maps of central and south Asia.
I just want to watch this again and again, just to listen to the narrator’s voice. Majestic, wise, soft and sweet. For those so sure Afghanistan will fall; any nation with voices like this is perchance stronger than she appears. This may be where the homo sapien sapien modern civilization was born.
Film review from Major Aghan Humayun Amin. (Spoilers ahead)
Last night I watched a movie named “ Drone” with immense interest.
Drones have been a major part of my research since 2006 when I personally and closely saw some drone strikes while serving as a consultant in Afghanistan and Pakistan. My main client were Canadians and to be specific SNC Lavalin , at that time Canada’s largest consulting company and worlds fifth largest. The movies director is a Canadian citizen which multiplied my interest as Canada sometimes moves opposite United States and has been doing so with varied levels since loyalists fled to Canada after the rebellion of the American Colonies.
The first issue with this movie which could be very hard hitting and a block buster is that it misses the small details , which is a case of lack of common sense and sweeping judgements which were entirely avoidable.
The first image failure occurred when while claiming to depict Pakistans wild west Waziristan region the area filmed and shown was Pakistans biggest city Karachi. To deliver the most unkindest cut of all as Shakespeare would have described it , the first shot titled Waziristan shows sky scraper buildings in Karachi rather than mud houses and totally opposite images for which Waziristan is famous and known. Continue reading “Film Review: Drone”
Review from Major Agha Humayun Amin. I am sure some of Major Amin’s observations will invite comment 🙂
I was very keen to watch this movie and watching it was a big disappointment.
While the movie is low budget , budget by no means could have reduced it from reaching the stature of greatness if the man who made the movie was more intellectually dishonest !
The entire historic context of this movie is drastically flawed and fallacious. The movie conveys a German military in Afghanistan that committed serious war crimes , whereas my personal observations having constructed five clinics in Kunduz in 2004-5 and having been involved in CASA 1000 survey passing through Kunduz province where German military was deployed , leads me to the irrevocable and unflinching conclusion that the German military in Kunduz was the most humane military outfit in entire NATO or non NATO forces deployed in Afghanistan.
Now this was entirely avoidable had the author carefully studied the history of German military record in Afghanistan.
As one who lived in Kabul and travelled extensively I found that Afghans loved no foreign country more dearly than Germany who they lovingly referred to as ”ALMAAN” and Turkey.
The reason was simple ! Both these states simply refused to enter areas where the public was hostile to NATO presence. While it is another issue that the German governments reasons for not doing so were based on pure and simple lack of moral courage or strategic resolution , in not annoying the large Muslim population of Germany , the result was positive, at least in terms of human rights. Continue reading “Film Review: Berlin Falling”
‘Being a friend of the United States was like living on the banks of a great river. The soil is wonderfully fertile, but every four or eight years the river changes course, and you may find yourself alone in a desert’. General Muhammad Zia ul Haq to William Casey 1983 quoted in John E. Persico’s Casey: The Lives and Secrets of William J. Casey: From the OSS to the CIA.
In July 2019, Prime Minister of Pakistan Imran Khan and President Donald Trump met at White House that generated some headlines and as expected from every Trump encounter some controversy. As expected, this news lasted less than twelve hours in United States and 4-5 days in Pakistan. Life has gone back to normal. Positive signs should be acknowledged but Pakistan should not be carried away by euphoria. The good part is that civilian and army leadership does not have trust deficit and not undermining each other. This alone is a breath of fresh air for Pakistan. Continue reading “U.S.-Pakistan Re-Engagement; Hamid Hussain”
This is an old post from Major Amin (from 2017) The article is by Dr D Souza (originally in “Eurasian Review”) and Major Amin’s own comments are in bolded black font.. Now that the Afghanistan exit strategy is in full flow, how does this stand up?
Trump’s ‘New’ Afghanistan Strategy And India-US Strategic Partnership – Analysis
Donald Trump’s strategy for Afghanistan and South Asia announced on 21 August, was intended to highlight the novelty and surprise elements of a roadmap that purportedly sought little short of the decimation of terrorism. For all that, the ‘new’ strategy, its overheated semantics and studious ambiguity notwithstanding, in reality is but a continuation of the American trial and error method that has kept insurgent aspirations of a victory alive these 16 years since the US intervened in Afghanistan.
THIS IS A VERY MISCONCEIVED ASSERTION BY MS D SOUZA. THE NEW TRUMP STRATEGY IS TANGIBLE , PRECISE , WELL ARTICULATED , WELL SPELT OUT AND NOT SEMANTICS.
FIRST TRUMP STRATEGY HAS FOR THE FIRST TIME SPELT OUT THAT USA IN AFGHANISTAN IS DEALING NOT WITH NON STATE ACTORS BUT WITH A STATE PROXY I.E AFGHAN TALIBAN PROXIES OF THE PAKISTANI STATE.
THIS IS A RADICAL DEPARTURE FROM ABSOLUTE LACK OF MORAL COURAGE OR STRATEGIC RESOLUTION AS EXHIBITED BY BOTH PRESIDENTS BUSH AND OBAMA.
THIS CHANGES THE US OBJECTIVES FROM PUNY THIRD RATE SNUFF SELLERS LIKE BAITULLAH MEHSUD BEING KILLED BY US DRONES TO STRATEGIC TARGETS WHICH ARE STATES AND NOT NON STATE ACTORS.
THE TRUMP STRATEGY AS PUBLICLY RELEASED DID NOT PRECISELY STATE THAT PAKISTAN WAS THE “MAIN ENEMY” BUT ITS CLASSIFIED PORTIONS AS PER HIGHLY PLACED SOURCES STATE THAT PAKISTANI STATE WAS CLEARLY SPECIFIED AS WHAT CARLOTTA GALL COINED ” THE MAIN ENEMY”.
After spending much blood and treasure, has the US learnt from its mistakes? Is the present strategy a break with the past? Or is it a mere continuation of a policy with no defined objectives and outcomes? India must consider carefully its desired terms of engagement for any serious partnership with the US in Afghanistan. Ahead of US Defense Secretary James Mattis’ visit to New Delhi on 25 September, New Delhi needs to use the opportunity to tell Washington of the shortcomings of the present Afghan policy.
THE ASSERTION BY MS D SOUZA THAT THE USA HAS SPENT MUCH BLOOD IS ALSO SEMANTICS AND NOT BASED ON HARD FACTS. AFGHANISTAN WAS OCCUPIED WITH ONLY ONE CIA CIVILIAN KILLED BECAUSE OF HIS OWN RASHNESS AND US CASUALTIES IN 7 YEARS OF PRESIDENT BUSH DID NOT EXCEED 394 . 1400 US SOLDIERS WERE LOST BECAUSE OF SHEER AMATEUR BEHAVIOUR OF PRESIDENT OBAMA WITH ARM CHAIR STRATEGISTS LIKE REIDEL AND OTHERS DURING THE SURGE WHICH WAS APOLOGY OF ANYTHING THAT CAN BE CALLED STRATEGY.
Ambiguities and Novelty
After all the opposition for the war in Afghanistan he unleashed over the years via social media, especially in his election campaign, when push came to shove, Donald Trump’s strategy for Afghanistan and South Asia, elaborated on 21 August 2017 chose the least bad option, the one which would have the least resistance and would provide room for maneuver to match the domestic needs and geopolitical interests. Despite tall claims of having studied Afghanistan in great detail and from every conceivable angle, Trump strategy’s on Afghanistan is neither new nor comprehensive.
New Delhi needs to remain cautious before embracing this ambiguous strategy. Among its many ambiguities, three are especially worth considering:
Kinetic vs Non-kinetic
First, the strategy, apparently scripted by the US military, is not about nation building but kinetic operations, search and destroy by another name. Getting a free hand on the ground with no micro-management from Washington is a victory of sorts for the US generals in Afghanistan. Still, much confusion abounds as to whether the strategy is counter-insurgency, counter-terrorism plus, or an overt reliance on the use of military force. Moving away from the earlier time-based approach to one based on conditions is certainly appropriate. In this, Trump has addressed the error of his predecessor, Barack Obama, who in December 2009 had announced troop surge and exit at the same time. This only worked to insurgent advantage, allowing an approach of ‘waiting out the enemy’.
KINETIC IS THE ONLY THING IN A LAND OF COLD BLOODED ASSASINS WHO WERE PACIFIED BY MONGOLS , MUGHALS AND PERSIANS WITH MASSIVE MASSACRES.THIS IS A SCENARIO WHERE VULGARLY PUT NO ONE ACKNOWLEDGES YOU AS THEIR FATHER TILL YOU LAY THEIR MOTHER. KINETIC IS THE ONLY SOLUTION AND DID WORK UNDER GENGHIS KHAN , TAMERLANE AND BABAR.THE HINDU RAJPUT MUGHAL GOVERNOR OF KABUL CARRIED ONLY A WALKING STICK ! BECAUSE THE MUGHALS UNDER BABAR HAD SORTED OUT AFGHANISTAN.
Yet there is no indication whether the intent is to convert Afghanistan into a new South Korea, where US troops are indefinitely based, or something else. A conditions-based approach is preferable to the mistaken announcement of a time schedule, but there is nothing to indicate what will be done to address those conditions that are fueling extremism and violence. Further, the apparent decoupling of kinetic and non-kinetic elements of the strategy, the military and civilian components, will limit the gains achieved through kinetic operations. Claiming that all of this will be something more than smoke and mirrors is guaranteed, Trump proclaimed, by the application of will. Unlike Obama, he implied, this time the US will fight to win. To point out the sheer profligacy of such a pronouncement seems almost a waste of effort.
MAKING SWEEPING JUDGEMENTS AND DISMISSING A PRESIDENT WHO HAS A STRATEGY WHICH HAS BEEN SPELT OUT IS NOT GOOD JOURNALISM AND THAT TOO FROM AN AUTHOR WHO HAS NOT REALLY VISITED THE ACTUAL BATTLE FIELDS OF AFGHAN WAR.
Role of Regional powers
Second, Trump has not identified any benchmarks and targets for actions. This keeps the expectation bar low but also does not address the basic component of metrics. Neither has he expressed in any clear terms expected steps to be taken by Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, or even the US itself. Most importantly, the role of other major regional powers such as Russia, China, Iran, UAE, and Saudi Arabia remains undefined. Afghanistan’s tragedy lies in the fact that its internal contradictions have been exploited by external powers. Without a regional strategy, the external powers will continue along this path, notably neighbouring Pakistan.
PRESIDENT TRUMPS STRATEGY CLEARLY IDENTIFIES PAKISTAN AS THE CULPRIT AND THE WHOLE STRATEGY IS BASED ON THIS DEMISE. THIS HAS CREATED JITTERS IN PAKISTAN AND THE PAKISTANI ARMY CHIEF AND HIS ISI HAVE BEEN DOING A LOT OF RUNNING AROUND.
Third, every US president is aware of Pakistan’s role and interests in supporting the terrorist groups in Afghanistan. It is perhaps the first time that a US president has stated this publicly, but it is not as though the reality has not hitherto figured into planning. Nevertheless, there it was: ‘Pakistan often gives safe haven to agents of chaos, violence, and terror,’ Trump stated unambiguously. Unspecified was just what coercive instruments could be brought to play to change Pakistan’s behaviour.
Trump’s critique of Pakistan is in line with New Delhi and Kabul’s position on the external support and sanctuary provided to the insurgent and terrorist groups that are the source of Afghanistan’s instability. That Pakistan has been a mendacious ally in the US-led war on terror, sheltering terror groups like the Taliban and the Haqqani network, and using them as strategic assets in Afghanistan, despite the aid of more than US $33 billion being given to Pakistan in the last decade and half for the counter-terrorism cooperation.
HAQQANI NETWORK IS A MINOR PLAYER IN TERMS OF NUMBERS OF US SOLDIERS KILLED. THE MAIN ACTOR IN NUMBER OF US SOLDIERS KILLED IS THE QUETTA SHURA OR THE MULLA OMAR GROUP BASED IN PAKISTANI BALOCHISTAN.
Strategic Partnership in Afghanistan
The sudden recognition by Trump of New Delhi’s concerns needs to be received with caution in view of the role he wishes to assign New Delhi as a strategic ally andfurther develop thestrategic partnership with India. The proof lies in the pudding. Even as Pakistan considers cozying up to China as its safety-valve, the strategy has been welcomed in Kabul and New Delhi. In spite of Trump’s awkward mentioning first of India’s substantial trade benefits from good relations with the US – before elaborating on his expectations from New Delhi ‘to do more’ – New Delhi has welcomed the strategy. It is seen as a nod to the importance of India’s economic and development assistance thus far and an acknowledgement that without India’s soft power, things could be much worse.
Counter terrorism cooperation
Though mentioning the fact that at least 20 US-designated foreign terrorist organisations are active in Afghanistan and Pakistan — the highest concentration in any region anywhere in the world, Trump’s strategy appears geared towards targeting al-Qaeda and the ISIS. If the US is still looking for apolitical settlement with the Taliban, New Delhi will have to make sure that this is done by the Afghan government through an open, inclusive, and accountable process.
Moreover, New Delhi needs to tell Washington that the targeting of terrorists groups cannot be selective and must include groups that are detrimental to India’s security interests, as well. Any robust counter-terrorism cooperation with the US will need to address issues of funding, training, and support provided to these groups.
India has pledged more than US$3 billion for various civilian capacity building, infrastructure and development projects in Afghanistan. This has brought it significant good will among the Afghans. By avoiding a narrow security dominated approach, India is seen as a neutral partner and not a party to the conflict. It is prudent, then, for New Delhi to stay clear of involvement in the kinetic side of the equation, while simultaneously urging the US to play a more meaningful non-kinetic role in institution building and reform.
This goes against the Trump administration’s stated goal of avoiding nation-building, yet any military strategy divorced from building strong institutions of governance and service delivery is unlikely to translate kinetic gains into tangible political outcomes. A mere addition of over 3,000 troops to Afghanistan, where they will bolster the approximately 11,000 American forces already there will not make much impact unless there is a clarity of the mission, rules of engagement and outcome, in addition to building effective and responsive governance institutions.
There is serious possibility that the US is looking to India to perform the non-kinetic component while the US engages in what certain figures feel it does best, kinetics. This would be a thankless position for New Delhi to be in which could entail burden-sharing and risk strategic distortion as concerns its interests.
ALL INDIAN AID WILL GO INTO DUST IF THEIR IS NO KINETIC ENERGY IN THE AFGHAN SCENARIO.
Long drawn out war
Likewise, the role of private contractors in the push to outsource the war; the continued dependence upon warlords, power-brokers and militias for support of counter-insurgency operations; the use of air power as a surrogate for actual engagement, together with inadequate human intelligence (HUMINT) resulting in collateral damage and increase in civilian casualties, all need to be clarified. The potential for New Delhi to be caught in the blowback from Washington’s ill-considered approaches must be considered.
Skeptics are already highlighting that by lumping its Afghan with its South Asia (India and Pakistan) strategy, the Trump administration runs the danger of not only intensifying the India-Pakistan competition but also intensifying regional competition as Pakistan seeks succour from the likes of China, Russia, and Iran. The dangers of such competition, notwithstanding, Pakistan will need to compete with India on the development and reconstruction of Afghanistan which will accrue good will from the Afghans. At the moment, the popular sentiment for Pakistan remains very low.
A weak and unstable Afghanistan has been a primary objective of its predatory neighbours. Leaving to the side the reality that countries like Pakistan are not simply going to give up this quest, regardless of US positions or threats, there is the fundamental necessity for any American strategy that has any hope of success to work towards building a strong and stable Afghan state that will make the subversive campaigns of these neighbours and their proxies difficult.
Institution building and reform
This can be achieved by institution building and reforms in the security, political, economic, and governance sectors. The Trump administration has refrained from making clear long term commitments. The time to do so is now.
In the security sector, there remains a need for better training, equipment, vetting, and policing capabilities, as well as an increase in Afghan airpower capability. The latter element alone, if inadequate, seems all but to guarantee that the gains achieved through kinetic operations will be simply lost.
In the political sector, in addition to revamping the indigenous institutions for peace and reconciliation such as the High Peace Council, reconciled and reintegrated fighters will need opportunities for employment and acceptability as they transition back into society. More importantly, as Afghanistan heads to another round of presidential and much delayed parliamentary elections in 2019 and 2018, respectively, systems, procedures, and logistics need to be put in place to avoid the messy elections outcomes of previous years. These have seriously impacted the credibility and functioning of the Afghan government. Greater decentralisation will help popular participation on the margins. The limits of an overly centralised form of governance of last decade and half are evident.
A legitimate government that delivers to the people the basic services is essential to any hope of victory, however defined. A clean, responsive and accountable governance system under the rule of law is essential to build the trust of the populace and deprive the insurgents of their support. If this seems so much pie-in-the-sky, then there hardly seems any point in being involved. Just what the announced US strategy is to contribute to such an end-state is puzzling.
Prospects for India-U.S. partnership in Afghanistan
If India and U.S. intend to work together in denying these groups and their sponsors any space in Afghanistan, the first step will be to chalk out a comprehensive and long term plan along with the Afghan government to build a strong and stable Afghanistan that will be an antidote to these forces at play and predatory neighbours. The Strategic Partnership Agreement signed by New Delhi with Kabul in October 2011, provides a good template. As US adopts a kinetic approach towards Afghanistan, New Delhi will have to spell the conditions for any cooperation to take this strategic partnership ahead.
For New Delhi to partner with US development and aid agencies, such as USAID, there is a need for integrated planning to provide market access for the products produced, accompanied by skill-based training for small and medium enterprises for income generation and boosting domestic production. Continuing instability has enabled neighbouring countries to pour in cheap goods, thus, stunting Afghanistan’s indigenous economic revival and growth.
New Delhi will have to tread carefully in the shifting sands inside Afghanistan and the region. Rather than rushing into the American embrace, New Delhi’s primary objective must be to fulfill its obligations as Kabul’s strategic partner. Trump has sought an honourable and enduring outcome, the contours of which remain unknown. Ahead of US Defense Secretary James Mattis’ visit to New Delhi on 25 September, which will be followed by secretary of state Rex Tillerson’s visit, New Delhi needs to use the opportunity to tell Washington of the shortcomings of the present Afghan policy. The Afghans have long looked to a friendly India to play this role of a serious interlocutor. India should step up to the plate commensurate with its rising power status and aspirations.
NEW DELHI WILL REMAIN A MINOR PLAYER IN THE AFGHAN WAR. IT DOES NOT HAVE THE GEOPOLITICAL MUSCLE TO RESTRUCTURE AFGHANISTAN. WHERE NEW DELHI CAN MATTER IS IN CAPACITY BUILDING OF AFGHAN STATE BOTH POLITICAL MILITARY AND ECONOMIC AND IN PRESSURISING PAKISTAN.THE GEOPOLITICAL PART OF RESTRUCTURING IS WHITE MANS BURDEN AND THE USA HAS TO ACCEPT THIS FACT.
AFGHANISTAN IS A US STRATEGIC OPPORTUNITY TO DESTABILISE CHINA AND RUSSIA AND KEEP AN EYE ON PAKISTAN AND IRAN AND NOT A CALAMITY AS PESSIMISTS VIEW IT.
This is an interesting endeavor by a self-styled expert on drones from the University of Southampton in United Kingdom.
I first read about this great expert on drones in a review by one Mr. Phillip O Warlick II of Air Command and Staff College who elevated the book and its author to prophetic heights.
Having witnessed some drone strikes personally and having extensively travelled in the area affected by the so called US drone program I decided to buy this book which was quite a blunder as I now reflect in retrospect.