Monday, December 5, 2016

Are Russia & Iran Supporting the Afghan Taliban to Defeat ISIS?

While Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi were ganging up to bash Pakistan at the recent Heart of Asia conference in the Indian city of Amritsar,  General John Nicholson,  the US commander in Afghanistan, was accusing Iran and Russia of supporting the Afghan Taliban. Russian diplomat Zamir Kabulov's recent comments in India appear to give credence to the American charge of Moscow's collaboration with the Taliban.

Russian Reaction at "Heart of Asia":

Reacting to the Indian leader's speech at Heart of Asia conference, Ambassador Zamir Kabulov, the veteran Russian diplomat attending the Amritsar conference, said as follows: “We understand all concerns of India about your western neighbor (Pakistan)…But we cannot combat (terrorism) efficiently and productively and eliminate (it) without the cooperation of Pakistan. We need their cooperation and they should realize their importance and responsibility.”

Russian Policy Shift on Taliban:

Ambassador Kabulov has described the Taliban as a “predominantly a national military-political movement”. “It is local, Afghanistan-based. They believe that they should have, from their perspective, fair share in the government of Afghanistan…They should talk and deal in their local context”. But Daesh (ISIS) “as an international organization is really dangerous”. “If you recall, young Taliban under the influence of Al-Qaeda in 1994, their rhetoric was very similar to today’s Daesh rhetoric”.

Mr. Kabulov's comments reveal the following conclusions that underpin the Russian policy shift in South Asia region:

1. Moscow now believes that the presence of ISIS (Daesh) in Afghanistan is a much bigger threat to  Russia's soft underbelly in the former Soviet republics of  Central Asia.

2.  The Afghan Taliban are an effective force to check the growth and spread of ISIS in Central and South Asian nations.

3.  Pakistan's cooperation is critical to help defeat ISIS in the region.

Russian Warning to India:

Russia believes that blunting ISIS in Afghanistan is a much bigger project than stopping the Taliban. 

Here's what Kabulov said: “Some people may say, and I remember some Indian officials in the recent past were believing that Daesh is something which is not an immediate threat to India as it’s an Afghanistan maybe Central Asia or Orient problem, but not India. But now, your leadership realized that Daesh is bigger than the Afghan branch of Syria-Iraq Daesh, it’s an international network which is not centralized. A centralized ideology but not organization."

Kabulov said that India had to be alert as Daesh is often active where there is a large Muslim population. “They (ISIS) will spread themselves all over. We see first signs of Daesh in Bangladesh. You have very big Muslim community in your country which is maybe target of Daesh. That makes the risk of threat common for all of us. It is better to deal and cope with this issue when it’s small. Don’t wait for it to become big”.

Iran's Support of the Taliban:

Iranian official have not acknowledged their cooperation with the Afghan Taliban. However,  frequent Iran visits of former Taliban leader Mullah Akhtar Mansoor came to light when he was killed in a US drone strike on May 21, 2016.

According to various media reports, Mansoor's passport indicated that he had been in Iran since April 26, 2016. He had also traveled there for several weeks in February and March of 2016.

Pakistan's Support of the Afghan Taliban:

General David Petraeus, former CIA director and commander of US troops in Afghanistan, has said there is no evidence of Pakistan playing a double game and supporting terrorists in Afghanistan. Petraeus' remarks are now particularly significant given the fact that he is on a short list of President-Elect Donald Trump's nominees for Secretary of State.  He was answering a question posed to him at a presentation at Royal United Services Institute (RUSI), a British security think tank based in London.

Here's part of Gen Petraeus' response: "I looked very very hard then (as US commander in Afghanistan) and again as CIA director at the nature of the relationship between the various (militant) groups in FATA and Baluchistan and the Pakistan Army and the ISI and I was never convinced of what certain journalists have alleged (about ISI support of militant groups in FATA).... I have talked to them (journalists) asked them what their sources are and I have not been able to come to grips with that based on what I know from these different positions (as US commander and CIA director)".

Gen Petraeus did acknowledge that "there's communication between the ISI and various militant groups in FATA and Balochistan (Haqqanis, Taliban, Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, etc) but some of it you'd do anyway as an intelligence service." He added that "there may be some degree of accommodation that is forced on them (Pakistanis) because of the limits of their (Pakistan's) forces."


US has accused Russia and Iran of supporting the Afghan Taliban. Russia has rejected Indian and Afghan criticism of Pakistan at the recent Heart of Asia conference in Amritsar. Ambassador Zamir Kabulov has warned India that the spread of ISIS presents a much bigger threat to Afghanistan and South Asia region than the Afghan Taliban. He has said Pakistan's cooperation is critical in defeating ISIS in the region. 

Related Links:

Haq's Musings

Mullah Mansoor Akhtar Killing in US Drone Strike

Gen Petraeus Debunks Charges of Pakistani Duplicity

Husain Haqqani vs Riaz Haq on India vs Pakistan

Impact of Trump's Top Picks on Pakistan

Husain Haqqani Advising Trump on Pakistan Policy?

Gall-Haqqani-Paul Narrative on Pakistan

Pakistan-China-Russia vs India-US-Japan

Robert Gates' Straight Talk on Pakistan


Riaz Haq said...

#Saudis Bankroll #Taliban, Even as King Officially Supports #Afghan Government

KABUL, Afghanistan — Fifteen years, half a trillion dollars and 150,000 lives since going to war, the United States is trying to extricate itself from Afghanistan. Afghans are being left to fight their own fight. A surging Taliban insurgency, meanwhile, is flush with a new inflow of money.

With their nation’s future at stake, Afghan leaders have renewed a plea to one power that may hold the key to whether their country can cling to democracy or succumbs to the Taliban. But that power is not the United States.

It is Saudi Arabia.

Saudi Arabia is critical because of its unique position in the Afghan conflict: It is on both sides.

A longtime ally of Pakistan, Saudi Arabia has backed Islamabad’s promotion of the Taliban. Over the years, wealthy Saudi sheikhs and rich philanthropists have also stoked the war by privately financing the insurgents.

All the while, Saudi Arabia has officially, if coolly, supported the American mission and the Afghan government and even secretly sued for peace in clandestine negotiations on their behalf.

The contradictions are hardly accidental. Rather, they balance conflicting needs within the kingdom, pursued through both official policy and private initiative.

The dual tracks allow Saudi officials plausibly to deny official support for the Taliban, even as they have turned a blind eye to private funding of the Taliban and other hard-line Sunni groups.

The result is that the Saudis — through private or covert channels — have tacitly supported the Taliban in ways that make the kingdom an indispensable power broker.

In interviews with The New York Times, a former Taliban finance minister described how he traveled to Saudi Arabia for years raising cash while ostensibly on pilgrimage.

The Taliban have also been allowed to raise millions more by extorting “taxes” by pressing hundreds of thousands of Pashtun guest workers in the kingdom and menacing their families back home, said Vali Nasr, a former State Department adviser.

Yet even as private Saudi money backed the Taliban, Saudi intelligence once covertly mediated a peace effort that Taliban officials and others involved described in full to The Times for the first time.

Playing multiple sides of the same geopolitical equation is one way the Saudis further their own strategic interests, analysts and officials say.

But it also threatens to undermine the fragile democratic advances made by the United States in the past 15 years, and perhaps undo efforts to liberalize the country.

The United States now finds itself trying to persuade its putative ally to play a constructive rather than destructive role. Meanwhile, the Afghans have come to view Saudi Arabia as both friend and foe.

The question now, as Afghan officials look for help, is which Saudi Arabia will they get?

Prince Turki al-Faisal, who led the Saudi intelligence agency for over 24 years and later served as ambassador to the United States until his retirement in 2007, rejected any suggestion that Saudi Arabia had ever supported the Taliban.

“When I was in government, not a single penny went to the Taliban,” he wrote in emailed comments.

He added that the “stringent measures taken by the kingdom to prevent any transfer of money to terrorist groups” had been recognized by Daniel L. Glaser, the United States assistant secretary for terrorist financing at the Treasury, in testimony to Congress in June.

Others say the verdict is still out. “We know there has been this financing that has gone on for years,” Hanif Atmar, director of the Afghan National Security Council, said in an interview. “This sustains the terrorist war machine in Afghanistan and in the region, and it will have to be stopped.”

Riaz Haq said...

A top Pakistan Foreign Ministry official has said that “some” members of the terrorist Haqqani network are present in the country, but Islamabad is not allowing any group to conduct terrorist activities in Afghanistan.

Foreign Secretary Aizaz Chaudhry has made the rare admission in an interview to the state-run Pakistani television PTV broadcast Sunday.

The United States has designated the Haqqani network and its leadership as global terrorists for carrying out high-profile deadly attacks against American and allied forces in Afghanistan.

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and U.S. officials allege Haqqanis operate out of sanctuaries in Pakistan, a charge Islamabad rejects.

“The Haqqani Network is actually part of the Taliban. Most of their people are in Afghanistan, most of them, and some of them are present here (in Pakistan),” said Chaudhry.

Chaudhry asserted the Pakistani leadership is sticking to its pledges of not allowing any individual or group to use Pakistan’s soil for terrorist activities.

“We have also explicitly given the same message to the Taliban and Haqqanis that you must not indulge in any terrorist activity or violence in Afghanistan,” he said. “And if you can’t mend your ways and live peacefully like millions of Afghan refugees in Pakistan, then you better leave the country because Pakistani soil cannot welcome you and the space would be squeezed on you.”

Consequently, most of the insurgents went back to Afghanistan where 10 percent of the territory is now controlled by the Taliban, Chaudhry said citing U.S. military estimates.


Speaking earlier this month in Washington, U.S. commander of international forces in Afghanistan General John Nicholson warned the Haqqanis still pose the greatest threat to Americans and to their coalition partners and to the Afghans.

“And they remain a principal concern of ours. And they, and they do enjoy sanctuary inside Pakistan,” the general added.

Chaudhry urged President Ghani to prevent anti-Pakistan militants from “roaming freely” on his side of the border and carry out attacks in Pakistan on “mere assumptions” that Islamabad harbors anti-Kabul militants.

If the Afghan side believes mere allegations against Pakistan would help solve Afghanistan’s problems “then let them believe so. It would not get them anywhere,” he added.

Afghan officials deny they have anything to do with the militants linked to anti-state Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan, or TTP, though Pakistani officials point to killings of a number of leaders of the group in Afghanistan this year by U.S. drone attacks.

Islamabad hosted a preliminary round of peace talks between Kabul and Taliban officials in July 2015, the first direct contact between Afghan warring sides in 15 years. Chaudhry along with U.S. and Chinese officials attended the negotiations as monitors.

But since then the war has intensified, fueling tensions between Afghanistan and Pakistan over Islamabad’s alleged backing of the insurgency.

Riaz Haq said...

#Pakistan, #Russia & #China to hold trilateral meeting on regional issues including #Afghanistan in #Moscow. #India

Pakistan Thursday said its foreign secretary will travel to Russia to participate in a trilateral meeting with Russia and China next week which will discuss key regional issues including peace process in Afghanistan.
“The Foreign Secretary will lead the Pakistani delegation in this meeting. This is an existing forum for undertaking informal discussions on issues of regional peace and stability, including situation in Afghanistan,” Foreign Office (FO) spokesman Nafees Zakaria said at the weekly press briefing here.
The trilateral meeting will be held on December 27 and peace in Afghanistan will be on the top of the agenda due to increasing threat of ISIS to Central Asia, which is considered as Russian backyard.
There are also reports of contacts between Taliban and Russian officials as the latter recognise the importance of Taliban in checking the threat of ISIS. Zakaria said peace and stability in Afghanistan was in the interest of Pakistan and the entire region.
“In this spirit, we remain committed and extend all cooperation to the efforts towards bringing peace and stability in Afghanistan. Pakistan has played a very positive role in bringing warring factions to the negotiating table. Whenever we are approached to help bring the warring factions to the negotiating table, we will assist,” he said.

Riaz Haq said...

#China, #Pakistan, #Russia to Meet on #Afghanistan, Angering #Kabul Leaders. #Taliban #ISIS #India #Washington

Top Foreign Ministry officials from China, Pakistan and Russia will meet in Moscow on Tuesday to review what they perceive as a "gradually growing" threat to their frontiers posed by Islamic State extremists in Afghanistan.

"This is an existing forum for undertaking informal discussions on issues of regional peace and stability, including the situation in Afghanistan," Pakistani Foreign Ministry spokesman Nafees Zakaria told VOA.

Pakistan's foreign secretary, Aizaz Chaudhry, will lead Islamabad's delegation, he added. Officials say future meetings could include Iran.

Chinese, Pakistani and Russian officials say they were driven to joint action by the efforts of IS affiliates to establish a foothold in Afghanistan.

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani's national unity government has reportedly questioned the motives of the trilateral dialogue, which will take place without Kabul being represented.

Russian officials maintain the "working group on Afghanistan" is one of several initiatives Moscow has undertaken with regional countries, including Afghanistan, to develop a "wider partnership" for containing IS influence.

Beijing, Islamabad and Moscow say the three-way talks will also explore ways to bring the Taliban to the table for peace talks with the Afghan government. All three governments maintain overt contacts with the insurgent group.

Russia and officials in Pakistan argue that military operations by the U.S.-led international forces and their Afghan partners have not weakened the Taliban but instead created ungoverned areas where terrorist groups like IS, also known as Daesh, can establish a foothold.

Russia's ambassador to the United Nations, Vitaly Churkin, told the U.N. Security Council last week that the deteriorating security situation has encouraged IS militants fleeing Syria and Iraq to look at Afghanistan for shelter. He said they will eventually pose a threat to Russia through neighboring central Asian states.

Using another acronym for IS, he said, "There is also information about the presence in Afghanistan of ISIL camps and safe harbors where people from central Asian states and northern Caucasus republics are being trained and where 700 terrorist families from Syria have already arrived."

Churkin again rejected Afghan and U.S. concerns that Moscow's overt ties to the Taliban are meant to undermine international efforts aimed at establishing peace and stability in Afghanistan.

"Our contacts with representatives of Taliban are limited to the task of providing for the security of Russian nationals in Afghanistan and also aimed at moving the Taliban towards joining with the process of national reconciliation," he said.

Pakistani officials say Russia is eager to include Iran in future meetings of the tripartite "working group" and that the issue will be taken up at Tuesday's meeting. Iran borders both Afghanistan and Iraq, where IS is present, and is fighting Islamist insurgents among other anti-regime forces in Syria.

While U.S. counterterrorism forces in partnership with Afghan forces have conducted major operations against IS fighters, the Taliban have also engaged in clashes with the rival group to deny it space in Afghanistan. Russian officials say they are developing ties with the Taliban to prevent IS influence from spreading into Afghan border provinces.

Riaz Haq said...

Stratfor recommends #America use divide-and-conquer strategy in the #MidEast #Iran #SaudiArabia #Sunni #Shia #ISIS …

From the beginning of American history, the U.S. has used the divisions in the world to achieve its ends. The American Revolution prevailed by using the ongoing tension between Britain and France to convince the French to intervene. In World War II, facing Nazi Germany and the Stalinist Soviet Union, the United States won the war by supplying the Soviets with the wherewithal to bleed the German army dry, opening the door to American invasion and, with Britain, the occupation of Europe.
Unless you have decisive and overwhelming power, your only options are to decline combat, vastly increase your military force at staggering cost and time, or use divergent interests to recruit a coalition that shares your strategic goal. Morally, the third option is always a painful strategy. The United States asking monarchists for help in isolating the British at Yorktown was in a way a deal with the devil. The United States allying with a murderous and oppressive Soviet Union to defeat another murderous and oppressive regime was also a deal with the devil. George Washington and Franklin D. Roosevelt both gladly made these deals, each knowing a truth about strategy: What comes after the war comes after the war. For now, the goal is to reach the end of the war victorious.

In the case of the Middle East, I would argue that the United States lacks the forces or even a conceivable strategy to crush either the Sunni rising or Iran. Iran is a country of about 80 million defended to the west by rugged mountains and to the east by harsh deserts. This is the point where someone inevitably will say that the U.S. should use air power. This is the point where I will say that whenever Americans want to win a war without paying the price, they fantasize about air power because it is low-cost and irresistible. Air power is an adjunct to war on the ground. It has never proven to be an effective alternative.
The idea that the United States will simultaneously wage wars in Syria, Iraq, Iran and Afghanistan and emerge victorious is fantasy. What is not fantasy is the fact that the Islamic world, both strategically and tactically, is profoundly divided. The United States must decide who is the enemy. “Everybody” is an emotionally satisfying answer to some, but it will lead to defeat. The United States cannot fight everyone from the Mediterranean to the Hindu Kush. It can indefinitely carry out raids and other operations, but it can’t win.
To craft an effective strategy, the United States must go back to the strategic foundations of the republic: a willingness to ally with one enemy to defeat another. The goal should be to ally with the weaker enemy, or the enemy with other interests, so that one war does not immediately lead to another. At this moment, the Sunnis are weaker than the Iranians. But there are far more Sunnis, they cover a vast swath of ground and they are far more energized than Iran. Currently, Iran is more powerful, but I would argue the Sunnis are more dangerous. Therefore, I am suggesting an alignment with the Iranians, not because they are any more likable (and neither were Stalin or Louis XVI), but because they are the convenient option.
The Iranians hate and fear the Sunnis. Any opportunity to crush the Sunnis will appeal. The Iranians are also as cynical as George Washington was. But in point of fact, an alliance with the Sunnis against the Shiites could also work. The Sunnis despise the Iranians, and given the hope of crushing them, the Sunnis could be induced to abandon terrorism. There are arguments to be made on either side, as there is in Afghanistan.

Riaz Haq said...

#Afghanistan now #Trump’s War: "in the grip of a resolute insurgency" "kleptocratic, dysfunctional governing elite"

"Afghanistan remains in the grip of a resolute insurgency and a kleptocratic, dysfunctional governing elite. The Afghan state has been rapidly losing control of districts across the country to Taliban factions and Afghan forces are getting killed and injured at a rate American commanders call unsustainable."

"As the Trump administration settles in, American commanders are making the case for another troop surge. Testifying before the Senate last month, Gen. John Nicholson, the current top commander in Afghanistan, said America’s longest war is in a “stalemate” and lamented what he called a “shortfall of a few thousand” troops. There are currently 13,000 international troops in Afghanistan, including about 8,400 Americans. On Thursday, Gen. Joseph Votel, the commander of Centcom, said military leaders are drawing up a new strategy that will require more American troops."

"White House officials and members of Congress should consider this request with skepticism. The challenges that have stymied American generals in Afghanistan for years — including havens for insurgents in Pakistan, endemic corruption and poor leadership in the Afghan military — remain unsolved. In the absence of a dramatically different approach to those problems, any new reinforcements can only be expected to shore up the fledgling Afghan government for a year or two."

Riaz Haq said...

Iran and Pakistan: An Interview with Alex Vatanka

, Iran and Pakistan: Security, Diplomacy and American Influence

So much of U.S. policy in South and West Asia has been determined by Washington’s relationship with two countries: Iran and Pakistan. But the relationship between these two regional powers has been in many ways as influential as their swings from allies to frenemies to adversaries with the United States. The ties between Iran and Pakistan run deep, and have shifted over time from a deep affinity to regional rivalry and proxy conflict. Underneath it all has been the two countries’ pragmatic self-interest. “Neither country has ever genuinely considered optimum relations as an end in itself,” Alex Vatanka writes in the introduction to his book, Iran and Pakistan: Security, Diplomacy and American Influence. “For both Iran and Pakistan, bilateral closeness was always meant to reap something strategically larger.” But over the past seven decades, since Pakistan’s inception, their relationship has been buffeted by global and regional competition, by the Cold War, the scramble for Afghanistan, and the Iran-Saudi rivalry.

I recently finished reading Vatanka’s book and had the opportunity to discuss the history of the Iran-Pakistan relationship with him by phone. “In this relationship, for the United States watching is not an option,” he told me. “This is a relationship involving two large countries, one is already nuclear armed, one is a threshold nuclear-armed state, combined something like 300 million people, almost the size of the U.S. population. It's a big market potentially if we wanted to integrate them. There are a whole host of areas where we can cooperate in terms of counterterrorism, trying to bring some sort of stability to Afghanistan. If you let the diplomats, perhaps, and economic entry have a bigger say and not look at the relationship purely through the security prism, which is where we are now, then this relationship can improve and become more healthy than it is today. It's clearly unhealthy today.” Our conversation has been edited for length and clarity.

Could you start by explaining why you wanted to focus on Iran and Pakistan?

Almost for the last 20 years, I've been covering Iranian affairs—domestic, foreign, and a lot of regional dynamics involving Iran and it's neighbors. When you look at Iran's immediate neighborhood, including its 15 immediate neighbors (if you include its land and maritime neighbors), there’s plenty of literature on most of the neighbors' relations with Iran. Certainly among those neighbors, we'd consider them the big neighbors, Saudi, Turkey, Iraq, Afghanistan—Pakistan stands out as one that hasn't really been tackled in the context of its relations with Iran. So I thought, here's a gap, here's a deficiency, and why not try to see if we can find out more about it. That was really the beginning of that research idea, project, and the subsequent book that came out of it.

I think the history alone is really interesting, and there's a lot of that in the book, but I think there's a lot more to it than just the historical narrative. I think if you look at these two large countries, as they sit in Asia, anyone who wants to figure out how the large power politics, the race for influence in this part of the world happened, needs to take into account what drives Iran and Pakistan and where they come from in term of their past, where they are today, and where they are likely to go forward.

Riaz Haq said...

Iran and Pakistan: An Interview with Alex Vatanka

, Iran and Pakistan: Security, Diplomacy and American Influence

You also discuss the growth of anti-Shia sectarianism in Pakistan and the transition from Zulfikar Bhutto to Zia ul-Haq. Can you explain that a little bit?

Zulfikar Bhutto is a Pakistani Shia himself. He's not interested in the sectarian dimensions of this at all. In fact, when I studied Iranian-Pakistani relations from the 1940s all the way up to the present, you have to travel to the late 1970s—almost 40 years go by where the Sunni-Shia issue isn't mentioned at all in any of the cables coming out of London and elsewhere. It's a non-factor. Nobody cares.

It becomes an issue when Gen. Zia ul-Haq takes over and decides to Islamize Pakistani society the way he thinks it should be done, which is the hardline Sunni version of Islam, which in turn creates fear among the large (about 20 percent) Shia minority in Pakistan. But remember, Zia ul-Haq takes over in '77 and the Shah falls in '79, and if you look at that two-year period and say, how much fear and anxiety did ul-Haq's policies about becoming more of a Sunni state create in Tehran? The answer is, very little. What the Shah worries about is that Zia ul-Haq turns to the Gulf Arab states for patronage or guardianship, whatever you want to call it. It is only after Khomeini comes to power in Iran in '79 and who also plays the sectarian card that you see an element of sectarianism becoming more of a practice.

But again, I want to emphasize, even when Khomeini was alive in the 1980s, this is largely limited. When we think about 20 percent of Pakistan's Muslims are Shia, that you have a couple thousand that are joining radical groups doesn't tell me that sectarianism was the number one item on the agenda.

Why would Bhutto in the early 1970s turn to the Gulf Arab states? This is important. He's a Shia Pakistani leader. He's not driven by the fact that he shares being Shia with the Shah of Iran; in fact, he falls out with the Shah of Iran. Why? Because he sees the Shah of Iran looking down on Pakistan increasingly after Pakistan's defeat against India in 1971, and Zulifikar Bhutto feels the Shah thinks he is by nature going to lead the regional hegemon. Pakistan is not happy with that and when the Iranians start basically echoing what the Americans are asking the Pakistanis to do—primarily American demands that Pakistan cease any efforts in pursuit of nuclear weapons—when the Shah echoes that American line, from Zulfikar Bhutto’s point of view, then the Shah is no longer a partner as such, but somebody that's basically conveying Washington's concern to him.

So what does he do? Zulfikar Bhutto turns to the emerging oil-rich Gulf states—the Emirates, Qatar, Saudi Arabia. The fact that he was Shia had nothing to do with it. Bhutto is focused about India: Who can come to my aid, who can foot the bill for my nuclear program that I need to build up because I know that India is just about to get their hands on a nuclear weapon and I cannot lose that military competition on that front? There is no mention from the Saudis, the Emiratis, the Qataris—all of these famously Sunni nations—oh, we don't like Bhutto because he's Shia, you know? There's no sign of that. This sectarianism is something that unfortunately becomes much bigger of a player in the foreign relations of everybody in the last 15, 20 years because of a lot of other factors.

Riaz Haq said...

Q&A with Steve Coll on ‘America’s Secret Wars in Afghanistan and Pakistan’

Q: What is India’s role in Afghanistan?

A: It’s nowhere near as significant as Pakistan thinks it is. It has had a long relationship with the Afghan government, and supported Afghanistan when the government was reconstituted in 2001. It’s soft power — roads, hospitals, some military training. They don’t want to … further provoke the paranoia of ISI. As long as we (the United States) are in there fighting the terrorists, they can free-ride on our military commitment.

Q: Your book shows how officers within the ISI have continued to support the Taliban in Afghanistan, despite numerous deadly attacks within Pakistan and on Pakistanis by branches of the Taliban operating there. What is the motivation?

A: The Pakistani officer class — and they are ultimately the directors of the spy service as well — have a proud nationalistic tradition. There’s a conviction that India is under every pillow, that it’s out to destroy Pakistan. Over the years that (belief) has become a rationale for army influence in Pakistani politics … the whole country has moved to the right as the years have gone by.

The practical reason is that Pakistan feels vulnerable to Afghanistan. They share a long and open border, and the people along the border don’t even recognize its legitimacy. The fear is that without a buffer strategy of political influence, that India will use Afghanistan to destabilize Pakistan.

Q: Islam is the state religion of Pakistan — how does religious faith affect the motives of the ISI?

A: It’s a very diverse officer corps. The junior officers are more pious; the senior officers are ardently nationalist, more nationalist than even 20 years ago, given the violence and pressure they have come under. When you talk nationalism you’re talking about a country that was founded on the basis of Islam. I think Americans have always struggled to figure out how personal faith among Pakistani officers may affect their political judgment. The lazy way is to take them out for a drink. That doesn’t work with these guys.

Q: How do you see Afghanistan’s future unfolding?

A: I’m not a great forecaster, but I don’t think anything is likely to change. The presence of the U.S. military makes it very difficult for the Taliban to win. They don’t have an air force, they don’t have anti-aircraft weapons. They don’t have the amazing technology of the opposition.

The Afghan government is stuck. In 40 percent or more of the country’s rural districts, the Taliban are embedded. They are present in other parts of the country where they don’t have ethnic or religious roots … It’s even more complicated, because now all this violence has created an ethnic polarization in the rest of the country, and there’s a constitutional crisis in Kabul that’s been going on for three-and-a-half years.

Riaz Haq said...

#US-Taliban talks put #India in tight spot.
#Indian #Army chief Gen Bipin Rawat has suggested India also jump on the "bandwagon" to talk to the #Taliban in #Afghanistan. #Pakistan says #India has no role in #Afghanistan. #Modi #Kabul via @timesofindia

Riaz Haq said...

#Russia Alleges #US, Not #Taliban, Breaching #Afghan Peace Deal: Taliban are “flawlessly” adhering to the terms of a 2020 peace deal with the United States to help end the war in #Afghanistan and is urging #Washington not to renege on its commitments.

Zamir Kabulov, Russia’s presidential envoy to Afghanistan, spoke ahead of Wednesday’s NATO conference aimed at determining whether to meet a May 1 deadline agreed to with the Taliban for the withdrawal of U.S. and allied troops from Afghanistan. He also spoke as the number of attacks carried out by the Taliban continue to rise.

The meeting in Brussels of NATO defense ministers comes amid increased allegations the Islamist insurgent group has committed serious breaches of the February 29, 2020, pact by not reducing Afghan battlefield violence and not cutting ties with international terrorist groups.

A new U.S. Department of Defense report said Wednesday that the Taliban’s links remain intact with al-Qaida.

“The Taliban continues to maintain relations with al-Qaida ... [the terror network’s] members were integrated into Taliban forces and command structures" said Sean O'Donnell, the department's acting inspector general.

And on Monday, the U.N. mission in the country published a new report that points to a sharp increase in targeted killings of Afghan human rights defenders and journalists in recent months.

'Much higher' Taliban violence

The Taliban have denied they are behind the assassination spree, but Afghan officials blame the insurgents, and independent observers also say the group’s denial is not convincing.

“Taliban violence is much higher than historical norms,” General Scott Miller, the head of U.S. forces and the NATO-led noncombat Resolute Support mission, told Reuters on Wednesday. “It just doesn’t create the conditions to move forward in what is hopefully a historic turning point for Afghanistan.”

The increase in violence prompted U.S. President Joe Biden’s administration to review the deal before deciding on whether to bring home the remaining 2,500 American soldiers from the South Asian nation to close what has been the longest military intervention in U.S. history.

Despite that, the Russian state-owned Sputnik News Agency quoted Kabulov as saying, “The Taliban adhere to the agreement almost flawlessly — not a single American soldier has died since the agreement was signed — which cannot be said about the Americans.”

The Russian envoy accused the U.S. military of “repeatedly” carrying out airstrikes against Taliban-held Afghan area positions “under various pretexts.”

Riaz Haq said...

#Russian Envoy Kabulov Visits #Pakistan as Part of Effort to Jumpstart Stalled #AfghanPeaceProcess. He said: “My leadership ..will facilitate the start of inter-Afghan negotiations through consultations within the framework of the enlarged troika" #Biden

The “enlarged troika” is a reference to what Kabulov said is a group that evolved over the last two years, including countries with the most influence on the Afghan peace processes—the United States, China, Iran, Pakistan and Russia.

Russia hopes the meeting of the expanded troika could eventually lead to a larger gathering involving the Afghan government and Taliban along with other regional stakeholders like the Central Asian states and India. Diplomats who back the process say getting all of the regional powers involved in a peace agreement will give it a greater chance of success.

The Moscow format was a Russian initiative to organize regional stakeholders involved in the Afghan peace process. Its second meeting in 2018 brought the Taliban to an international forum for the first time. The U.S. sent representatives to observe.

The current push by Russia has gained momentum after peace talks between the Taliban and an Afghan government-sanctioned team, which started last September, stalled after several months of bickering and little progress.

Although Russia says it is trying to push for a meaningful interaction between the Afghan factions, parts of Kabulov’s interview to Sputnik, especially his suggestion of the need for an interim government set up that includes the Taliban, provoked a strong reaction from Kabul.

Afghanistan’s foreign ministry in a statement Friday said his remarks were against ground realities and counter to the official Russian stance on Afghanistan.

President Ashraf Ghani’s administration has consistently bristled at the idea of an interim government, claiming it has a constitutional mandate to govern for five years.

Meanwhile, the Russian Foreign Ministry has announced that Afghan Foreign Minister Hanif Atmar will visit Moscow later this month to meet his Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov.

“The ministers plan to discuss various aspects of bilateral relations, including trade and economic ties, as well as peaceful settlement in Afghanistan, and the need to counter the threats of terrorism and drug trafficking,” Russian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova, said at a briefing Thursday in Moscow.

The efforts to jumpstart negotiations between Taliban and Afghan government come at a time when the new administration of President Joe Biden is reviewing its Afghanistan policy.

Under a deal the U.S. signed with the Taliban in February of 2020, all foreign forces were supposed to withdraw from Afghanistan by May of 2021.

While attacks on foreign forces ceased after the deal, however, attacks on Afghan forces spiked, as did targeted killings of individuals, in particular rights activists and journalists.

At a NATO defense ministers meeting in Brussels that ended Thursday, the alliance refused to commit to a May 1 deadline for withdrawal.

“The problem is, to leave Afghanistan is conditions-based. Our presence in Afghanistan is conditions-based,” Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg told reporters. “[The] Taliban has to meet their commitments.”

Senior U.S. and NATO officials have blamed the change of heart on the Taliban not meeting its commitments, not breaking ties with al-Qaida, not negotiating with the Afghan government in good faith, and raising the level of violence in the country to an unacceptably high level.

“It just doesn’t create the conditions to move forward in what is hopefully a historic turning point for Afghanistan,” top U.S. commander in Afghanistan General Scott Miller told Reuters earlier this week.

Riaz Haq said...

#China could soon have an unlikely supporter in Central Asia --the #Taliban. China welcomed the Taliban to #Beijing in 2019. Taliban have have no interest in criticizing China over its alleged repression of Muslim minorities in Xinjiang. #Afghanistan #CPEC

One is a government accused of detaining more than 1 million Muslims in a vast system of internment camps. The other is one of the world's strictest Islamist militant groups. Yet despite their differences, the Chinese Communist Party and the Taliban may soon find themselves working together, at least tentatively.

Following the withdrawal of American troops from Afghanistan, the Taliban is again resurgent, taking control of great swathes of the country. The speed at which Afghan security forces have lost control to the Taliban has shocked many, and led to concerns the capital Kabul could be next to fall.
The Islamist group is already planing for such a future, with a Taliban spokesman telling the Hong Kong-based South China Morning Post earlier this week that China was a "welcome friend," and conversations over reconstruction should begin "as soon as possible."
The possibility of the Chinese government cooperating with the Taliban in a post-US Afghanistan is not as unlikely as it may first appear. Afghanistan remains a key component in Beijing's long-term regional development plans. In May, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said Beijing was in discussions with Islamabad and Kabul to extend the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) to Afghanistan, including expanding transport and trade networks between the three countries.

Nor is China averse to dealing with the Taliban, having publicly welcomed the militant group to Beijing in September 2019 for peace talks.
The Taliban, meanwhile, has made clear it would be willing to overlook any perceived grievances, with a spokesman telling the Wall Street Journal earlier this month the group had no interest in criticizing China over its alleged repression of Muslim minorities in Xinjiang. "We care about the oppression of Muslims ... But what we are not going to do is interfere in China's internal affairs," he was quoted as saying.
Pakistani senator Mushahid Hussain, chairman of the Pakistan-China Institute, told CNN the Taliban was more "chastened and pragmatic" than during its previous time in power, and the Islamists saw China as a "credible stakeholder" in Afghanistan. "(If they took power) they would need Chinese support for Afghanistan's stability and reconstruction. Annoying China is a recipe for disaster for the Taliban," he said.
Any deterioration in Afghanistan's security situation would be of significant concern to Beijing too, which has invested heavily in Central Asia through its Belt and Road trade and infrastructure scheme. In recent years, Islamist militants have attacked Chinese nationals and their interests in the Pakistani province of Balochistan, which borders Afghanistan. The prospect of further violence is likely to create unease in Beijing, as will the specter of homegrown Chinese militants finding sanctuary in Afghanistan's lawless border areas.
So far, the Chinese government hasn't publicly responded to the Taliban's advances. Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi is visiting Turkmenistan, Tajikstan and Uzbekistan this week, and is expected to discuss the issue of Afghanistan with his counterparts during the trip.
However, in a widely-shared social media post, Hu Xijin, the editor of state-run nationalist tabloid Global Times, said the Taliban considered China a "friend." His newspaper, meanwhile, suggested Western media outlets were trying to ruin the Taliban's relationship with Beijing by raising questions over Xinjiang.
"The West did not really care about Xinjiang Uyghurs' human rights. It instead hoped to sow discord between Beijing and the Taliban," the opinion piece said.