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Opinion

October 5, 2015

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Of brothers and scapegoats

Around the time that Ashraf Ghani was describing Pakistan-Afghanistan ties as “not brotherly”, the Taliban forces were in the process of finalising their well-coordinated assault on Kunduz, a city far removed from Pakistan’s contiguous border areas with Afghanistan.
As Pakistan does not serve the purpose of a scapegoat in this case, the attention of international media is focused on the shortcomings of Ashraf Ghani’s government.
Kabul has not been able to consolidate its authority in Kunduz since the pull-out of foreign troops in 2013. The Afghan National Security Forces have suffered unparalleled losses during the current fighting season. During the earlier Taliban assaults on Kunduz in September 2014 and April 2015, the ANSF manifested various internal flaws and failures. The Taliban capture of Kunduz again underscores leadership and operational deficiencies, disciplinary issues as well as poor inter-agency coordination.
Much like other volatile areas, the ANSF is stretched thin in Kunduz and reduced US air support further impacts its operations. Much of the resistance in the province against the Taliban comes from private militias of former commanders of the Northern Alliance. In areas where human rights abuses by militias are rampant, the Taliban have received support and sympathy from residents fed-up with the government.
Whether or not the Taliban hold Kunduz is irrelevant. It has already served as a political and military propaganda triumph for the insurgents. It has provided them the strategic advantage of taking control of a major centre after years of presence in pockets of rural areas.
The initial defeat of the ANSF is bound to accrue negative psychological repercussions. The Taliban fighters are an ideologically-driven group with a passion to fight and die for what they believe in. One wonders if the ANSF has the stomach to do the same.
The US-brokered Ghani-Abdullah Abdullah arrangement, that neither side really desired, has

resulted in a unity government that appears to be frozen in its tracks, moving only to bicker and whine.
Pro-America Afghan governments, since 9/11, have failed to check rampant corruption in their ranks and – despite billions of dollars in aid – have not implemented far-reaching people-centric and service-oriented policies. Ashraf Ghani, despite his election promises to undo the Karzai era damage, has not risen to the task.
The Taliban capture of Kunduz, even if short-lived, is bound to aggravate public distrust. It has shaken residents’ confidence in the Afghan government’s ability to provide security. Life for them will not be the same. Pictures of Taliban posing for selfies in Kunduz are not exactly morale boosters.
City-dwellers had so far considered themselves to be in a more secure position as compared to rural areas under Taliban control. Under such circumstances the rumour that the city was deliberately allowed to fall because bringing in troops from neighbouring provinces could jeopardise their security does nothing to mollify public anxieties.
The not-so-brotherly Pakistan made a genuine effort to facilitate a Taliban-Afghan government dialogue in Murree to help bring peace to the war torn country. The effort was duly scuttled by Ashraf Ghani’s brothers in India and the Afghan intelligence agency.
Following the collapse of talks after the news of Mullah Omar’s death and subsequent Taliban dispute regarding the new leadership, the Afghan government may have hoped that the insurgents would splinter, making them more vulnerable militarily.
The Kunduz debacle belies such wishful thinking. It could in fact advance Taliban recruitment efforts in the country while undermining those of Isis, and could lead to more bloodshed and instability.
According to analysts, the Taliban victory, even if temporary, has achieved its immediate goals of demoralising the government, aggravating state-society distrust while simultaneously freeing Taliban prisoners and procuring arms and ammunition.
The authority of Mullah Akhtar Mansour is likely to receive a boost even among the sceptics and opponents within the outfit, giving him more confidence in demanding the exit of all foreign forces from Afghanistan.
Ironically, however, Taliban power-projection in Kunduz may actually encourage international forces to stay. This in turn could harden a militarily confident Taliban in their approach to dialogue, making it all the difficult for Ashraf Ghani to resolve his talk-or-fight dilemma.
One hopes that better sense will prevail in Kabul and, instead of Pakistan-bashing, Afghan officials will focus on initiating peace talks geared towards an inclusive, representative and broad-based Afghan government.
Terrorism in Afghanistan and Pakistan followed by blame game continues to damage relations between two neighbours. By following certain short-sighted strategic policies during the last few decades, Pakistan has provided space for its critics to hold it responsible for all that goes wrong in its neighbouring countries without taking a holistic view of either their domestic issues or Pakistan’s security dilemma.
But the world of nation-states is dynamic; states can and do shift policy direction. Islamabad’s policy shift therefore must be acknowledged and benefited from by Afghanistan. Sweeping one’s defects under the carpet by pointing fingers at others does not serve the purpose as the Kunduz fiasco has shown. Instead of meting out step-brotherly treatment to Islamabad to appease New Delhi, Ashraf Ghani and Co should accept ground realities and let Islamabad play its role in conflict resolution.
Any increase in Indian strategic influence in Afghanistan will merely enhance Pakistan’s security fears. A negotiated settlement, no matter how hard to achieve, will stabilise Afghanistan and Pakistan to the benefit of the people. Despite their differences the two have a number of shared interests – a fact that should not be ignored by either side.
Peace in Afghanistan will also pave the way for the return of millions of legal and illegal Afghan refugees that the not-so-brotherly Pakistan has hosted for more than three decades.

The writer is an academic , currently affiliated with Meliksah University, Turkey.
Email: [email protected]

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