Saturday, October 8, 2016

Straight from Kunduz, Afghanistan

Afghanistan is continuously at war since 1973, the year in which King Mohammed Zahir Shah (who ruled Afghanistan since 1933) was overthrown by his brother-in-law Mohammed Daoud Khan. After five years he was overthrown and assassinated during Saur Revolution. Then came Soviets followed by Mujahidins, Americans, Pakistanis and Taliban. After the collapse of Soviet Union and end of Cold war Americans abandoned Afghanistan. This act gave a free run to Pakistan and Taliban; Taliban conquered most of the territories except northern areas. Then the game changer happened – 9/11. American’s and NATO came again, overthrew Taliban and handed over the country to democratically elected government.

However, Afghanistan was hard to manage. Insurgency ebbed and flowed but never wiped out. Taliban and Pakistan (who sides more with Taliban) knew that Americans will go one day. Finally, NATO’s withdrew process left behind some 13000 troops, far cry from a time when they could call more than 1,30,000 NATO troops for assistance.

However, everything is not well here. For 43 years, this country is permanently at war or war like situation. As NATO withdrew, Taliban is increasing their reach. Eastern areas near Pakistan borders are hardly controlled by government in Kabul. In a recent show of force, Taliban went straight in to Northern city of Kunduz and reached city centre to raise their flag. Timing was critical; this happened on the eve of conference at Brussels where president Ghani was about to show his achievements.
Afghan Special Forces and NATO came to Kunduz to oust the insurgents.

Recently Taliban made a lot of gains in Helmand province as well. Probably 90% of province is under the control of influence of Taliban. May be, Afghan special forces and NATO will be able to recover some of the lost territories. However, without another surge it is highly debatable.
How long Afghanistan can solely look towards special forces (which is numbered around 17,000) and ever reducing NATO forces?

Brussels conference agreed to provide $3.8bn a year till 2020 to Afghanistan. But simply pumping money to a war torn country is not going to make any change; other than making some people extremely wealthy. This may eventually end up in property markets of Middle East or some foreign banks. What is important is implementation.

Unless and until Afghan National Army and Afghan National Police is able to hold ground on their own, there is no way to protect Afghanistan in long term. I saw many people arguing the success of Taliban is a problem with army’s combat training. This argument is very hard to believe. Shall we really think Afghan army personal don’t know how to fight? Then how come Taliban, whose rank and file is also filled by people coming from same country is able to fight long and hard battles? I believe what is really missing is, government and its forces don’t really understand and assimilate what it stands for. I can’t believe it’s a problem with people don’t know how to fight. If it is about training, then Afghan forces have the best trainers in the world.

I think it is more to do with political leadership and their failure to show for what they are standing. Grandiose plans may get funding from conferences like Brussels. However, unless one is connecting with people on the ground and able to boost the morale of Police and Army; Afghanistan doesn’t stand for a chance.


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