Afghanistan is caught in a double bind of Taliban’s extremism and Caliban-like warlords. The familiar quick solution devised by the Bush administration — pouring extra money and troops — seems unable to turf out the extremist ideology or buttress the shaky government in Kabul. The West has to mull things over before the situation is out of control. Re-ordering strategy and change of direction remains the only viable option.
The five years experience since the overthrow of the Taliban calls for reordering of the ongoing strategy, which focuses on the root-and-branch causes of war and Islamic terrorism in this war-shattered country. Like its opium problem, Afghanistan is facing two major obstacles — the never-ending cross-border violence from Pakistan, and failure of Mr Karzai’s government in providing security for his people. President Karzai’s performance has proved him a weak and ineffective leader. He has failed to expand his authority beyond the Afghan capital, Kabul, curb the influence of warlords, dismantle private militia, and end an endemic corruption in his government.
Much of the trouble comes via Pakistan, which remains the major disturbing factor in the Afghan imbroglio, despite its vehement denial. Bizarrely, Pakistan’s notorious Inter-Service Intelligence (ISI) continues to provide a safe haven for the Taliban leadership from back channels. Media reports, among other things, claim that the ISI is providing motorbikes, munitions, and passing sensitive military information about NATO and coalition forces to the Taliban. To hide its secret program of cross-border operations and mislead the international public, the ISI uses Pakistani militant Islamic parties as conduits in its relations with the Taliban. Since 2002, a coalition of six-Islamic fundamentalist parties under Maulana Fazlur Rahman — largely regarded as the founding father of the Taliban — have run Pakistan’s North-West Frontier and Baluchistan provinces.
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Madrassas run by Rahman’s Jamiat-e-Ulema-e-Islami (JUI), brainwashed and seduced the Taliban between the age of 15 to 20 into believing a violent and aberrant version of Islam in the 1990s. For their strategic efficacy, most of the Taliban were selected from Durani Pashtun tribe in Kandahar, the traditional power centre in Afghanistan. The ISI had enjoyed the fruits of this perverted religion when the Taliban unleashed an unprecedented cultural barbarity in their heydays in Kabul and acted as a fifth column for Pakistan and al-Qa’da. Acting as a go-between for the Taliban leaders and the Pakistani generals, Rahman is now the leader of the opposition in Pakistan’s national assembly. The ISI and JUI were the real matchmakers of the Taliban and al-Qa’ida, for they had enjoyed close relations with the terrorist organisation long before the emergence of the Taliban.
Occasionally, in order to be on the bill, Pakistan makes some moves in helping hunt foreign Islamic terrorists, and often on the bases of Western intelligence. General Pervez Musharaf’s recent proposal for fencing and mining Pakistan’s 2,500km porous border with Afghanistan is simply a self-serving political ploy. No one will be surprised if Pakistan lavish Western money on fencing its own border. This fencing is selective and unable to seal the inaccessible mountainous regions of the restive tribal regions, for Pakistan has no control over many of its semi-autonomous Pashtoon tribal belt. In these al-Qa’ida infested regions, last September, President Musharaf’s cutting deals with pro-Taliban tribes in Waziristan means nothing but seeking a modus vivendi. The Afghan and NATO sources report that cross-border attacks inside Afghanistan have tripled since the agreement.
From Egypt to Indonesia, with a general-and-mullah power structure, Pakistan has a unique place in the Islamic world, where the ruling secular elite use radical Islamists as effective tools in both its domestic and foreign policies. At the centre of this formidable structure lies the ISI — a state within the state. It makes, therefore, no difference who runs Islamabad, a mullah, a general, or a woman with Bollywood make-up. Let us not forget that the Taliban were spawned during Ms Benazir Bhutto’s second term and the first bunch of anti-Western Afghan Islamic zealots were embraced by her father, Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, in 1975, before the Russian invasion of Afghanistan. The West, however, regards the late father and daughter the most democratic leaders in Pakistan’s entire history.
Another component to the problem, as pointed out earlier lies within Afghanistan. Mr Karzai remained, as always, reliant on NATO and coalition forces. In 2001, there were roughly 9,000 US-led coalition forces in Afghanistan, the number increased gradually to 40,000. Yet, more troops are the first thing President Karzai calls for every time he drops by in a Western capital. The share of his own military and police forces in providing basic law and order to the people outside the boundaries of the major cities is shrinking.
Karzai’s growing dependence on warlords undermines his credibility among his own Pashtun tribes in the south and east of the country, where he is largely seen as a mere cloak for the Northern Alliance. President Karzai’s team of Western-educated Afghan technocrats seems more isolated than ever, who following the fall of the Taliban, rushed to rebuild their ravaged country. Rampant nepotism, and he comeback of ex-communist apparatchiks at the highest levels of the government increases the regenerating capability of the insurgency.
While Mr Karzai’s political authority is disintegrating and the ISI and JUI is preparing for the day the West leaves Afghanistan, the status quo wreaks calamity. The solution, it seems, lies in the initiation of drastic changes to Karzai’s government. A new strategy of detaching reconcilable and moderate Taliban from al-Qa’ida, ISI, and their petrified leader, Mullah Omar could help a speedy success in the war on Islamic terror.
Copyright © Ehsan Azari
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