By JK Verma
New Delhi. 15 October 2017. US President Donald J Trump threatened Pakistan that it must change its policies. “No partnership can survive” if the country is “harbouring militants and terrorists who target US service members and officials.” Trump also stated that India should give more economic aid and developmental assistance to Afghanistan and can play significant role in the region.
On August 21, 2017 US President Donald Trump announced a stringent strategy for South Asia especially for Afghanistan and Pakistan. He clarified that there will be no early retreat as in that case terrorists would gain stronghold in Afghanistan and the sacrifice of the troops would go waste. Therefore US must provide men and armaments so that US led NATO troops fight to win.
He also mentioned that at present “20 US designated foreign terrorist organisations are active in Afghanistan and Pakistan” which is “the highest concentration in any region anywhere in the world”. He clearly stated that US and its allies would defeat these terrorist outfits as they are major threat to world peace and tranquility. He also mentioned that “Pakistan often gives safe heaven” to the terrorists.
Trump in his hard hitting speech stated that he will neither announce any schedule for the eradication of terrorism nor will disclose the number of troops US will depute in Afghanistan. He clarified that “we are not nation building again. We are killing terrorists.”
Operation Enduring Freedom which commenced on October 7, 2011 by United States in Afghanistan, after al Qaeda attacks of September 11, 2001, is still continuing. The strength of terrorist outfits is far from depleting and at present they control about 40 percent area of Afghanistan. United Nations claimed that the death toll in last few months was highest in last eight years.
At one point of time the number of US led NATO forces equipped with latest weaponry swelled up to 100,000 but they could not wipe out terrorist outfits. More than 2326 US soldiers and 1173 contractors were killed up to September 2015. 453 British armed forces personnel also lost their lives between 2001 and 2015. The number of grievously hurt was much larger and US spent more than USD 1 trillion in Afghanistan.
According to latest estimates about 100000 Afghan civilians were killed in last 16 years. On May 31 about 150 civilians were killed in a terrorist attack in Kabul. There are large number of deaths of Afghan security forces, civilians, women and children because Taliban use homemade bombs. Large numbers of Afghans were also killed in bombings by US as well as by Afghan forces. In June 2017 US conducted about 389 aerial attacks in the country.
Although US lost so many lives and spent huge amount but it cannot leave Afghanistan unless the major terrorist outfits are eliminated as it will again become the safe-haven of terrorists and there can be more attacks on US and other countries akin to 9/11. Islamic State of Khorasan (IS-K) is strengthening in Afghanistan and it successfully carried out attacks on security forces. IS-K which considers Shias as not true Muslims is successful in widening the gulf between Shias and Sunnis by carrying out terrorist attacks on Shias.
Several disgruntled fighters from Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), Afghan Taliban, anti Shia outfits of Pakistan and Afghanistan, fanatic Muslims of quite a few countries who dream to establish Islamic State of Khorasan are joining IS-K. Islamic State (IS) is losing ground in Syria and Iraq hence leaders of IS also desire to establish their headquarters in another country and radicalised Afghanistan is most suited place. IS-K also controls few areas in Pakistan and when US and Afghan security forces launch operations against them they take shelter in their hide-outs in Pakistan. Hence it is not feasible to wipe out terrorism from Afghanistan. Al-Qaeda which has already a stronghold in Afghanistan is also trying to strengthen itself.
In war torn Afghanistan large number of terrorist outfits and their splinter groups are active and they get donations from several affluent Middle Eastern countries and also earn large sums by smuggling of opium. Needless to say that 90 percent of world opium smuggling is through Afghanistan region. The sinister Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) renders training and also supplies arms & ammunition to these terrorist groups.
Nonetheless Pakistan was taken aback by the latest strategy of Trump as US President threatened Pakistan for harbouring the terrorists who are attacking US forces and also assigned important role to India. Pakistan centric analysts claim that Pakistan assists terrorists in Afghanistan to mitigate the influence of India and if India will play momentous role, Pakistan will certainly enhance its support to terrorist outfits. Pakistanis of all walks of life criticised Trump’s strategy but leaders in Afghanistan appreciated the approach. Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah while appreciating the stratagem stated that the problem is correctly identified and it may establish peace in the country.
The analysts also claim that isolating Pakistan will not establish peace and China, Russia and Iran will emerge as new players in Afghanistan. Afghan Taliban while criticizing Trump’s strategy also mentioned that they are not afraid of US threat as when 100000 troops could not annihilate them the modest increase in number of troops will be ineffective.
Pakistan which wants to achieve strategic depth in Afghanistan has created several terrorist outfits which continuously attack Afghanistan security forces; Indian installations as well as US led NATO forces. The creepy ISI which is a state within state is actively supporting numerous terrorist organisations including Harakat-ul-Mujahideen which is funded by ISI and adheres to its instructions. The group is led by Jalaluddin Haqqani and his son Sirajuddin Haqqani and constantly attacks Afghan security forces and US led NATO forces. Besides ISI it has close links with al Qaeda and Afghan Taliban. The group has a madrassa, training centre and hiding places in Dandi Darpa Khalin in North Waziristan, Pakistan. Hizb-i-Gulbuddin which operates in East Afghanistan and operates with Taliban has also close relations with ISI.
Afghan Taliban mostly consists of Pashtuns who are Sunnis of Wahhabi and Deobandi sects. They get donations from Arab countries while ISI train them, supply them weapons and provide shelter. Taliban have hideouts in FATA, Khyber Pass etc. Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) which wants to establish Islamic State in the region constantly attacks US forces. The organisation which has more than 15000 fighters consists of Pashtuns from Pakistan and Afghanistan. Although TTP proclaims to overthrow Pakistan government but senior officers of ISI train and equip them.
Al-Qaeda which has several factions including Qaeda al-Jihad, Black Guard etc. has more than 2000 cadres and fighting for establishment of Islamic Caliphate and constantly attack US and Afghan troops. The outfit has bases in Afghanistan and Pakistan and has close links with ISI at highest level.
Besides these there are several other terrorist outfits which are created or supported by ISI. Few groups ISI is using against India, while some are used against minorities, Shias and against their own civilian government. These outfits include Jaish-e-Mohammed, Harakat-ul-Mujahideen, Tehrik-e-Nafaz-e-Shariat-e-Mohammadi, Lashkar-e-Taiba, Lashkar-e-Janghvi Hizb-i-Khalis, Islamic Party of Uzbekistan, IJU Islamic Jihad Union, Turkistan al-Islamiyya, the Iranian Revolutionary Guards etc. Several times these terrorist organisations pool resources to carry out terrorist activities and ISI works as an intermediary.
It is a contradiction that US is the biggest foreign aid donor to Pakistan while the latter is rendering financial and other assistance to terrorist outfits which are killing US soldiers.
Pakistan government claims that it has launched several operations to wipe out terrorist organisations but they take shelter in Afghanistan nevertheless the assertion of Pakistan is bogus as Pakistan launches the operations half-heartedly and the security forces distinguish between “good” and “bad” terrorists. So called “good” terrorists are saved hence the operations do not succeed.
Pakistani analysts also claim that if US will isolate then it will take assistance from China and besides China, Russia and Iran also taking active interest in Afghanistan, hence US must pursue a pragmatic policy and Pakistan should not be isolated. However it is a misnomer as there are reports that China is re-thinking about its investment in China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) and it already warned Pakistan about the Islamic terrorist outfits which are assisting Uighurs who are creating trouble in the Zinjiang province. Russia which already burnt its fingers before in Afghanistan will not like to involve much. Iran which is facing sanctions from western world is in no position to help Pakistan.
Pakistan’s allegation that India assists Baloch rebels through Afghanistan is also erroneous India being a peaceful country never involves in the internal affairs of other country.
It is well-established that several terrorist groups have safe-heavens in Pakistan and rogue intelligence agency ISI equips and train the terrorists hence US must take decisive actions and should destroy training camps inside Pakistan and if drones are not sufficient then planes should devastate the training camps and in this way the trainers will also get a stringent message that now their lives are also in danger. At present they train the low level terrorists who work as suicide bombers for Jihad while they enjoy all the benefits.
US and its allies as well as international organisation like International Monetary Fund (IMF), World Bank etc should also stop financial assistance to “terroristan” so that they stop assisting the terrorist outfits.
Pakistan must be told sternly that it cannot control Afghanistan for strategic depth and helping terrorist outfits will boomerang sooner than later. It must destroy terrorist’s hideouts at an early date.
India is a peaceful country and it never attacked other country hence Pakistan should develop its own country and must stop export of terror to other countries including India and Afghanistan.
(Jai Kumar Verma is a Delhi-based strategic analyst and a retired senior intelligence officer. The views in the article are solely the author’s. He can be contacted at email@example.com)