Making Sense of Afghanistan
Events in Afghanistan of the past few weeks have left many bewildered. The Peace Deal, we were made to believe, was just a signature away. Then came Trump’s ‘Dead’ Tweet and the sacking of Bolton. What was so serious that forced Trump to take these decisions? To start with, the Trump-Bolton divide begins with Iran and Imran Khan’s visit to Washington. Bolton, a blatantly open pro-Israel American, made no bones that he wanted Trump to bomb Iran to the Stone age. Trump wants Iran to come to the table. Similarly, Both Pompeo and Bolton were not in favor of Imran Khan’s visit to meet Trump. It was a White House initiative. Trump’s actions of putting the BLA and the head of the TTP on the blacklist were welcome. IK’s visit meant that Pompeo, Bolton, and CIA were not ‘in’ on the visit. Trump was advised for a Camp David meeting with the Taliban, which Bolton fiercely opposed. Coming to Zalmay Khalilzad, it seems he was not playing straight. For improving his own stature amongst the Taliban, he gave away far more than his mandate. His briefs to the White House were not wholly convincing. Trump sensed something amiss. The Camp David talks were canceled, as were the Doha ones. Concurrently, with sacks of unending Narcotics money available in Afghanistan,
Bolton encouraged the CIA, Blackwater, RAW, and Mossad agents to organize the Daish, TPP, BLA, ex-AQ elements, and Chinese dissidents for future use. The attack in Kabul a week ago in the Green Zone was on the Headquarter of this complex. Nearly 30 were killed and over 100 injured. Reports of a US senior officer being a casualty surfaced. A furious Trump reportedly ordered all funds for these operations be ceased. This included, as per the talk, a large sum of Indian money for the project. The money was funneled back to Washington. So the ‘Dead Tweet’ is off this time frame.
Much earlier, two prominent attacks in Kondoz in the North and Farah (facing Iran) are significant. Both locations have Daish elements and their tutors. Trump had visions of the South American Noriega type of backlash where the CIA used narco money to bankroll chaos. Bolton had to go!
During the last Doha meetings, the Taliban made no bones of their joy that another Superpower was about to succumb. Taliban was uncompromising on the number of residual US troops. Trump decided that this was not a good time to sign any deal where the Taliban gains.
I believe there is a US – India Agreement of 2008/9 where Indian troops will deploy in support of the US and Kabul. The US wants a substantial number of Indian Army troops, some say a minimum of 50,000, to prop up the Afghan National Army. So new Delhi is in a fix.
IK is to meet Trump twice during his forthcoming visit to the US. Kashmir and India will figure prominently. IK will be asked to re facilitate the Taliban-US talks again. Secondly, Trump has an eye on the elections. The bulk of the US troops in Afghanistan are White. Trump’s vote bank is White. Why should US troops bear the fury of the Taliban due to Blackwater and CIA operations? He will ask IK to tell the Taliban not to target US troops. What about the future of Blackwater, its trainers, and advisors? Daish? What of them? Has Trump decided to sideline them? Daish is now a legitimate target for the Taliban, Russia, China, Iran, and Pakistan.
Kabul Govt has shown a desire for the talks to restart. The US will want to see the end of the war in Afghanistan and will again re-engage. Pakistan has to convince the Taliban. The Taliban are now wary of Pakistan. They feel Pakistan has a deal with The US as it has black-listed BLA and head of TTP, which favors Islamabad. They feel Pakistan will sell them down the river! Pakistan cannot allow this perception to take hold.
Afghan Elections, however, must be held in my view.
Our region has generated much activity. China-Iran cooperation is a mega agreement that has no parallel. It is oil and gas will be pumped into the CPEC pipeline all way to China. Alternatively, other routes are through CARs, making it difficult for the US to interfere. Taliban delegation has visited Moscow with the major point being The Daish threat to the Taliban and Russia. The Chinese and Taliban should also be in agreement on how to deal with the threat jointly. Pakistan must become part of this team. The Dilemma for the US is to orchestrate an exit without turning Afghanistan into another tragic story. It needs Pakistan.