In Afghanistan, time to fight the political dimensions of terrorism

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Yesterday, when announcing the extension of the U.S. military presence in Afghanistan, President Obama fell short of identifying the enemy and the threat Afghans and American troops face in the war on terror.

But just a week ago, the commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan had a reason for why the war on terror has lingered on.

Speaking before the Senate Armed Services committee last Tuesday, Army Gen. John Campbell said that “based in, and operating from Pakistan, HQN [the Haqqani network] remains the most virulent strain of the insurgency” in the country. He added that HQN “presents one of the greatest risks to Coalition forces, and it continues to be an al Qaeda facilitator.”

{mosads}In 2011, Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, the former U.S. chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, also told U.S. senators that the “Haqqani network acts as a veritable arm of Pakistan’s Inter-Services-Intelligence agency” and its operatives “plan and conduct” terrorist attacks in Afghanistan.

Four years on, the existence of the same threat as “the most virulent strain” of terrorism and “the greatest risk to Coalition forces” in Afghanistan shows a clear inaction against the state-sponsored terrorist phenomenon in the region.

After more than a decade of the so-called “war on terror” in Afghanistan, state-sponsored terrorist groups continue to intimidate Afghanistan and challenge its stability for decipherable political ends in the region.

For Afghan President Mohammad Ashraf Ghani’s government, it is imperative to bring clarity to the Washington-Islamabad-Kabul triangle in regards to the ongoing war. With the continued U.S. reluctance to tackle the political dimensions of terrorism in the region, the Afghan government must turn to the regional powers and multiply its efforts in developing strong conventional defense forces to confront the enduring threats of terrorism.

Identifying terrorism

In the past, lack of a clear definition of the threat in Afghanistan was the core issue of disagreement and mistrust between Kabul and Washington.

Now, Ghani has repeatedly echoed that Pakistan is in the state of an “undeclared war” with Afghanistan. This definition of war is more than simply identifying terrorism, the Taliban or insurgency as the enemy, the way it has been articulated narratively by Washington since 9/11. This ambiguity in America’s definition of war and the enemy is the insoluble dilemma of Afghanistan.

Like elsewhere in the world, terrorist activities in Afghanistan are originating from long-existing political conflicts and rivalries in the region. In the case of Afghanistan, terrorism is a lethal tactic employed by specific terrorist groups with full backing of a state for political purposes and raison d’état. Today, terrorists can be bought and used with money. Taliban and other violent groups are low-cost and easily available tools which continue to inflict massive damage to Afghanistan and its international partners. And yet the prime focus continues to be on the superficial manifestation of the threat: the Taliban, the restoration of the Islamic Emirate in Afghanistan, implementation of Sharia law, fighting the infidels, etc. Bringing clarity into this political jigsaw (who and what is the enemy?) is the key to genuinely combating terrorism and saving innocent lives both in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

According to Campbell, “Pakistan [m]ilitary (PAKMIL) operations have displaced foreign fighters into eastern and northern Afghanistan.” Additionally, “HQN fighters lead the insurgency in several eastern Afghan provinces, and they have demonstrated the intent and capability to launch and support high profile and complex attacks.”

But why, then, is there reluctance to confront the origins of these threats and the sanctuaries and those who nurture them? These very recent quotes from a senior American military commander explain where the threat in Afghanistan is emanating from and what this threat is by nature.

Fighting terrorism politically and militarily

The lack of a proper strategy to address the political dimensions of terrorism in Afghanistan and the region has led to the prolongation of the war on terror. For more than a decade, the threat has been fought only militarily. Consequently, the region will continue to be geopolitically unstable. Terrorism will be an enduring phenomena for many years to come and Afghanistan will remain vulnerable. Afghans have to prepare themselves for this new reality.

As a long-term task and by whatever means possible, Ghani’s government must multiply its efforts to build a stronger and better-equipped army, including a powerful air force with a quick airlift capability.

Major security threats in Afghanistan are not internal; therefore, the Afghan security and defense forces must be supplied with state-of-the-art equipment to the extent that they become able to deal with threats emanating from outside Afghanistan. Continued standing on defense is inadvisable.

Keeping the experience of former Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s government in mind, Kabul should not rely on the U.S. to provide military equipment.

Afghanistan’s security is linked not only with regional security, but also with ensuring global security. Terrorism in Afghanistan has regional and trans-regional dimensions, and any government in Afghanistan can not respond to the issue alone. The Afghan government and regional powers (China, Russia, India and Iran) should design a long-term political strategy to address the political dimensions of terrorism beside fighting it militarily. Today, all of these countries face some sort of state-sponsored terrorism. Moscow, New Delhi and Tehran have been treating Ghani’s government with mistrust, but that has to change. The Afghan national unity government should increasingly engage with regional powers; ditto for the West in Afghanistan.

Terrorism in Afghanistan should needs to become an international concern. Without focusing and tackling the sources of motivation for the Taliban and regional terrorists, any effort to eliminate them militarily will be of no effect.

Faizi is an Afghan journalist and served as spokesperson for former Afghan President Hamid Karzai from 2011 to 2014. 

Tags Afghanistan Ashraf Ghani Hamid Karzai Haqqani network John Campbell Mike Mullen Pakistan Taliban Terrorism War on Terror

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