New Age Islam Edit Bureau
8 October 2015
• The Taliban in Afghanistan is very much alive and killing
By Viju Cherian
• NO IGNORING INDIA’S STAKES IN KABUL
By Hiranmay Karlekar
• Stemming the ripples from Kunduz
By RUSTAM SHAH MOHMAND
• Indo-Pak tensions: A fictional nuclear war scenario
By Gurmeet Kanwal
• Putin’s dramatic Syria move raises Russian profile – but the move could backfire
By Thomas Graham
Compiled By New Age Islam Edit Bureau
The Taliban in Afghanistan is very much alive and killing
Oct 08, 2015
On September 28 the Taliban decided to complicate matters for Afghanistan President Ashraf Ghani, a day before his government completed one year in power — by capturing the former Northern Alliance stronghold of Kunduz. Thus Kunduz became the first major city to fall to the Taliban after it was routed in 2001. Three days later on October 1, the Afghan forces, with aerial support from the United States, recaptured the city.
The siege of Kunduz shows that 14 years after it invaded Afghanistan in pursuit of former al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, the US has not been able to defeat the Taliban.
The fall of Kunduz, however, thoroughly exposes the Afghan forces, especially given that signs of unrest in the northern city were visible from as early as April. But there is little to be surprised, because this is not the first time US-trained forces in both Afghanistan and Iraq have been defeated when left to fight on their own.
Temporary as it may have been, this is a victory for the Taliban, which has been struggling to stay united ever since the death of its leader Mullah Omar was announced. It is also presumed that with the attack on Kunduz, Mullah Mansour, Mullah Omar’s successor, has put to rest murmurs about his leadership. Reports also suggest that the Taliban is gaining momentum after the September 28 attack.
This setback of the Ghani government is bad news for India, which has a lot riding on Afghanistan’s stability. Unlike his predecessor, Hamid Karzai, who was close to India and gave Pakistan a wide berth, Ghani believed stronger ties with Islamabad would influence the Taliban to negotiate with Kabul. But things went from bad to worse with multiple bombings across Kabul, including at the international airport and a US army base, forcing Ghani to say in August that “we hoped for peace but we are receiving messages of war from Pakistan”.
On Sunday, in Kabul, the National Directorate of Security killed two suicide bombers belonging to the Haqqani network while they were attempting to bomb the police training centre, and on Wednesday, a suicide bomber, trained in Peshawar, was detained in Kabul. All these point to Islamabad’s plan to further weaken the government in Kabul.
These developments do not paint a bright future for Afghanistan, and further vindicates India’s position that it is impossible to strike a deal with the Taliban. India must reiterate its message to the US and the international community that there is no ‘good Taliban’ and that Pakistan should not be allowed to use Afghanistan as its terror backyard to control the region and use it to launch attacks on India.
The Washington Post reported recently that US President Barack Obama was considering a proposal to station about 5,000 troops post 2016 (against a complete pullout). This is welcome news, and Obama’s decision will also influence Nato’s post-2016 commitment in Afghanistan. The flaw in the US’ plan to limiting its role to aerial support for Afghan troops, and not committing boots on the ground, was evident in the October 4 US air strike on a Médecins Sans Frontières hospital, killing 22 civilians, which included doctors and patients.
Kabul is far from ready to defend the country against the Taliban — Kunduz is the evident example.
NO IGNORING INDIA’S STAKES IN KABUL
Thursday, 08 October 2015 |
New Delhi needs partners to help it counter the Pakistani influence in Afghanistan’s affairs. Iran and Russia should be tapped for the purpose
The Kunduz battle has once again focussed on the situation in Afghanistan and reminded India of its massive security and economic stakes there. A Pakistan-sponsored Taliban Government in Kabul would severely undermine both, as would a nominally-independent Taliban-dominated dispensation. His periodic verbal salvoes against Pakistan and the Taliban notwithstanding, Afghanistan’s President Ashraf Ghani remains keen on an Islamabad-brokered peace with the Taliban. To please Pakistan, he has sent officer cadets to train there, shared information with it and helped in ferreting out Pakistani terrorists who had taken refuge in Afghanistan, including six involved in the horrific attack on the Army Public School in Peshawar on December 16, 2014. He is reportedly willing even to undertake constitutional amendments enabling the Taliban to share power, besides empowering its clerics to dismantle the gains in gender justice and human rights made the post-9/11 liberation. He is also a party to excluding India from the present peace process.
His visit to New Delhi on April 30, which yielded little, was yet another indication that Pakistan will dominate any dispensation established in Kabul through the current negotiations, and will whittle down India’s presence in Afghanistan. A section in India, however, remains unconcerned and argues that we should leave Afghanistan alone and concentrate on our own development since we can do little about a process blessed by both the United States and China.
This is a preposterous suggestion. India’s stakes in Afghanistan, to which it has committed assistance amounting cumulatively to two billion dollars — a very large amount for this country— are considerable. It covers a wide terrain including large infrastructural —and small developmental — projects, capacity-building initiatives and humanitarian assistance. Besides, there is the question of Afghanistan’s untapped mineral deposits worth one trillion dollar. The biggest ones are of iron ore and copper while lithium, niobium, cobalt and gold finds are very considerable. A Kabul dispensation that is Pakistan’s proxy will shut the door on Indian firms keen on exploiting these and end or substantially reduce this country’s trade with Afghanistan.
Even if India is prepared to accept such a huge, humiliating setback there remains the question of its security. The section of the Taliban, which is now fighting the incumbent Government in Afghanistan, will become unemployed once Pakistan has achieved its goal. Trained for fighting and nothing else, they will have problems finding openings in civilian life where opportunities are hardly abundant in Pakistan. They will become a large, heavily armed force, turning the country’s near-anarchy situation into complete one, unless they are unleashed against another target, India.
Those dismissing the idea should note the sharp heightening of Pakistan’s aggression-level against this country since the beginning of 2014. This is a reflection of its increased self-confidence resulting, first, from the huge and sophisticated arsenal it has piled up against India by misusing American aid which Washington has done little to stop and, second, from the feeling of power it has gained by acting as the arbiter of Afghanistan’s destiny. This combination of compulsion and over-confidence will invariably propel it to escalate its proxy war to a point where a conventional war becomes inevitable.
Equally, there may be a civil war in Afghanistan as ethnic minorities and others who had constituted the pre-liberation Northern Alliance, resist a Taliban or a pro-Taliban takeover and ask New Delhi for financial, logistical and arms aid. Will India turn them down, knowing full well the consequences of having an adverse dispensation in Afghanistan?
Afghanistan and Pakistan’s geo-strategic positions, and the fact that a fight against the Taliban, and its brand of Islamist fundamentalism, will have to be transnational, requires that India has allies. Since it cannot expect America, which has made Pakistan the fulcrum of the Afghan peace talks, to join, it must have Russia and Iran as coalition partners. Explorations must begin immediately. Detailed plans will have to follow.
Stemming the ripples from Kunduz
RUSTAM SHAH MOHMAND
October 8, 2015
While President Ghani faces a formidable crisis, the capture of Kunduz will bolster the new Taliban chief, Akhtar Mansour, and help overcome any remaining resistance to his authority
The Taliban have entered and are in control of the northern Afghan city of Kunduz — the first time a major city has fallen to the movement — at least for now. According to latest reports, Taliban volunteers have been able to regain control of most of the city. The capital of Kunduz province, the city is 60 kilometers south of the Oxus river. Across the river is Tajikistan, connected by a bridge that is extensively used for both human and goods traffic.
The Taliban occupation of Kunduz may be short-lived as the regime of President Ashraf Ghani will make every effort to miminise the fallout of this setback. The besieged insurgent group is also likely to be outnumbered in terms of both manpower and firepower.
Rustam Shah Mohmand
Unfortunately for the Government in Kabul the fall of Kunduz — even if the city is recaptured and the Taliban driven out — has come at a most inauspicious time when the regime is confronted with new challenges. There is the growing menace of Daesh (Islamic State), which is making inroads into some provinces largely on the back of substantial monetary inducements to new converts. The group targeted government forces in eastern Nangarhar province on September 26, inflicting casualties and sparking fears of a new wave of deadly confrontation.
Then there is the worsening security situation across the country. The lower house of Parliament has summoned the country’s interior minister and other officials to explain the reasons for what is widely seen as an inadequate response to deteriorating law and order.
And finally there is the apparent exodus of people — largely unemployed Afghan youth — joining West Asian refugees trying to enter Europe.
If the Taliban hold on to Kunduz , there is the fear of defections from the Army which could snowball into a bigger and dangerous movement of defections from both the military and police. More government functionaries could establish links with the resistance, leading to gradual collapse of the administrative machinery that could paralyse the country.
One year into his presidency, President Ghani is facing a formidable crisis. On the other hand, the newly installed chief of the Taliban, Akhtar Mansour, has a feather in his cap that would bolster his standing and help to overcome any remaining resistance to his authority.
The Taliban and their chief would now adopt a more robust stance in the negotiations — if they are resumed any time soon for a settlement to the conflict. For the moment, however, the chances of the talks resuming and a consensus on the roadmap to a resolution of the conflict are remote.
Whether the worsening security environment would force yet another delay in the withdrawal of the U.S. forces, scheduled for end of 2016, remains to be seen. While President Obama would not like to leave Afghanistan in a mess at the end of his tenure, his options are equally fraught. . Extending the stay of most U.S. troops indefinitely and risking involvement in a perpetual conflict would diminish U.S. credentials. However, another military effort to weaken, demoralise and eliminate the resistance, will plunge the whole country into a deadly cycle of violence and shatter the American vision of rehabilitating a nation, torn asunder by their invasion in 2001.
The only prudent option is of mainstreaming the resistance on terms that are compatible with the aspirations of the broad majority of the people. For that to happen insistence on recognising or accepting the institutions — as they are constituted now — would have to be given up. The fact that Afghanistan is bigger than its Parliament or elected government has to be acknowledged as a first step towards meaningful negotiations. That could pave the way for a breakthrough.
In times like these statesmen of vision can play role. Former president Hamid Karzai could play a historic role in negotiating the terms for the mainstreaming of the resistance. It must be acknowledged that the fighting is not about a few offices or some positions in the government; it is about systems that are compatible with the beliefs, customs, traditions and aspirations of the people. An elected government is a reality. The existence of a viable, vigorous opposition and a movement for change premised on the departure of all foreign forces is also a reality. These two apparently conflicting realities have to be reconciled to create a framework for a genuine resolution.
(Rustam Shah Mohmand is former interior secretary and former Afghan ambassador to Pakistan)
Indo-Pak tensions: A fictional nuclear war scenario
Oct 08, 2015
Pakistan’s former foreign minister Khurshid Mahmood Kasuri said during an interview on India Today TV a few days ago that “all hell would have broken loose” if India had bombed Muridke after the 26/11 terror strikes in Mumbai.
A week ago, responding to Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s four-point peace initiative, the external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj told the United Nations General Assembly that only a single-point peace plan was needed and that was for Pakistan to stop sponsoring terrorism into India.
India has shown immense strategic restraint in the face of grave provocation from Pakistan. However, in the future, a major trans-border terrorist strike sponsored by Pakistan will almost certainly trigger Indian military retaliation. While it will be carefully calibrated, it could spin out of control. The fictional scenario described below could be actually played out, though the probability of its occurrence is low.
The Trigger: Dussehra-Diwali holidays, 2015. Tensions between India and Pakistan have escalated. At 1900 hours a day before Diwali (Day 1), serial bomb blasts on multiple targets in crowded markets in New Delhi result in approximately 300 casualties, including 12 foreign tourists.
A captured terrorist is found to be a former Major of the Pakistan army. Cutting across party lines, political leaders demand immediate military retaliation against Pakistan. TV anchors join in; passions are inflamed, the voices are shrill.
The Response: Day 2. The Indian Director General of Military Operations (DGMO) calls his Pakistani counterpart on the hotline and asks him to hand over the perpetrators of the terrorist strikes within 48 hours or face military action. The Pakistan DGMO expresses sympathy, but denies that the Pakistan army or the ISI played any role in the attacks. Strategic partners share evidence with India.
Day 3. Based on multi-source intelligence inputs, the Indian government determines that the attack was launched by the Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT); and, there is incontrovertible evidence of ISI involvement in the planning and conduct of the strikes. The Indian Foreign Secretary speaks with his Pakistani counterpart, but Pakistan remains in denial mode.
Chaired by the Prime Minister, the cabinet committee on security (CCS) meets at 1800 hours and approves military retaliation according to pre-planned contingencies to inflict punishment on the Pakistan army.
Day 4. At 0600 hours, Indian Air Force fighter aircraft launch air-to-ground strikes against military targets in POK; artillery strikes are directed against Pakistan army’s forward posts; border action teams initiate offensive action; and, two Special Forces (SF) raids are launched on objectives in depth; collateral damage is carefully avoided.
The Indian armed forces and the nuclear forces are ordered to mobilise for war; Pakistan follows suit.
Days 5-6. The Pakistani response is similar to Indian military action, though on a smaller scale. PAF aircraft do not cross the LoC. Pakistan expels the Indian High Commissioner and asks the High Commission to close down as its security can no longer be assured. India expels the Pakistan High Commissioner.
Conventional Conflict: Days 7-8. India continues its military strikes on the LoC and on military targets in POK, causing substantive damage. F-16 aircraft of the PAF cross the international boundary in the plains and strike three Indian airfields in the Jammu and Punjab sectors. Six IAF aircraft are destroyed. The Indian CCS approves trans-border offensive operations.
Day 9. IAF launches counter-air operations across the full length of the international boundary. At dusk, the Indian army launches several multi-pronged offensive operations into Pakistan in the Sialkot, Lahore (north and south), Cholistan and Thar Desert sectors. The Indian Strike Corps begin reaching their concentration and assembly areas. The Indian Navy enforces a Maritime Exclusion Zone off the Makran Coast of Pakistan; war at sea ensues.
The UN Security Council calls for the immediate cessation of hostilities by both sides.
Days 10-11. The PAF retaliates, but with decreasing vigour. The IAF causes substantial damage to Pakistan’s corps and army reserves; Indian surface-to-surface missile (SSMs), multi-barrel rocket launchers (MBRLs) and medium-range artillery take a heavy toll of Pakistan army troops in contact and tactical reserves. India’s IBGs (integrated battle groups) make good progress, especially in the area south-east of Kasur (Lahore sector) and in the Cholistan Desert.
Pakistan launches a limited offensive with a division plus an armoured brigade from Chhamb towards Akhnur in the Jammu Sector. Pakistan’s Foreign Minister flies to China.
Nuclear Strikes: Day 12. At noon, Pakistan’s army Chief warns India through a radio and TV broadcast to pull back immediately or face the wrath of Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal. Several of India’s IBGs have succeeded in capturing territory to a depth ranging from 8-10 km in Punjab to 20 km in desert terrain and have caused sizable material damage.
Day 13. Pakistan orders the civilian population in Cholistan Desert to be evacuated. The PAF launches a large-scale strike against Indian Strike Corps South that is in the process of moving forward on easy-to-spot, relatively unprotected railway lines; substantial damage is caused.
Day 14. Ignoring the advice of his Prime Minister, Pakistan’s army Chief approves nuclear strikes. At 1800 hours, the Army Strategic Forces Command launches two nuclear strikes on the Indian division advancing in the Cholistan Desert, one on each forward brigade. As the Indian columns are advancing in buttoned-down mode and have NBC protection, casualties are limited: 60 soldiers killed or wounded, 32 tanks and infantry combat vehicles destroyed or damaged.
The Indian offensive in the Cholistan Desert comes to a temporary halt. The GOC-in-C, Southern Command orders Strike Corps South to be prepared to launch offensive operations according to planned contingencies.
At 1830 hours, the US President calls the Indian Prime Minister and appeals to him to desist from retaliating with nuclear strikes; he also offers to mediate and says the US Secretary of Defence is already on his way to Islamabad. Several other world leaders also call the PM. At 2200 hours, the UNSC asks India to show restraint and calls on both the countries once again to cease all hostilities forthwith.
As the Indian PM walks in at 1900 hours to chair a meeting of the political council of the Nuclear Command Authority, the mood in the National Command Post is grim. The army chief gives his assessment of the situation and his recommendations; the naval and air chiefs follow. The National Security Adviser begins by saying that the time for restraint is over. He recommends multiple nuclear strikes in retaliation. After a brief discussion, the political council approves the recommendations made by the NSA.
Day 15. At 0700 hours, India launches four nuclear strikes of appropriate yield on the reserve forces of the Pakistan army. Two strikes are launched on 4 Corps reserves south-east of Kasur in the Lahore sector and two on 2 Corps (Army Reserve South) near Bahawalpur. Pakistani casualties: 660 civilians killed or wounded, 345 troops killed or wounded, 56 tanks, infantry combat vehicles and missile launchers destroyed or damaged.
De-escalation: At 1000 hours, the Indian PM makes a radio and TV broadcast to the people of Pakistan and its leadership and warns of nuclear annihilation if even one more nuclear warhead is exploded on Indian troops or on any target in India. He also offers a cease-fire, to come into effect at 1800 hours the same day. Pakistan promptly rejects the cease-fire offer unless India agrees to vacate all Pakistani territory within 48 hours of the cease-fire.
At 1430 hours, with the PM’s approval, India’s COAS authorises offensive operations by two Strike Corps. At 1830 hours, the spearheads of the Strike Corps begin rolling across the international boundary.
At 2000 hours, the US President speaks with the Pakistani PM who is at GHQ, Rawalpindi. Pakistan’s army chief, the chief of the general staff, the DGMO and the director general, Strategic Plans Division are listening in. At 2100 hours, Pakistan accepts India’s cease-fire offer effective 2200 hours.
Epilogue: For 70 years since Hiroshima and Nagasaki, some basic human survival instinct has held the hand that could have pulled the nuclear trigger. India and Pakistan must ensure that this record is not broken in South Asia.
State-sponsored terrorism emanating from Pakistani soil must end immediately if the scenario described above is to remain fictional. India and Pakistan must go beyond the cosmetic nuclear confidence building measures (CBMs) now in place and institute genuine nuclear risk reduction measures (NRRMs). De-escalation during conflict will be possible only if strategic communications are in place and there are trustworthy back channel interlocutors. Finally, third party mediation has its limitations, but can often be useful during conflict.
Gurmeet Kanwal is former director, Centre for Land Warfare Studies, New Delhi.
The views expressed are personal.
Putin’s dramatic Syria move raises Russian profile – but the move could backfire
October 8, 2015, 12:06 AM IST
Russian President Vladimir Putin is remaking the Middle East by boldly creating facts on the ground. The recent military buildup and the initial airstrikes against targets inside Syria mark Russia’s return as a major strategic actor for the first time since the Yom Kippur War of 1973 that pitted Arab nations against Israel.
Putin must be bemused as Washington flounders for a response while issuing empty threats and warnings. He has boxed in President Barack Obama, compelling him to agree to a bilateral meeting on Syria and Ukraine, thereby making a mockery of the 18 month long US effort to isolate him diplomatically.
It also matters that Russia is now exercising the initiative in Syria. The immediate goal is to bolster the beleaguered Assad regime, which Putin sees as a bulwark against extremist forces — and he is certainly right that the only possible alternative to Assad in Syria today is extremists of one sort or another.
Russia will likely step up the tempo in coming days for Islamic State (IS) does indeed pose a serious threat: More than 2,000 Russian citizens have joined IS in Syria; IS supporters can be found across Russia, including in and around Moscow; terrorist groups in the Russian North Caucasus have pledged loyalty to IS, which in turn has declared that region a wilayat or an IS province; and IS has extended its reach into the fragile Muslim-dominated Central Asian states along Russia’s southern periphery.
Putin’s bold move, however satisfying to the Kremlin, comes with huge risks. Domestic support is not guaranteed, a recent poll suggests two-thirds are opposed to sending ground troops to support Assad.
Nor is military success guaranteed.
As the economy at best stagnates, the military must manage a continuing conflict in Ukraine, support stepped-up strategic reconnaissance against Nato, build up its presence in the Arctic, and prepare for a possible new anti-terrorist front in Central Asia as security in Afghanistan deteriorates — witness the Taliban’s temporary seizure of Kunduz, a key provincial centre. Something has to give somewhere in the not-too-distant future.
The risks of the war spreading or of Russia’s becoming bogged down in a quagmire are far from negligible. Should the Russian offensive falter, Israel, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the US will see an opening to contain and undermine Russia and its Shi’ite coalition, perhaps with greater assistance to anti-Assad rebels or bolder military action, such as enforcing limited no-fly zones and establishing humanitarian corridors and sanctuaries inside Syria. In addition, accidents are inevitable with major military forces operating in close proximity and, if not handled properly, could lead to open conflict.
In short, the uncertainties abound. Putin must know that the US has greater capacity to shape developments than Russia does by orders of magnitude. He is betting that the current administration lacks the skill to devise an effective counter-strategy and the will to act decisively. The next few weeks will tell if he is right.
(The writer was on the US National Security Council staff, 2004-07. Copyright: YaleGlo-bal and the MacMillan Center.)