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Ashraf Ghani’s war strategy will fail

How can Ashraf Ghani wage an effective military campaign in Afghanistan if the origin of the threat is in Pakistan?

Suffering from a frenzied response to the increasing terrorist threats emanating from Pakistan, President Ashraf Gani has hardened his position on war and peace in Afghanistan.

Under a recent presidential directive, the Afghan security forces are ordered to use an unprecedented level of force against the Taliban in the country.

But Ghani’s ill-advised war policy is trapping the Afghan national armed forces in an enduring foreign war, which itself has become a more fearsome enemy to Afghans than the terrorists it is supposed to fight. Intensifying military operations in Afghanistan against enemies who are “based in and operating from Pakistan”, and who are motivated to die as martyrs, is not the solution to the problem.

It has become the problem. It is imperative for Ghani to urge Washington to end its inaction against the long-existing problem of sanctuaries for the Taliban and the Haqqani group in Pakistan. The US must fix or capture the Taliban leadership in Pakistan.

Owning a foreign war;

Since its establishment, the Afghan national unity government has owned the US military strategy by doing everything in its power to Afghanise the US’ unending so-called “war on terror” in Afghanistan. According to Ghani, over the past 13 months Afghan national security and defence forces have conducted “more than 40,000” military operations and more than 16,000 resolute operations within the country. It is about 100 combat operations and 40 resolute operations every day, all carried out on Afghan soil.

Since the escalation of fighting, from 2015 onwards, there have been reportedly around 4,000 Afghan detainees held in Bagram prison without any legal process, despite concerns raised by the human rights organisations.

Ghani signed a decree last year which, according to international human rights groups, allows the detention without trial of Afghans suspected of planning acts of terrorism and “attempts to end-run the legal system”.

Under Ghani’s national unity government, the US forces have a totally free hand in conducting their military operations in Afghanistan, from drone strikes to unlawful house searches.

US designs;

But implementing all these US designs has not helped Ghani to improve the deteriorating security situation in the country. Rather, it has been counterproductive.

The violence and the suffering of the Afghan people continue to linger on more than ever before.

According to the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan, UNAMA, the war in Afghanistan has caused around 2,000 casualties in the first three months of 2016. There were more than 11,000 civilian casualties, including 3,500 deaths in 2015. The figures are the highest of the past decade. In his symbolic speech to a joint session of the houses of parliament on May 25, after a deadly terrorist attack in Kabul, Ghani pointed a finger at “Peshawar and Quetta” from where, he said, the “enemies” send terrorists to shed blood and destroy the people of Afghanistan.

Although Ghani mentioned the Haqqani group and “some Taliban” as the enemies of Afghanistan, he fell short of naming the enablers and those who nurture them in Pakistan.

He asked Islamabad (for the third time publicly since becoming president) to take military action against Taliban’s “centres inside Pakistan and whose leaders are residing inside Pakistan”. The demand was not new. Last August and earlier this year, after some deadly terrorist attacks in Kabul, Ghani made similar calls, pointing out that Afghanistan no longer wanted Pakistan to bring the Taliban to the peace talks, but rather wanted it to eliminate their sanctuaries on Pakistani soil. But the problem is that Ghani wants to “stand against” the Haqqani group and the Taliban militarily in Afghanistan.

How can Ghani and his strategic ally, Washington, have an effective military campaign in Afghanistan if the origins of the terrorists’ threats and the sanctuaries are in Pakistan?

The answer is simple: any military efforts to eliminate the enemy militarily in Afghanistan will have no effect.

War will go on;

Secondly, if there is a continued reluctance by the US to genuinely pressure Pakistan’s military establishment and to address the political dimensions of terrorism in the region, why would Pakistan give up on its “strategic assets”, the Haqqani group and the Taliban? The war will certainly go on. War as a formally declared state of affairs is a thing of the past. Therefore, as Ghani has echoed in the past, Pakistan is in a state of “undeclared war” with Afghanistan.

In this “undeclared war”, as Rudyard Kipling once said, “the odds are on the cheaper man” and Pakistan has no shortage of the “cheaper man”. The Taliban and the Haqqani group are low-cost and easily available tools of foreign policy for the Pakistani military establishment.

The 18-month-old rapprochement between Ghani and the Pakistani military leadership proved to be one-sided.

As Frud Bezhan, a Kabul-based journalist, puts it: “Ghani banked nearly all his political capital on his controversial outreach to and appeasement of Pakistan – who many in Afghanistan and the West see as the driving force behind the Taliban insurgency. Not only has the president got nothing to show for his misguided efforts, but also he has wasted months of costly diplomacy during which time the Taliban have made gains and thousands of Afghan civilians have been killed.”

The prime minister of Pakistan again signalled cooperation on the peace process after Ghani’s April 25 speech by sending an envoy and a message to Kabul. But Afghans believe that the situation in Pakistan does not allow the civilian governments to hit upon an independent Afghan policy.

Its intention is to carry on inflicting massive damage to Afghanistan and intimidate Kabul for its political objectives in the region year in and year out.

Afghanistan is caught in the nets of a foreign-imposed war, in which the more it strives for fighting it, the more entangled it becomes. Therefore Ghani should break all vicious circles in the “war on terror”.

As the former Afghan President Hamid Karzai urged the national unity government in a recent statement, Ghani must direct all resources towards the foreign drivers of the war. Otherwise “inciting hatred and violence” within Afghanistan will only make the country slide further into “an endless conflict”.

Aimal Faizi is an Afghan journalist and former spokesman for former Afghan President Hamid Karzai from 2011 to 2014.

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