Recent terror attacks in Afghanistan underscore need for Indian intervention, building Kabul's capability to defend itself

The recent string of terror attacks in Afghanistan highlight the importance of building the nation's capability to defend itself.

Tara Kartha January 29, 2018 11:43:59 IST
Recent terror attacks in Afghanistan underscore need for Indian intervention, building Kabul's capability to defend itself

At a time when Kabul and much of Afghanistan is desperately trying to heal its wounded after a trail of terrorist attacks, the suicide bombing by the Taliban using an explosive-laden ambulance seems particularly vile. Ambulances with their sirens screaming are usually waved through security barriers, and the Taliban simply took advantage of it.

The target was the Interior Ministry, and the Taliban website gleefully if inaccurately reported that its martyrs had killed 246 civilian and military personnel at a time when most were strolling outside during lunch hour. Kabul reported about 95 killed, which is bad enough to make it one of the worst attacks in recent times.

Through 2017, the Taliban has focused their attacks on the security forces – particularly the Afghan National Police – in an effort directed at crippling the government's ability to govern or enforce its authority. These concentrated 'wave' attacks seem to have begun – in recent times – in October 2017, when in three days, simultaneous attacks were launched in Kabul, and five provinces, killing more than 200. These attacks primarily targeted the police, including a training centre in Gardez that killed 41. Those attacks used explosive-laden Humvees – American made vehicles captured from the Afghan forces, in a cruel irony that was not lost on anyone.

Recent terror attacks in Afghanistan underscore need for Indian intervention building Kabuls capability to defend itself

An injured man is moved to a stretcher outside a hospital following a suicide attack in Kabul. AP

Cut to the present wave of attacks, where a prominent hotel was laid under siege, an NGO involved with children was attacked, the horrific attack against the Interior Ministry, and yet another attack on the Marshal Fahim Military Academy on the outskirts of Kabul. The academy has been the focus of earlier attacks as well, with the last one in October which killed at least 15 cadets.

Some careful disaggregation is required to reach a satisfactory analysis of the situation. First, one of the attacks – the 24 January one on the NGO 'Save the Children' – was claimed by the Islamic State (IS) through its website Amaq. The IS in Afghanistan is a curious creature, with no perceptible leadership, and a penchant for attacking Shias, the Hazaras, and Iranian interests in Afghanistan. At times, it has been reported to have joined forces with sections of the Taliban.

Recently, an Afghan ministry official said that many of its large attacks were actually being conducted by the Haqqani network, and not the IS at all. Given the western horror of the IS, it is highly likely that it is being pushed forward with the intention of showing the Taliban in a better light. This strategy seems to have succeeded to some extent, given the multiple attacks by US forces on so-called IS positions.

Second, while the worst attack on the Interior Ministry has been claimed by the Taliban, Afghan officials have confirmed that the actual agency involved was the Haqqanis. The Haqqanis are now far more in control of the insurgency than ever before. Taliban Emir-al-Momineen Haibatullah Akhundzada is known more for his scholarly attributes – including an ability for harsh justice – rather than warfighting. That role is done by his deputy, Sirajuddin Haqqani, who heads the most organised and violent group known as the Haqqani network. He is also the fighter who is closest to Pakistan's intelligence.

To put Haqqani in a post of influence in the Afghan administration has always been a top agenda point for the Pakistan Army, though it likes to declare otherwise. The group has become the focus of US attacks, with a recent drone strike successfully targeting one of its leaders in Kurram Agency in Pakistan. Drone attacks on Kurram, which is the home ground of the Haqqanis, have increased over the last two years, counting up five of 12 such attacks.

The US focus on Haqqani has to do with far more than just Afghanistan. Details provided in the terrorist designations list shows incontestably, that the group had extended its activities to Syria. Disquieting aspects include links with foreign nationals including Germans in Pakistan, apart from smuggling persons to Europe from Afghanistan.

This is a group that has grown in power and contacts across the terrorist world. If it manages to consolidate itself in Afghanistan, the country will again become a shelter for international terrorists of all hues. Meanwhile, it is attacking with all its got, using its impressive armoury of suicide bombers as a retaliation against the drone and ground war being unleashed on it.

Third, it is now more than evident that the present wave of attacks is a riposte to the US-Afghan strategy and the increase in US troops. The strategy had done away with timelines for US troops in the country, and most importantly had taken a far harsher stance on Pakistan than ever before, followed by President Donald Trump's tweet on Pakistan, calling it out for its "lies and deceit".

As the pitiful history of Afghanistan has shown, the Pakistani intelligence reacts violently to such language. The Pakistani role was recently underlined in the details provided by the US Department of Treasury in its newest terrorist designations. The most vital part of this is the banking of money from foreign funding sources, as well as millions paid in ransom into Pakistani banks. Afghanistan itself has few banking facilities to speak of, and the Taliban are hardly credulous enough to park its funds in the corruption-ridden banks in Afghanistan.

The data doesn't include the millions that flow into Pakistan from the narcotics trade. The one factor often missed by analysts in terms of ending the Afghan war is that the violence is more and more about money. In short, the Afghan war is very profitable for many in Pakistan, including the Pakistani army and intelligence. The profit motive may not be an institutional one, but it is certainly one that permeates at the ground level.

In the final analysis, the core of the Pakistan-Taliban military strategy is simple. To win, the Taliban have to erode and destroy the ability of the Afghan forces to defend the people.

This is the fundamental aspect of a contract between a 'government' and its people, which forms the basis of a state. Building up Afghanistan's capability to defend itself is also equally the focus of US assistance.

As a report from the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction noted, the US has spent about $70 billion so far on revitalising the Afghan security sector, which constitutes 60 percent of total reconstruction funding. The ANSF is getting on its feet and has been able to deny ground to the Taliban and its henchmen. The main factor eating into an eventual stand-alone capability is the unsustainable casualty rates.

The Taliban in other words, try to kill off more numbers than can realistically be expected to be trained in a year. The 'kill rate' is vital, which is why the Pentagon has decided recently to keep such data out of the public sphere. Its ugly, but that's the math operating here. Unless some way can be found to deliver training quickly and efficiently, this is how it will be.

This is where India comes in. Our ability to provide efficient training is considerable, particularly since it is grounded on Asian realities.

The Indian Army is already involved in providing training to troops as well as officers in the Indian Military Academy. Much of the skilling at the ground level involves inculcating not just discipline, but pride in their uniform. This is a vital requirement in a situation where the Afghan Army still has to identify with their country, rather than a tribe or an ethnic group.

With Trump expecting allies, as well as friends to take on more responsibility, it is in our interest to significantly increase our training capabilities, setting aside other countries' training for the moment. This is a battle where numbers count, and the boots on the ground have to be Afghan. Keeping foreign troops indefinitely in Afghanistan is not good for anyone in the vicinity. Its certainly killing the Afghan people. It just might kill ours.

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