Fights are not local
В stories modern Afghanistan 12 April 2016 of the year will surely remain a landmark date. At dawn of this day, Taliban troops launched an offensive across the country. The operation was named after Mullah Omar, who founded the Taliban movement and led it until his death in the 2013 year. This decision looks symbolic: exactly twenty years ago, the Taliban, led by Mullah Omar, captured Kabul and proclaimed the formation of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan. The current offensive, the Islamists promise, will also lead to the fall of the ruling regime.
There are good reasons for such bold statements. As of early April, the Taliban fully controlled one-fifth of the country’s territory, but their influence somehow affected almost 70 percent of the counties. This is the highest figure since 2001, when the Taliban’s power was overthrown as a result of the US-led intervention. An alarming symptom was the fact that the fighting of Islamists acquired a year-round character. If before, there was a lull in Afghanistan from mid-autumn to mid-spring, when the movement along mountain passes closes, then last winter did not bring rest to security forces. They had to confront militants in Helmand, Zabul and a number of other provinces.
Having prepared bridgeheads and making sure from last year’s experience that the government forces, even with a numerical advantage, are not able to successfully withstand the attacks, the Taliban launched a large-scale offensive. It covered almost the entire territory of Afghanistan, including areas considered to be a stronghold of anti-Taliban forces. Fierce clashes go 40 kilometers from the capital, which the militants intend to ring.
The current tactics of the Islamists have several distinctive features. First, the Taliban have finally gone beyond rural areas and are trying to establish control over cities, including provincial centers. 15 April Islamists made a massive attack on 300-thousandth Kunduz, repulsed with great difficulty. The cities of Lashkargah, Puli-Khumri and Meimene, the capital of Helmand, Baghlan and Faryab provinces, are under siege.
Secondly, the militants cut the most important transport arteries in order to finally paralyze the already weak link between the capital and the regions. The Kabul – Mazar-i-Sharif road, the only route connecting the central and northern regions of the country, is under constant attack.
Against this background, the security forces of Afghanistan demonstrate their inability to cope with the increased threat. If we proceed from the quantitative indicators, they have an overwhelming advantage over the militants. The total number of army and police units, not counting the local militia, is about 350 thousand people. At the same time, according to the Russian General Staff, there are about 50 thousands of militants in the ranks of extremist groups in Afghanistan, of which 40 thousands are in the Taliban.
However, the combat capability of government troops remains low. NATO's secret report, the excerpt from which was published by the German magazine Spiegel, paints an extremely gloomy picture. Of the 101 Infantry Division, fully operational is ... only one. Taking the 205 Army Corps as an example, stationed in one of the most difficult areas - in the provinces of Kandahar and Zabul - the report’s authors point out that only 12 of its 17 battalions are “suitable for limited participation in battles”.
Not surprisingly, the irretrievable loss of security forces in the 2015 year, according to the same document, increased by more than 40 percent and exceeded 8 thousands of people. Desertion remains a mass phenomenon. On April 14, the Taliban managed to seize a military base in the province of Baghlan, and this happened after dozens of servicemen took over.
The successes of the Taliban are facilitated by their overcoming of the internal split. After the Taliban recognized the death of their permanent leader Mullah Omar last year, Akhtar Mansur became the new leader of the movement. Part of the detachments, however, refused to recognize his power, and elected their own leader, Abdul Rasul. Bloody clashes broke out between the factions, even the death of Mansur was reported. But at the end of March of this year, Abdul Rasul was arrested by the Pakistani authorities. At the same time, Akhtar Mansur drew to his side many disgruntled people, including the brother and son of the late Mullah Omar, who received important posts.
The official government can not boast of such unity. Just the opposite: even in the face of mortal danger, the government camp is torn apart by contradictions. The agreement between Ashraf Ghani and Abdullah Abdullah, who fought for the presidency, but eventually under pressure from the United States agreed to divide power, bursting at the seams. Both forces accuse each other of failures, which paralyzes the activity of the government. Two key figures of the power bloc - the Minister of Defense and the head of the National Security Directorate - have not yet been approved by parliament.
The very legitimacy of the government of national unity is under threat. Initially, it was created for a period of two years, and the obligatory condition was the convening of the Loya Jirga - the All-Afghan Council of Elders. This body - the only one that can make changes to the constitution - is intended to legitimize the position of the chief executive of Abdullah Abdullah, which is not provided for in the current wording of the basic law. But the convening of the Loya Jirga is possible only after parliamentary elections. They are scheduled for October and must pass under the new legislation. Which, in turn, is still not accepted because of the conflict between the president and the chief executive.
This tangle of contradictions splashes out onto the streets. In recent weeks, clashes have occurred in the north of Afghanistan between supporters of Abdul-Rashid Dostum and Muhammad Nour. The first is the vice-president of the country and the leader of the Uzbek community, the second is the governor of Balkh province and one of the leaders of the Tajik community. Having different “patrons” (Dostum is in the team of President Ashraf Ghani, and Nur supports Abdullah), they, nevertheless, last year agreed to join forces to repulse militants. And now the union has collapsed, which plays into the hands of the Islamists.
Who needs war?
Political squabbles, coupled with total corruption and a difficult economic situation, only increase the social base of the Taliban. A significant part of the country's population, especially among the Pashtuns, pin their hopes on a more equitable life arrangement with the Taliban. For this reason, a military victory over the Taliban is not possible. The only way out is the process of national reconciliation. However, negotiations break down again and again, which suggests the idea of their purposeful braking.
This happened with the peaceful dialogue brokered by China and Pakistan last summer. The new initiative, launched by the regional conference "Heart of Asia" in Islamabad, is also at a deadlock. The so-called four-sided coordination group composed of representatives of Afghanistan, Pakistan, China and the United States held several meetings in January-February to work out a peace road map. In March, the Taliban were to join the negotiations, but this did not happen.
One of the most important reasons for disrupting the dialogue was the provocative position of the United States. The fact is that the Taliban makes the beginning of the peace process an end to foreign occupation. In Washington, they promised to complete the withdrawal of troops in the 2016 year, leaving only the forces to protect the embassy. Then the term was moved to a year. And now the United States declares not only that the current 10-thousandth contingent will be saved for an indefinite period, but also its possible increase. The new commander of the US and NATO forces, John Nicholson, complained that the Afghan security forces are not in a position to independently control the situation, and therefore American troops must remain in the country. In response, the Taliban declared a refusal to negotiate and intensify hostilities.
In other words, the Americans, on the one hand, blocked the peace settlement, and on the other, did everything possible to prevent the central authorities from strengthening. For 15 years in Afghanistan there were no capable power structures, a more or less developed economy was not created, the country is completely dependent on foreign injections. At the same time, Washington not only closes its eyes to corruption that has entangled the Kabul regime, but also condones it. As stated recently by Senator Mohammed Alam Isidyar, aid entering the country is spent at the request of foreign advisers, without taking into account the real needs of the country. At the April hearing in the House of Representatives, the US Inspector General for the Reconstruction of Afghanistan, John Sopko, described in detail where 800 millions of dollars went to the development of the Afghan economy. The money was spent on building luxury villas for US officials, ordering the most expensive dishes, as well as on adventurous projects like buying a herd of Italian goats, which were supposed to give impetus to cashmere production, but died from an unknown infection immediately upon arrival in the country.
Miscalculations are hard to call. Rather, it is a deliberate policy designed to justify the indefinite stay of US troops. Artificially supporting instability and keeping the unofficial title of the center of Islamic extremism behind Afghanistan, Washington is tackling geopolitical tasks. Control of the country allows the United States to keep under the gun the Chinese strategy of the Silk Road Economic Belt. The trans-Eurasian economic corridors envisaged by it pass either through Afghanistan itself or through the neighboring regions - Central Asia and Pakistan. By fueling a fire of war and contributing to its spread beyond the borders of Afghan territory, the United States will greatly complicate the implementation of Beijing’s ambitious strategy.
Events make Americans rush. In February, a direct rail link between China and Iran opened, and on April 20 – 21, PRC President Xi Jinping visited Pakistan. The result was the signing of the 51 memorandum totaling 46 billions of dollars. The main agreement is the project of the Sino-Pakistani economic corridor, providing for the construction of transport and energy infrastructure connecting the two states. Subsequently, the “corridor” is planned to be extended to Iran, which will mean the actual beginning of the functioning of the “Silk Road Economic Belt”.
In order to prevent this, Washington is taking urgent measures. First, the negotiations that were brokered through the mediation of China and Pakistan were thwarted. Secondly, attempts are being made to radicalize the Islamist movement, preventing it from entering the political framework. For this, external forces have serious levers. The Taliban itself is not a clearly structured, single entity. Some of his units have significant autonomy, including in matters of financing. That is why in Afghanistan there are, for example, “Qatari”, “Turkish” or “Saudi” Taliban. Receiving assistance from these countries, the militants became an instrument of their politics.
From this point of view, the activity of the “Islamic State” should also be considered. The first reports on the activities of the Islamic State in Afghanistan appeared last year, but even now the units under its flag are a serious force operating in several provinces (Nangarhar, Khost, Kunar). According to a recent interview with the Deputy Chief Executive, Haji Mohammad Mohakik, the training and supply of IS militants is carried out by external forces. The politician did not openly call these forces, but made a more than transparent hint. According to Mohakik, funding comes from oil trading, which clearly indicates the monarchy of the Persian Gulf.
Thus, the “Islamic State” in Afghanistan is an external project to create new hotbeds of tension. Moreover, they are aimed both inside and outside - towards Pakistan, Iran, China and the republics of Central Asia. It is clear that neither the US nor its allies want to lose such a convenient foothold. They will hold on to Afghanistan to the last, constantly throwing firewood into the fire of a bloody conflict.