Afghanistan: The Indian Menace


September 22, 2011: Currently, the most newsworthy events have been terror attacks aimed at capturing media attention, while not achieving any military objective. This includes failed attacks on a U.S. base and the U.S. embassy in Kabul, as well as the assassination of a much respected (by the Taliban) peace negotiator. These attacks have been tracked back to Pakistani, the ISI (Pakistani intelligence) and the Haqqani Network (an Afghan terror group in Pakistan long protected and subsidized by ISI.) Many senior officials in the Pakistani government see peace and prosperity in Afghanistan as a plot by India to surround Pakistan. Afghanistan has accepted Indian economic aid, and been generally friendly with India. This angers the Pakistanis, who feel they must respond, covertly, to this Indian gambit. What India is trying to do is ensure that Afghanistan does not again become a sanctuary for Islamic terrorists (many of whom consider largely Hindu India a prime target.)

For a long time, the most carefully planned and heavily funded terror attacks were suicide bombings directed at senior government officials (especially those in the military, police and intelligence). A lot of these attacks were carried out by the Haqqani Network, which has been hiding in Pakistan since the 1980s fight with the Russians. Most of the Taliban terror violence is directed at much less well protected targets (tribal and village leaders, staff and students at schools for girls).

Unlike the Taliban, who are based in Afghanistan, and vulnerable because of their need to earn money providing security for drug gangs, or just extorting cash and goods from merchants and villages, the Haqqani operatives can plan their operations in their North Waziristan sanctuary. The Pakistani army continues to refuse American demands that North Waziristan be cleared of terrorists. Meanwile, CIA UAVs continue to kill Haqqani members on a regular basis. But this is not doing decisive damage to Haqqani, which has money and other aid from ISI, and a network of supporters, suppliers and allies inside Afghanistan. Haqqani is popular among some Pushtun tribes in southeast Afghanistan, and apparently has the allegiance of several thousand tribal gunmen. These are kept loyal via organized criminal activity (mostly extortion, kidnapping and theft). The Haqqani Network allies in Afghanistan have been under increasing attack by NATO and Afghan forces, which makes Haqqani more eager to carry out terror attacks that would cause the foreign troops to leave Afghanistan.

Pakistan refuses to accept any responsibility for Haqqani, despite having increasing quantities of evidence presented to them by American diplomats and military leaders. This is causing more bad will between Pakistan and the United States. Afghanistan never had very good relations with Pakistan, which always saw Afghanistan as a pawn in Pakistani foreign affairs.

One area where NATO sees a lot of progress is the training of Afghan security forces. These soldiers and police have become markedly more professional and effective in the last few years. But corruption is still a big problem, as it is everywhere else in Afghanistan. Once NATO forces leave, these more effective Afghan troops would be more subject to getting hired by drug gangs and warlords, thus increasing the combat capabilities of these groups. But if the central government received enough Western aid money, the drug gangs (whose activities are about a third of GDP) would not be able to just buy the country. There would be a constant bidding war and decades of violence (see what has happened in Colombia and the Golden Triangle of Burma).

NATO continues operations against the heroin and opium production in Helmand, which is causing the drug gangs growing problems. Production is down and moving the drugs out of the country (to the lucrative foreign markets that make heroin so profitable) is becoming more difficult, and expensive (because of more bribes, and drugs seized in transit).

Nearly a third of Afghan civilian terrorist deaths are caused by roadside bombs and anti-vehicle mines. These weapons have now become popular with criminal gangs, who use them to terrorize a company, or village, into making extortion payments. To deal with this, NATO is helping Afghanistan expand its demining force. This includes buying the Afghan deminers hundreds of robots and hand-held mine detectors, and providing training for the new equipment. Afghanistan has thousands of experienced deminers, who have spent over a decade clearing out mines left by the Russians in the 1980s. But now the Taliban are using lots of landmines, as well as roadside bombs, and these have to cleaned up as well. The new equipment will make this work go faster.

September 20, 2011: In Kabul, Burhanuddin Rabbani, the former president of Afghanistan (1992-6) and head of the effort to negotiate a peace deal with the Taliban, was killed by two suicide bombers. The two killers used a bomb hidden in a turban and waited two days to meet with Rabbani (pretending to be Taliban couriers delivering a verbal message). Some Taliban groups took credit for the attack, while others insisted the Taliban had nothing to do with it. Afghan and American intelligence believe the attack was carried out by Pakistani intelligence (ISI) to cripple peace talks with the Taliban. ISI apparently used Haqqani to disrupt peace talks between the Taliban and the Afghan government. These peace efforts have been chipping away at the Taliban over the years, enticing tribal factions to drop (or greatly reduce) support for the Taliban. ISI cannot tolerate this.

September 19, 2011: In the eastern province of Nuristan, 40 Taliban were killed and at least 30 wounded in several operations over the weekend. The Taliban usually flee when NATO and Afghan troops come looking for them, but there are increasingly effective tactics that get them trapped, and shot up, anyway.

September 13, 2011: In Kabul, two spectacular terror attacks left fifteen dead (11 of them terrorists). The goal here was to attract lots of international media attention. The targets of the failed attacks were the U.S. embassy and the NATO headquarters compound. The dead terrorists carried supplies and equipment that were clearly from Pakistan, indicating Haqqani involvement. Two men involved with these attacks were later taken alive, and they confirmed the Haqqani connection.

September 10, 2011: A suicide truck bomb went off out outside an American base in the Kabul suburbs, injuring 89 (most of them Americans, and most of the injuries were light).

September 9, 2011: A somber ceremony was held in Kabul to honor Ahmad Shah Massoud, who was assassinated by al Qaeda suicide bombers ten years ago. Massoud was a brilliant military commander from northern Afghanistan. A Tajik, he fought the Russians in the 1980s and the Taliban in the 1990s. Al Qaeda carried out the first suicide bomb attack in Afghanistan in order to kill Massoud two days before the September 11, 2001 attacks. Massoud led the Northern Alliance (of Tajik, Uzbek, Hazara and even some Pushtun tribes) in resisting Taliban attempts to take control of Afghanistan. Thus on September 11, 2001, the Taliban were still fighting for control of the north.





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