Afghanistan: Back To The 2001 Future


May 31, 2022: The IEA (Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan) government is having the same problems the 2001 version had, but worse. For two decades after the 2001 Taliban were out of power, Afghanistan prospered in many ways. The economy, lifespans, infrastructure and education levels reached new highs. The IEA has reinstated many of the pre-2001 rules that turned most Afghans against the Taliban. Most potential aid donors and the UN are withholding aid until the IEA lifts restrictions on women. So far the IEA refuses, even though neighbors Iran and Pakistan recognize those restrictions as unpopular and bad for the economy. In Pakistan the government is not willing to engage in illegal trade with the IEA. The Pakistan military is another story and initially openly took credit for putting the Taliban back in charge of Afghanistan. Now that the IEA has failed so spectacularly the Pakistani generals are more discreet. The military still works with the Afghan drug cartels to produce and export what is most of the world’s heroin supply from Afghanistan. Cooperation in this area keeps the drug cartels and their Pakistani partners in business while millions of Afghans face starvation because of Western economic sanctions against Afghanistan.

The IEA response to these complaints is to crackdown on local and foreign journalists. That doesn’t work as well as it did in 2001 because now most Afghans have cell phones and easier access to each other and the outside world.

Without foreign aid and outside investors, the IEA is broke and what little cash it has goes to the security forces, which currently consists of about 100,000 poorly paid, trained, led and armed men. There is no support for the vehicles and other equipment captured from the former (Islamic Republic of Afghanistan) government. The IRA security forces had a paper strength of 300,000 but desertion and corruption reduced that to about 200,000 soldiers and police plus air support from American and Afghan air forces. The heroin cartels use their own hired guns to protect drug production and export. The cartels pay the IEA “taxes” that make the cartels largest source of revenue. The IEA needs larger security forces because there is more Islamic terrorist violence and a return of the 2001 Northern Alliance as the NRF (National Resistance Front), which is using many of the same base areas, leaders (usually their children) and tactics as its predecessors. The NRF is calling on the United States to provide aid, as it did in 2001.

The IEA has worked out similar mercenary deals with some Islamic terror groups, allowing them to operate in some border areas in return for providing local security.

There are new threats, like a defense alliance between Iran and Tajikistan to deal with Islamic terrorists and the IEA. This includes establishing a UAV manufacturing operation in Tajikistan and cooperating with the Tajiks in using Iranian missile-armed UAVs to deal with mutual enemies.

Pakistan Pays For Its Sins

The new IEA government has not worked out as Pakistan expected, with growing violence inside Afghanistan becoming a major problem for Pakistan and Iran. Iran is angry at the new Afghan government because of increased attacks on Afghan Shia. Iran threatens to support an armed Afghan Shia resistance manned by the thousands of Afghan Shia who served as mercenaries in Syria. Some still do, because the Shia Afghan mercs were the best fighters and demanded higher pay than Arab mercenaries. These armed Shia fighters sometimes cooperated with their 1990s Northern Alliance allies, which has reassembled as the NRF and is planning new operations. That alone may be more than the new IEA government can handle. Some of the NRF leaders are sons of successful Northern Alliance commanders. Iran threatens to provide more support to the NRF than they gave the Northern Alliance.

Until May 18th, when a temporary ceasefire began, IEA security forces are confronting Pakistani special operations forces entering eastern and southern provinces to capture or kill TTP (Pakistani Taliban) leaders. The Pakistani troops are supported by artillery and air strikes that often kill Afghan civilians. The IEA/TTP peace talks are expected to fail. In the east Iran is moving armor units to the border to confront Afghans guarding heroin smugglers traveling into Iran. The drug smugglers have been a problem for over two decades and long-ago turned the Afghan/Iran border into a combat zone. Since the IEA took power, the violence here has escalated. Throughout Afghanistan there are outbreaks of activity by armed Shia militias and their 1990s Northern Alliance allies, the NRF.

May 28, 2022: In Tajikistan, national security officials from India, China, Russia, Iran Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan met to discuss the terrorism situation in Afghanistan. All agreed that the terrorism threat from Afghanistan was growing despite IEA insisting they have it under control. There was also agreement that diplomatic recognition and financial aid or investment was on hold until the IEA got serious about the terrorism threat. A senior IEA official recently said that all were welcome in Afghanistan, including known Islamic terror groups. The one exception is ISK (Islamic State Khorasan), the local ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant) group that regularly kills non-Moslems or non-Sunni Moslems, especially Shia. This causes major problems with Shia-majority Iran, which considers itself the protector of Shia everywhere. The security officials agreed that the Pakistan-backed Taliban dominate the IEA government and seem unable to control what they have created. That includes the sanctuary the TTP enjoys in Afghanistan. TTP wants to impose an IEA-like government on Pakistan. Tajikistan also noted that a similar Tajik group had received sanctuary in Afghanistan just across the Tajik border.

May 27, 2022: The UAE United Arab Emirates) and IEA agreed to a deal where the UAE would run the major air ports in Afghanistan. Revenue would be shared and while not a major source of income for the IEA, the UAE would be responsible for air port security and logistics as well as a familiar face for outsiders. The UAE has similar contracts for managing ports and a reputation of efficiency and immunity to corruption. This airport deal also made the UAE more tolerant of illegal Afghan trade, via the UAE, with customers now prohibited from trading with Afghanistan because of trade and banking sanctions. The UAE has always been a place where local traders and bankers will facilitate such trade. Those services are expensive and only works when high-end products are involved.

May 26, 2022: Over two million Afghans have fled to Iran or Pakistan since the IEA took power in late 2021. These refugees were tolerated in Pakistan because most of the shared border has tribes related to those in Afghanistan. This is not the case in Iran, which ordered the refugees to leave and those who refused were forced back into Afghanistan. So far Iran has sent over 600,000 Afghans back.

May 25, 2022: ISK took credit for four different attacks against Afghan Shia today. This left 16 dead and many more wounded. ISK is able to carry out attacks like this once or twice a month.

May 24, 2022: Two more Afghan journalists disappeared while in Kabul. Since the Taliban took Kabul in August 2021 more than a thousand Afghan journalists have left the country. Most of the pre-IEA journalists have lost their jobs or mysteriously disappeared. Most of those losing their journalism jobs were women. Many former journalists fled the country. Even foreign journalists can run into problems if they are suspected of investigating something that will embarrass the IEA. These journalists will not be “disappeared” but will be warned to stay away from certain subjects or parts of the country where the safety of foreigners cannot be guaranteed.

When the IEA government took control in late 2021 a few large local media outlets based in Kabul made deals with the IEA to keep operating while accepting IEA censorship and staffing rules. This meant following media guidelines supplied by the IEA. For smaller outlets in the rest of the country there was less negotiation and more shutdowns. Unless one of these news operations was a known “friend of the Taliban” before the IEA took over, they were welcome to remain in business. Otherwise, you were likely to be shut down. The IEA denies all this but the widespread use of cellphones provided lots of videos describing disappearances and shutdowns.

May 23, 2022: Earlier in the year the UN was able, with IEA approval and cooperation, to establish an office in Kabul to coordinate foreign aid. The need is great and growing, even in Kabul. The Afghan capital now suffers from growing electricity blackouts, shortages of vehicle and heating fuel, medical care and, worst of all, food. The UN currently estimates that 95 percent of Afghans are not getting enough food and eventually there will be starvation deaths. The UN experts calculated the total need and costs to transport the aid to where it is needed most. The major flaw in this plan is that few foreign aid donors are willing to donate. Disaster areas have earned unofficial “risk level” ratings that measure how much of the aid disappears (is stolen) before it can get to those in need. Afghanistan is considered one of the riskiest aid recipients in the world and has earned and sustained that designation over the last fifty years. This has already happened this year. In February, Pakistan allowed a 50,000-ton Indian wheat shipment into Afghanistan, where most of it did not reach those most in need. The IEA sent the food to loyal groups and withheld it from areas where there was a lot of opposition, some of it armed to IEA rule. A further complication is the war in Ukraine, which has disrupted Ukrainian and Russian grain exports, which normally comprise about 30 percent of world grain exports. Russia started this war and refuses to end it. That means grain supplies are lower and prices higher. That means even less potential food aid for Afghanistan and more incentive for the IEA to mismanage food aid.

May 18, 2022: IEA Interior Minister Sirajuddin Haqqani arranged peace talks between Pakistan and the TTP. To make this happen Pakistan agreed to release several imprisoned TTP members. And the TTP agreed to a twelve-day ceasefire. A second round of peace negotiations ended on May 29th and extended the ceasefire for two more weeks. The TTP has grown considerably since the IEA came to power and has established more base camps in Afghanistan, which now contain as estimated 4,000 TTP fighters. This has led to a sharp increase of TTP attacks in Pakistan. The ceasefire saw a halt to those attacks but not to TTP recruiting, training and planning for future attacks. The ceasefire also halted Pakistani artillery fire at targets in Afghanistan believed to shelter TTP members. Some Pakistani special operations forces have also ventured across the border into Afghanistan and this was seen as a Pakistani invasion.

Several senior members of the IEA government, especially two of the Haqqani brothers, are known Pakistani agents. Pakistan insisted on these men being included in the IEA, particularly Sirajuddin Haqqani, who had been the acting head of the Haqqani Network since 2009 and became the de facto head of the Afghan Taliban in 2016. Sirajuddin Haqqani could not be the official supreme leader of the Afghan Taliban, so a respected Taliban cleric became the official leader with Sirajuddin Haqqani as his deputy and the actual boss. This Pakistani tinkering with the Taliban split the Taliban and created a civil war that was going on for five years before the Taliban gained control of the Afghan government again.

Sirajuddin Haqqani is now the IEA Interior Minister and one of his first acts was to promise the families of suicide bombers who had died in the service of the Taliban, that they should be rewarded with cash and property. Most of those suicide bombers were recruited and trained by the Haqqani Network, acting as a terrorism contractor for the Pakistani ISI (military intelligence, a sort of CIA/KGB). Pakistan denies this but Afghans, most Pushtuns and most Western nations recognize Sirajuddin Haqqani as a major Islamic terrorist who works for Pakistan. The U.S. offers a $10 million reward for anyone who can kill or capture Sirajuddin Haqqani. Khalil Haqqani, the uncle of Sirajuddin and Anas Haqqani, is the IEA Minister of Refugees. Both Kahlil and Sirajuddin have been senior Haqqani Network leaders for over a decade, since the Haqqani Network founder Jalaluddin Haqqani became ill and unable to run the Haqqani Network himself. Jalaluddin died in 2018 but had been less active in running the Haqqani Network for years.

Most Afghans and Pakistanis consider the Haqqani Network a criminal enterprise protected by the Pakistani military. When a Haqqani speaks, his message is primarily from the Pakistani military. Sirajuddin Haqqani is attempting some damage control with the current peace talks because most Afghans support the TTP attacks on Pakistan. The Haqqanis are trying to demonstrate that they are loyal Afghans and their Pakistani sponsors are playing along by making some concessions, like freeing dozens of TTP members from jail. The TTP demand that Pakistan autonomy for several areas in northwest Pakistan if they want a permanent ceasefire and an end to TTP bases in Afghanistan. The Pakistani border areas are the traditional “tribal territories'' that the non-Pushtun majority in Pakistan have been seeking to tame for decades. The Pakistani military created and supported the Afghan Taliban (now the IEA) in the mid-1990s in order to gain more control over what went on in Afghanistan. That plan was derailed for two decades when the Afghan Northern alliance, with American air support and a few Special Forces troops on the ground, established the IRA (Islamic Republic of Afghanistan). The Afghan Taliban regained control in late 2021 but that turned into an economic and diplomatic disaster for Afghanistan and Pakistan. especially the Pakistani military. The current TTP/IEA are not expected to make any permanent difference because the Afghans don’t trust the Pakistan military or support the IEA, which is trying to roll back economic and social progress made during two decades of IRA rule. Unlike 2001, more Afghans support resistance to Pakistan and the IEA. The revived Northern Alliance is back at work with more popular support than the original in the late 1990s.

May 14, 2022: In the east (Nangarhar Province), across the border in northwest Pakistan (Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province) security forces, acting on a tip found and killed two ISK Islamic terrorists, one of responsible for organizing a bombing at a Shia Mosque two months ag0. That attack killed 63 and wounded many others. This enraged many Pakistanis because ISK is based in Afghanistan. Documents found on the two dead ISK men indicated they were planning a similar attack on a church in the area. Many in Pushtun-majority Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province support groups that oppose the IEA as well as the Pakistan government.




Help Keep Us From Drying Up

We need your help! Our subscription base has slowly been dwindling.

Each month we count on your contributions. You can support us in the following ways:

  1. Make sure you spread the word about us. Two ways to do that are to like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.
  2. Subscribe to our daily newsletter. We’ll send the news to your email box, and you don’t have to come to the site unless you want to read columns or see photos.
  3. You can contribute to the health of StrategyPage.
Subscribe   Contribute   Close