Afghanistan: Perpetual Pressure On Pakistan


March 13, 2018: Pakistan continues to insist it is not supporting Islamic terrorism in Afghanistan despite the fact that the Pakistani government openly subsidizes Islamic schools in Pakistan that continue to turn out graduates who join Islamic terror organizations and soon end up dead or captured in Afghanistan. The Afghan Taliban sanctuaries in southwest Pakistan continue to operate. These sanctuaries are across the border from two Afghan provinces (Kandahar and Helmand) that have long been considered the “homeland” of the Afghan Taliban and the Afghan drug trade. Most of the world heroin supply comes from these two provinces and Pakistan makes a lot of money off that.

One side effect of this Pakistani policy is much less trade between Afghanistan and Pakistan. Trade between Pakistan and Afghanistan has shrunk drastically (over 50 percent so far) in the last two years. Pakistani trade with Afghanistan has gone from $2.7 billion a year to $1.2 billion. Part of the problem is continued Pakistani support of Islamic terrorism in Afghanistan but there is also the frequent closure of the main border crossings and Afghanistan’s access to the outside world. That has changed now that there is a route via Iran (the new port of Chabahar) to the sea that opened in late 2017. Now any nation Afghanistan wants to trade with can do so without interference from Pakistan. The main beneficiary here is India, which has long been on better terms with Afghanistan and offers better trade terms and no interruptions because of politics. India is also a victim of Pakistani based Islamic terrorists and cooperates with Afghanistan and the United States to track continued Pakistani support of that terrorist activity. The Americans continue to block large amounts of military aid for Pakistan until Pakistan cooperates in dealing with Islamic terrorism rather than being a major source of it. All this is causing a lot of political turmoil inside Pakistan because the military is behind all the Islamic terrorism support and also refusing to submit to control by elected officials.

The Pakistani military not only created the Taliban in the mid-1990s but continue to control most of the factions the Taliban has split into over the last decade. Some of these Taliban factions want to accept peace deal offers from the Afghan government but the Pakistani military will not agree, even though the Pakistani generals say (in public at least) that they are all for a peace deal. It is all for show. Pakistan, at least the military, continues to see Afghanistan as a neighbor that should be kept weak and disorderly, preferably fighting each other and not Pakistan. That is not the public policy but it is the actual one. This is confirmed periodically by retired generals or senior government officials who often worked with their military counterparts.

March 12, 2018: In Kabul police arrested a man who had recently arrived from Pakistan, to carry out a suicide bombing. The arrested man gave details about how he received training at a Taliban camp in Pakistan.

March 11, 2018: In central Afghanistan (Wardak Province) police arrested five Haqqani Network members, including two commanders and a bomb building expert. Earlier in the week police had seized a large shipment of explosives Haqqani was trying to smuggle in from Pakistan. Haqqani smugglers never seem to have any problems on the Pakistan side of the border but is quite different on the Afghan side where people understand that most of the victims of these Haqqani bombs are civilians who happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. As a result the greatest danger to Haqqani in Afghanistan is all those civilians who have cell phones (a majority of the population now).

March 10, 2018: The TIP (Turkistan Islamic Party) released a combat video on the Internet that made it clear the TIP was still working with the Taliban (as they have been doing since the 1990s). Currently TIP is active in the north (Faryab province) and until 2014 was based in Pakistan (North Waziristan). TIP was founded by and still led by Chinese Turks (Uighurs). TIP has found friends in Turkey and is also active in Syria. All this has made China unhappy. In early 2015 Afghanistan admitted that it had an arrangement with China whereby Afghanistan would seize and turn over to China any Chinese Moslems (especially Turkic Uighurs) found in Afghanistan. About the same time this resulted in a dozen Uighurs arrested in Afghanistan being sent back to China. In return China increased the diplomatic and economic pressure on Pakistan to stop supporting Islamic terrorists attacking Afghanistan. China is the largest foreign investor in Pakistan as well as the main source of modern weapons, so when China talks Pakistan must listen and at least pretend to act. This China link was one reason for Pakistan attacking North Waziristan in mid-2014. Since the late 1980s (when TIP was created) it has largely consisted of Chinese Uighurs from northwestern China (Xinjiang province). Since 2001 TIP has attracted more recruits from other areas in Central Asia that have Turkic populations.

March 9, 2018: In Kabul an ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant) suicide car bomber attacked a Shia mosque, killing 11 and wounding 22. It appears that police at a nearby checkpoint spotted the explosives and the driver detonated them prematurely. Outside Kabul several attacks on checkpoints left at least sixteen dead.

In the east (Khost province, adjacent to North Waziristan) Pakistan reopened the third most active border crossing (Ghulam Khan) that had been closed since mid-2014 when Pakistan sent troops into North Waziristan to shut down Islamic terrorist sanctuaries there.

In the west (Farah province) Afghan special operations forces suffered a rare setback when they, and a force of local police were ambushed by the Taliban and suffered over ten dead. At least eight policemen were killed as well. Since 2016 western Afghanistan (Farah, Heart and Badghis provinces) has been the scene of much fighting between rival Taliban factions. This has left hundreds of Taliban dead and even as this infighting continued the army moved to oust the Taliban from areas the Islamic terrorists long controlled directly or indirectly. The Taliban civil war was the result of disagreement over who should take over as Taliban leader after founder Mullah Omar was revealed in 2015 to have died in 2013 (in a Pakistani hospital). The information was kept to a few key Omar associates who are now accused of doing this as part of a plot to install an Omar successor who was second-rate. The civil war began in late November 2015 when Mullah Mansour, leader of the OT (Original Taliban) ordered attacks against the forces of rival Taliban leader Mullah Rasool. This marked a major defeat for the Taliban as they have now lost a major asset; unity. Similar fighting has also occurred in Zabul province. By 2017 the Taliban infighting had diminished but not disappeared. As a result the Taliban sought to regain territory they had lost to government forces over the last year, especially near the Iran border. This was important because these border areas were used for smuggling heroin and opium into Iran.

March 8, 2018: At the UN Afghanistan again accused Pakistan of supporting Islamic terrorism inside Afghanistan and called on the UN to act more aggressively against this violation of international law. It was pointed out that there was growing evidence of Haqqani Network responsibility for the more frequent and violent Islamic terror attacks in Afghanistan, especially Kabul. At the same time Pakistani claims that they do not control Haqqani Network and no longer tolerate Haqqani in Pakistan is contradicted by Afghan police capturing Haqqani operatives who admit the existence of Haqqani operations in Pakistan.

March 7, 2018: In the east (Kunar province) an American UAV fired two missiles at a compound used by Pakistani Taliban killing 21 of them. The compound was used to train terrorists, in particular suicide bombers. Among the dead was the son of Pakistan Taliban leader Mullah Fazlullah. The next day the U.S. announced a $5 million reward for Mullah Fazlullah, who often flees to eastern Afghanistan to escape Pakistani security forces. Two leaders of smaller Pakistani Islamic terror groups had $3 million rewards announced as well. This reward program has been around for a long time and works, but details of the informants is kept secret to protect the informants, who are often moved, along with family members, to some place where they can safely spend their reward. In addition to the occasional jackpot the program brings in a lot of useful intel.

In the east (Nangarhar province) police arrested two Pakistanis who were supplying suicide explosive vests to Islamic terrorists in the area. The two smuggled the vests in from Pakistan, where they were made. The police received a tip about what the two were doing.

March 5, 2018: Total casualty figures are hard to come by but civilian losses to Islamic terrorist and drug gang operations are easier to assemble. In February 113 civilians died compared to 228 for January. The dramatic difference between the two months has to do with some major Islamic terror bomb attacks in Kabul during January. Although the Islamic terrorists and drug gangs say they consider the government their primary target most of the casualties continue to be civilians. Most of this violence is about intimidation and terrorizing the civilian population and security forces into submission, or at least not interfering with the drug trade. Civilian deaths were up four percent in 2016; with nearly 300 a month killed and declined in 2017 and that trend appears to be continuing in 2018. As in the past some 80 percent of the deaths were attributed to the Taliban, drug gangs and sundry other organized outlaws. While ISIL accounts for less than ten percent of the deaths, the ISIL activity was up in 2016 but has declined in 2017. Various Islamic terror groups account for about 68 percent of the civilian deaths in Afghanistan and the Taliban are responsible for about two-thirds of that.

The security forces account for about 20 percent of the civilian deaths, nearly all are accidental. Most of the civilian deaths occur in just ten of the 34 provinces and four of those provinces (Kabul, Helmand, Kandahar and Nangarhar) account for most of that. Normally the Taliban and the drug gangs have a lot of cooperation from civilians in Helmand and Kandahar because so many families profit from the drug trade. The drug gangs don’t have to coerce farmers to grow poppies and harvest the opium. If the price paid for the opium is high enough and the Taliban can keep the government from interfering the locals see it as an opportunity. Despite that the majority of the population in these two provinces benefit little from the drug trade and often suffer because of it and the constant fighting that goes along with it.

March 4, 2018: ISIL released a video on the Internet called on Moslems to come to Afghanistan and join ISIL operations in the northern and eastern Afghanistan. This is not the first time such a public invitation was issued but so far few foreigners appear to have managed the difficult task of actually reaching the remote areas where ISIL is operation in Afghanistan.

March 2, 2018: Pakistani and Iranian military officials met and agreed that while the two nations had different national objectives they also had common problems. This mainly involves terrorists and the Afghan drug trade. Pakistan and Iran agreed to cooperate even more closely to deal with those two problems.

March 1, 2018: The latest offer of peace talks have been officially rejected by the Taliban, or enough of the Taliban to make negotiations useless. Since 2016 Pakistan, Afghanistan, China and the United States have been working with Afghanistan to revive peace talks with the Taliban. The real problem was that many Taliban factions want nothing to do with making peace. An added complication is that since 2017 Pakistan has taken direct control (via the Haqqani Network) of most of the Afghan Taliban. This has caused an ongoing civil war within the Afghan Taliban and that means even less chance of peace talks with the Afghan government. Afghanistan is a place where Pakistan has been meddling well, forever. When Pakistan was created out of British India in 1947 the new Pakistan government continued, like the British and before that many Indian Empires, to meddle in Afghanistan. Many Pakistanis openly declare this to be a Pakistani right and obligation because Pakistan considers Afghans incapable of governing themselves and in need of Pakistani guidance. This view is not appreciated in Afghanistan and bothers India as well.

February 28, 2018: In the east (Nangarhar province) yet another Taliban faction has been distributing leaflets calling on disaffected Taliban to join them and abandon the Pakistani controlled (via the Haqqani Network) leadership of the Afghan Taliban.

February 26, 2018: In the north (Jawzjan province) the local ISIL group launched several attacks against soldiers and police. All of them failed and ISIL lost over a dozen dead and many more wounded. Usually the fighting is between ISIL and Taliban forces. This fighting was common during most of 2017 and was pretty brutal, with ISIL often beheading captured (or recently killed) Taliban. All this was over control of drug smuggling routes across the border. There have been clashes between ISIL and Taliban in other parts of the country (mainly in the east) but it has been worst in Jawzjan.

February 23, 2018: In the north (Sar e Pul province) an Afghan airstrike killed a senior Taliban commander and three of his followers while wounding four others. Afghan troops soon arrived on the scene to confirm the casualties and collect intel. A number of vehicles plus weapons, ammo and equipment were captured.

February 22, 2018: In the west (Herat province) ten Afghan tribesmen surrendered to the government and said they had just returned from Iran after several weeks of training on how to carry out an attack on the ceremony celebrating the start of construction of the TAPI (Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India) pipeline in Afghanistan. After years of negotiations over transit fees and natural gas prices Afghanistan, Pakistan and Turkmenistan were in agreement and construction of TAPI (from Turkmenistan natural gas fields to the Afghan border) began in 2015. The pipeline is, if construction is not interfered with, expected to be operational in Afghanistan by the end of 2019. Eventually TAPI goes into Pakistan and to the Indian border. The Afghan Taliban agreed to leave TAPI alone (because it is a popular project with most Afghans as it bring cheap natural gas to many Afghans) but some Taliban factions near the Iranian border will freelance for the IRGC (Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps). Officially Iran does not oppose TAPI, even though Iran also wants to build a gas pipeline into Pakistan and to India. Inside Iran the attitude is that TAPI is not good for Iran and “something should be done.” Inside Afghanistan the Taliban promise not to harm the 800 kilometer long Afghan portion of the pipeline is seen as the opening round of negotiations about how much the Taliban will be paid to ensure the pipeline is unharmed. About a quarter of the pipeline runs through or near areas dominated by Taliban activity.

February 21, 2018: Russia has come to the defense of its ally (and arms customer) Pakistan as Russia and Pakistan are accused of supporting Islamic terrorists in Afghanistan. Russia denies the allegations and charges the United States with using unmarked helicopters to supply ISIL and other Islamic terror groups in Afghanistan. There is no evidence of this but Russia has learned in the past conspiracy theories like this are a popular distraction and had worked often during the Cold War.

February 17, 2018: India and Iran signed a deal that gave India control over part of the newly expanded Chabahar port complex. This deal is for 18 months and renewable in the future. Chabahar gives India road and rail access to Afghanistan and Central Asia. India and Afghanistan will be major users, at least initially, of Chabahar and the new road and rail lines to Afghanistan and Central Asia. Pakistan is the big loser here, with most of its trucking business and trade with Afghanistan gone. While Iran can also pressure Afghanistan with threats of cutting off access to the outside world such threats are less likely with two routes now available and Iran also dependent on other users (from Central Asia) who will be wary of doing business with Iran and using Chabahar if Iran uses access as a diplomatic tool.

February 14, 2018: Afghanistan blames Pakistan for recent violence related to Afghan cargo traffic shifting from Pakistan to Iran and India. The Afghan Taliban and ISIL claimed responsibility for four major terror attacks in Kabul at the end of January. The government believes some or all of these attacks were aimed at crippling the economy because flight crews (for cargo flights to and from India) were sought out in the hotel attack and the Taliban are concentrating on making highway traffic more dangerous. Pakistan is believed behind this mainly because most of the truck traffic that used to go through Pakistan to the port of Karachi is now using the new route via Iran to the port of Chabahar. Pakistan is the big loser here, especially since they had recently increased taxes on Afghan goods moving through Karachi. In addition since mid-January Pakistan has closed the main border crossings to Afghan traffic entering Pakistan. Yet Pakistani goods are allowed into Afghanistan and now the Afghans are considering blocking that and depending on trade links via Iran and Central Asia.

Pakistan also plays a key role in the Afghan illegal mining operations. Despite over a decade of government efforts to introduce large scale commercial mining operations into Afghanistan, local politics and lack of law and order in the countryside have called all of these efforts to fail. Yet mining activity in Afghanistan has grown since 2001 and now produces nearly half a billion dollars of sales a year. But nearly all of it is illegal and similar to the outlaw mining so common in much of Africa and parts of Southeast Asia. Criminals and legitimate businesses in Pakistan make the illegal mining profitable for all concerned, except the Afghan government.