Appeared at A-specto, translated from Bulgarian by Borislav exclusively for SouthFront
Expert on the Taliban, Ahmed Rashid gives an interview to the German magazine Cicero, which speaks of the failure of the West in Afghanistan and the dangerous rise of radical Islamists in neighboring Pakistan.
Right from the times of Alexander the Great, Afghanistan has been described as the “graveyard of empires.” To conquer Afghanistan is easy, but to manage it seems impossible. From 2002, the countries of the West constantly ignored this wisdom. The British should have known that you never win wars in Afghanistan before starting their mission in Helmand province. Of course, the disaster which happened in 1842, when Her Majesty garrison was passing through the mountains of the Hindu Kush and indigenous tribes brutally killed many families, seems like it was in another era. In this case: “Whoever doesnt know the past, can not understand the present or master the future.
Back then the event was so sensational, that the writer Theodor Fontane devoted a ballad to the only survivor – a military doctor who had reached Jalalabad: “On the train home were 13 000 people, from Afghanistan returned only one”.
Bruce Raydal, a former CIA analyst and principal creator of Barack Obama’s strategy for Afghanistan and Pakistan warned years ago that the Pakistani state could become a victim of jihadists. Nuclear weapons in their hands would no doubt be one of the biggest threats to the world at large, said Raydal. Nearly 15 years after the start of operation “Enduring Freedom” neither Afghanistan nor Pakistan are “the lights of democracy”, nor have political relations and ties throughout the region stabilized. “Pakistan and Afghanistan are fatefully linked to each other,” says Ahmed Rashid in the interview for Cicero.
Ahmed Rashid was born in 1948 in Pakistan but grew up in Britain. He is an author and journalist, writing primarily for Wall Street Journal and is considered one of the best international experts on the Taliban. His book “Taliban: Divine warriors of Afghanistan and of Jihad” was for weeks a “New York Times” bestseller.
Mr. Rashid, 15 years after the beginning of the “War on Terror” as it was formulated by the West, neither war nor terrorism has been stopped – neither in its territories or in the West. Back then Afghanistan was at the center of the West’s commitments with the operation “Enduring Freedom”. In this regard, what are the conclusions you would make?
I was recently asked by an American magazine as to why the Taliban are not excited about a return to the negotiating table. I replied that this was due to the fact that the Taliban have so many military successes in recent months, that they prefer instead to continue the militant path. This responds to your question about my opinion of the “war on terror”. If the Taliban are still able to have military successes in Afghanistan in 2016, then this war which purpose 15 years ago was their destruction, is completely compromised.
Are today’s Taliban in Afghanistan a monolithic block as it they were in 2001 or are there different subgroups?
Even in 2001 the Taliban were not a monolithic bloc, neither in Afghanistan, nor in Pakistan, although the international media presented them as such. They also do not pay attention to the difference between Afghan and Pakistani Taliban. Today’s Taliban in Afghanistan are more fragmented than ever. For the same reason the former leader of the Taliban, Mullah Mansour did not want to create more potential for conflict inside the Taliban through their participation in negotiations. After his death, Haybatulla Ahundzada who is a supporter of hard policy, increase the internal war for power. Among the Taliban there is a lobby for peace, but also a lobby for waging war. This results in bickering inside their management, and attacks by the “Islamic State” deliberately aims to cause quarreling among all hierarchical levels to raise Taliban recruits. Besides that there was a scandal with Pakistan, though Afghan Taliban are dependent on Pakistan because Islamabad wanted to pressure the Taliban to come to the negotiating table.
You mentioned the differences between the Taliban in Afghanistan and those in Pakistan. Can you say more about this?
Pakistani Taliban differ significantly from those in Afghanistan. The Taliban in Pakistan have very different political strategy from those in Afghanistan.
Pakistani Taliban aim to install an Islamist regime. They have many bridgeheads and military bases in different parts of Pakistan. For a while now, Pakistani Taliban consist not only of Pashtuns. They have evolved into a national movement in which you can see all different groups of Pakistani people – as opposed to Afghanistan, where more than 90% of Taliban are Pashtuns.
What impact do the events in Afghanistan have on the political stability of Pakistan?
Pakistan and Afghanistan are fatefully linked with each other on the one hand because of the demographic weight of Pakistanis, under whose influence are the Pashtuns in the south of the country, but above all because of the geographical proximity and the long common border. It belonged and Afghan Taliban in parts, and in the impenetrable mountainous areas of Waziristan, returns to Pakistani territory. This is an area that can not be controlled by the Pakistani authorities. Of course, the Afghan Taliban still enjoy the protection of the Pakistani allies based on Pashtunwali, the unwritten law of the Pashtun tribe.
What are the conclusions that the Pakistanis can reach, a ccording to the conditions you described?
I think Pakistan has no choice but to try to end the war – by any means necessary. The government in Kabul is very weak, so Islamabad should intervene, first diplomatically to require a return to the negotiating table.
But Islamabad has tried to do this since 2001 – with the help of the United States.
Yes, and that is the mistake. Among Pakistanis there’s a growing discontent with the United States. How many civilians lost their lives because of drone attacks? Even so, United States distrust with the government in Pakistan is high. I think it’s time for a new beginning.
What was the biggest mistake in American strategy?
The US relied overwhelmingly on military solutions to problems. A large part of US funds are in weaponry, but little has been invested in the construction of civilian civil structures, and respectively in the elimination of corruption in the government of Pakistan. A process began during all these years that I have called “the Talibanization of Pakistani society.” Only in Lahore, my hometown, graduates from Qur’ani schools, determine the laws of the street, forcing women to dress in their requirements, attacking defenders of other lifestyles. Of course, there is still a strong urban middle class, but it increasingly falls within their crosshairs. I have not come to the belief that these extremists can impose their ideas in big cities. But unfortunately there is less and less resistance. It bothers me.
Pakistan is a nuclear power and has a larger population than that of Russia. Do you consider the western thesis that Pakistan may be the most dangerous country in the world, as a valid one?
We have not reached that point, thank God. But Pakistan definitely has the potential to become the most dangerous country in the world.
Is it possible for the risks that arise from these conflicts, to be limited in some way?
Definitely, but only through the unification of non-Western regional superpowers in the region. I mean Iran and China. The two countries have so far played a positive role and have a strong interest in stability in the region. Iran has borders with both Afghanistan and Pakistan – Tehran plays the same role for Tajiks in Afghanistan as Pakistan does with Pashtuns. Tehran has always been the enemy of the Taliban, mostly for religious reasons. And China has the economic potential to invest in infrastructure of Afghanistan. If Beijing, Tehran and Washington work together for the stability of the region, there is a chance for peace.