By Ahmad Karim
We all know after 9/11, in 2001 U.S. jumped into the quagmire, Afghanistan, for the possible arrest of Al-Qaeda’s leader, late Osama Bin Laden, who was being sheltered in Afghanistan by Taliban leader late Mullah Omar. U.S. gumption fell low in searching OBL for years but they managed to topple the government of Taliban facilely.
U.S. remained there for a decade in OBL’s search and finally they managed to assassinate OBL in a suspicious purportedly surreptitious U.S. Special Forces operation in May 2011 in Pakistan’s populated area of Abbotabad.
That news was disseminated by Barack Obama and he congratulated the American nation and the world that the proved threat for America and the rest of the world has been mowed down in a firefight in a compound near Pakistan’s capital, Islamabad, by U.S. Special Forces.
After Hamid Karzai’s government which was very hostile towards Pakistan, Ashraf Ghani came into power [albeit many argue of his loyalties for U.S.] on 21st September 2014 and started developing cordial relations with Pakistan. On the embolden of U.S. authorities, Ghani asked Pakistan’s establishment to convince Afghan Taliban for peace talks, while on the other hand CIA and ISI were both in accord of its implementation.
In short, Pakistan started the official dialogue process in Muree [Pakistan] amidst some deadly attacks claimed by Taliban in sensitive parts of Afghanistan. And then came the news of Mullah Omar’s natural death.
Mullah Mansur after much controversy made the new ‘Emir’ of Taliban by its shura council. After since his appointment, Afghan people experienced a new billowing wave of terrorist attacks in major cities including allied forces compounds.
The peace talk’s future stalled. And there was a surge of pressure from Afghan officials aided with fierce media campaign alleging Pakistan’s involvement in the attacks, Ghani started to distance himself from Pakistan.
Reminiscent of CIA and ISI rift after OBL’s alleged clandestine assassination, that remained for a couple of years, the peace talks with Taliban initiative was a pretty surprise. It looked both savvy each other’s interests in region and they’ll move on.
But after the capture of Kunduz city by Taliban on 28th September2015, they both are now suspicious in each other’s eyes.
On the fall of Kunduz, Afghan National Army experienced helplessness and asked allied forces, mainly U.S., for help from ground and by air. The U.S. forces with ANA defeated Taliabn and recaptured Kunduz city after a couple of days of fierce battle.
In those days, AC-130 gunship unleashed a hospital in Kunduz city, killing at least 22 patients and hospital staff. Pentagon initially said the attack was to protect U.S. troops as the hospital building was used for heavy gunfire and troops were engaged in a firefight but has since said it was a mistake.
The American Special Operations Analysts claim that U.S. military believed that there was a Pakistani operative in hospital to coordinate Taliban activity and that the hospital was being used as a command and control center for Taliban and may have housed heavy weapons. According to the analysts intelligence agencies were tracking the location of the Pakistani operative based on overhead surveillance. They concluded that the Pakistani, believed to have been working for his country’s Inter-Service Intelligence directorate, had been killed. But Pakistan, on Friday 16th October 2015, rejected the claims. Foreign Office spokesman Qazi Khalilullah said, “Allegations implicating Pakistan are baseless”, local media reported. “I want to reiterate that non-interference in Afghanistan’s internal affairs is a key pillar of our Afghan policy,” the FO spokesman said.
No evidence has surfaced publically in U.S. to support allegation about Pakistan’s connection or the operative’s demise. On the other hand, American officials started to blame Pakistan’s secret agency right after a day of Kunduz fall.
Doctors Without Borders, an international organization managing hospital has condemned the bombing as a war crime. The organization says the strike killed 12 hospital staff and 10 patients, and that death toll may rise. It insists that no gunmen, weapons or ammunition were in the building.
The attack was one the worst deadliest attacks that took civilians lives in Afghanistan. In December 2013, the U.S. military’s Joint Special Operations Command bombed a group of people it considered militants, but whom outside groups claimed were civilians attending a wedding.
The incident added an argument for some members of Congress who were resisting Obama’s proposal to shift the CIA’s drone killing program to the military.
The hospital attack and accusation on Pakistan’s spy agency raises serious questions.
- Was the pilot flying air support mission had maps showing protected sites such as hospitals and mosques? And if the commanders believed that enemies were operating from a protected site, why didn’t they follow the designed procedure to minimize casualties? That would generally mean surrounding a building with troops, not blowing it to bits from the air.
- If the U.S. troops were facing resistance from the hospital and asked for air support, were they aware that it’s a hospital? Why didn’t the troops retreat when the hospital is within a compound surrounded by a 12-foot wall that could have offered cover for enemies?
- Typically, a decision to order a strike in a populated area would require many layers of approval and intelligence analysis of the potential impacts and civilian casualties. Was there any breakdown in intelligence sharing and communication across the military chain of command?
The CIA-ISI love affair has a long history. The love deepened when both collaborated in 1980’s to defeat Soviet forces indulged in a war in Afghanistan. The CIA with the help of ISI trained a number of Jihadis mostly in the tribal belt of Pakistan and supplied them heavy weapons to combat with Soviet forces. After the retreat of Soviet forces from Afghanistan in late 80’s, the U.S. interest in manufactured Jihadis dwindled but Pakistan used them for proxy war in Afghanistan, following the idea of ‘strategic depth.’
When U.S. forces intruded in Afghanistan, Pakistan gave them air bases and other wherewithal’s necessary to win Afghan war. U.S. forces accused Pakistan for favoring Taliban and that Pakistan still have training nurseries and hideouts for Jihadis. During the time of General Kayani, U.S. accused Pakistan’s military leadership of pampering Taliban especially Haqqani network and in many meetings with then COAS, U.S. asked for a decisive operation against the discriminated ‘good taliban’ [esp Haqqani network], but there was no subsequent desired result for the Americans.
After the OBL’s arcane assassination in Pakistan, the rift between CIA and ISI deepened. It took a couple of years to normalize the mutual cooperation and intelligence sharing against militants. After General Raheel Sharif’s appointment as Pakistan Army Chief and his ostensible indiscriminate decisive operation, Zarb-i-Azb, against Taliban and other militants, the CIA-ISI counter-terrorism cooperation improved. Raheel Sharif was being welcomed in his first visit to U.S. and was appreciated of his crucial military operation.
After the appointment of Mullah Mansur as Taliban ‘Emir’ and deadliest terrorist attacks in Afghansitan, many of the U.S. and Afghan officials accused Pakistan behind these attacks. In an editorial by Awami National Party’s Senator Afrasiab Khattak, he wrote the good and bad Taliban discrimination is still palpable.
The U.S. and Afghan governments have long accused Pakistan of aiding the Taliban, but U.S. rhetoric on the issue has cooled over the past year as American-Pakistani counterterrorism cooperation has improved.
The recent accusations by U.S. and Afghan officials that Pakistan helped Taliban in capturing Kunduz city and that one Pakistani operative was coordinating Taliban activity in a hospital managed by DWB is not something bright for this region.
Is this just a pressure tactic to pressurize Pakistan to do more against terrorists elimination? Is the accusation just to put the onus on Pakistan and escaping from their criminal mistake of bombing a hospital? The truth is still to be known.
It is in the interest of this region that both U.S. and Pakistan work in cohesion to eliminate this violent extremism menace. It’s rhetoric in Pakistan that U.S. is giving more space to India in Afghanistan which is against the interest of Afghan and Pakistani people. This rhetoric distances Pakistan from India more and we’ve seen some fierce violation on LoC.
For a peaceful Afghanistan and this region, U.S. must put both Pakistan and India on dialogue table and convince them to work mutually for this region’s peace without hampering each other’s interest in the region.
The recent allegations that Pakistan is still playing active role in Afghanistan and challenging the Z-i-A’s purported discriminate assault only against bad Taliban will not going to help Afghanistan and this region.
The concerns of U.S. and Afghanistan on alleged Z-i-A’s non-decisive operation against violent extremist is horrifying for this region’s irenic dream.