Afghanistan: Instead of better, it got worse

Jan 5, 2016
By Musa Khan Jalalzai
There has been much debate in international forums over the nature of the intelligence war in Afghanistan. Different intelligence organisations that engaged in unnecessary internecine conflict threatened and undermined all efforts of winning the war against the Taliban. As we have experienced in the last 15 years of the war on terrorism, all efforts and operations of the US and NATO intelligence failed to collect true information from the remote districts of the country. They used electronic technology like balloons, drones and helicopter surveillance, filmed and scanned houses, buildings and forests, but failed to reach the nests of insurgents. The standard mode of these operations has been passive and their information has not been Taliban and al Qaeda related. They spied on each other’s intelligence units and could not lead their commanders and decision makers in the right direction.
They also resisted intelligence sharing. No agency was ready to share its secret information with the other; everyone maintained their own secret network. European states were mostly reluctant to hear the CIA and Pentagon while Germany was ultimately alienated. The country refused to heed the NATO alliance’s instruction and ordered its forces to avoid confrontation with the Taliban and fire only in self-defence. However, some states, instead of their adherence to the alliance, established criminal militias and private intelligence units to protect their forces from Taliban attacks on one hand and collect intelligence information on the other. These militias and intelligence units misled their command and control authorities by providing them with low quality disinformation.
These consecutive intelligence failures and lack of a sharing mechanism prompted the emergence of Islamic State (IS) in Afghanistan and Pakistan. An account of US intelligence failure, the rising power of IS in Afghanistan has posed a potential security threat to Russia. Against this backdrop, Russian intelligence (FSB) moved forward to fill the gap. The agency quickly reorganised its old contacts in Central Asia and Afghanistan. On October 28, 2015, the spokeswoman of the Russian foreign ministry said that Russia was working with the Taliban to gain intelligence information against IS networks in Afghanistan.
The NATO expansion in Europe close to the border of Russia, war in Syria and its military build up in Afghanistan forced President Putin to sign a new defence strategy document on January 1, 2016. “The build up of the military potential of NATO and vesting it with global functions implemented in violation of the norms of international law, boosting military activity of the bloc’s countries, further expansion of the alliance and the approach of its military infrastructure to Russian borders create a threat to national security,” the document warned. However, in view of the IS threat to their national security, Russia and China deployed their intelligence units along Afghanistan’s borders. On January 4, 2016, China adopted its first counter-terrorism law to control the emerging insurgent forces and IS influence in the Xinjiang region.
The NATO alliance also failed to train a professional army for Afghanistan. The consecutive bombardment of weddings, schools, homes and hospitals by the US and NATO, humiliation and torture, rape and urination over dead bodies, painted an ugly picture of western human rights and the democratic culture in Afghanistan. These unprofessional tactics and low-quality intelligence operations by the international community gave space to the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), RAW and Iranian intelligence agencies to strengthen their networks across Afghanistan. The ISI and Iran’s Ministry of Intelligence (MI) restored their old contacts by using professional means and tactics. Consequently, the performance of the National Directorate of Security (NDS) was in shambles. It could not counter the ISI, MI, RAW, Taliban and IS networks within the Afghan army and police ranks.
In February 2015, the former president, Pervez Musharraf, told The Guardian that in President Karzai’s time, the ISI cultivated the Taliban after 2001. “We were looking for some groups to counter the Indian action against Pakistan,” Musharraf said. In 2015, the speed of the blame game slowed as diplomatic rapprochement began between the two states. President Ghani visited Islamabad twice. Islamabad showed it willingness to bring the Taliban to the negotiating table but Afghan leaders called its stance absurd and demanded a paradigm shift in Islamabad’s policy towards Afghanistan. These events occurred only in one year; government and politicians in Pakistan admitted that IS had established dozens of networks in Punjab and Balochistan provinces.
The year 2016 began with the statement of army chief General Raheel Sharif that this would be the year that terrorism would be eliminated in Pakistan. However, the operations in Sialkot and Karachi proved that IS remains the strongest challenge in the four provinces of the country. IS offers Rs 50,000 per month to its new members and sends them to Afghanistan. The Punjab counterterrorism department arrested an alleged commander of IS in Islamabad and his fighters from Sargodha, Okara and Gujranwala districts in Punjab. The Safoora Goth killing was also claimed by an IS-affiliated terrorist group in Karachi. Despite numerous operations across the country, the Pakistan army is still fighting the unending war against terrorism.
IS maintains a big intelligence network in Jalalabad and has established four prisons there, in which 300 civilian and military personnel have been incarcerated. The NDS has lost key districts in the province to the Taliban, Lashkar-e-Islam and IS. In fact, the Afghan government has no power to extend the authority of the state to all parts of the country. Afghan security forces lack coordination, are fighting without salary and sell weapons to the Taliban. On January 1, 2016, the former governor of Kunduz, Muhammad Omar Safi, told ToloNews that he was representing two presidents and received different directions from their offices. He regretted that in spite of his request for military support, President Ghani, General Campbell and the defence ministry did not react positively to save the province. Mr Safi said that both the presidents were powerless and had no authority to act independently. The unity government needs to introduce security sector reforms and reorganise its military services and intelligence on modern lines.
The writer is author of The Prospect of Nuclear Jihad in Pakistan and can be reached at
Daily Times, January 5, 2016

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