By Rhett Miller:
As the U.S. Congress continues to grill FBI Director James Comey on the absurdity that is the Clinton email investigation, the Afghan parliament has called their own senior level hearings. I know what you are thinking, ‘who cares?’, but stay with me because it matters.
So what is the deal?
On October 19th Afghan parliamentary officials called National Security Advisor Hanif Attmar and the Chief of Afghanistan’s intelligence service, the National Directorate of Security, Muhammad Massum Stanakzai before a panel to answer questions for their salacious activity.
The hearing was ordered after it became known that Stanakzai held a clandestine meeting with the Taliban in Qatar. Non-Pashtun government officials and citizens alike cried foul, as the ethnically Pashtun Taliban encroach on Kabul, grabbing swaths of territory along the way. Stanekzai, who is a Pashtun himself, is considered to be among the struggling Afghan President, Ashraf Ghani’s closest allies. Ghani, Attmar and Stanakzai are thought by many to be quietly dealing with the Taliban and in essence conceding that their Pashtun brethren will eventually take over. Why fight them if you can protect yourself by aiding, or at least not preventing, their re-seizure of the country.
Dealings with the Taliban are not out of the ordinary, the Afghan government has made efforts to reconcile with the Taliban on several occasions in an official capacity. Said efforts call upon the Taliban to establish a legal entity according to Afghan law and compete peacefully with existing parties. However, several insiders in the palace believe Ghani’s intentions are different than the above and include allowing the Taliban to steam roll their way back into more authoritarian power, whether on the surface or through controlling key departments that Ghani would give them.
While the outcome of the hearing for Stanakzai and Attmar remains unknown, it comes at a troubled time for the Ghani administration. The majority of the citizens in Kabul, particularly the Tajiks, Hazaras and other non-Pashtun tribes are fed up with the president and his posse. The revelation that they, not the reconciliation team have been meeting with the Taliban, though they initially denied it, will certainly not aid the growing divide and level of distrust among the populous, and those other officials in the government who believe the government is crumbling.
Concurrent to the above Taliban dealings, the Ghani administration has brought long-time bad guy, Hekmatyar Gulbuddin, the leader of Hezab al-Islami Gubuddin (HIG), back into the fold. Hekmatyar has flipped-flopped between good and evil for decades, to include periods of assistance to the U.S. before ultimately killing Americans again, and cannot be trusted. The Afghan government signed a peace accord with Hekmatyar in September 2016. In return for promising to cease extremist activities in the region, HIG asked to be removed from U.S. sanctions list and have the United Nations removed from Afghanistan, all absurd notions considering his turbulent and violent past. Still, the deal was signed further cementing the administrations feeling of being backed into a corner and needing to rally allies wherever they can, even if they are extremists and murderers such as Hekmatyar.
Afghanistan is crumbling again. Why do we care?
As much we would like it to be, it’s not as simple and easy as just giving up on the troubled and blood-soaked country. Most people that I speak with say, ‘just get out of there, let them fend for themselves’ and to an extent I agree. I have had friends and colleagues killed over the course of the fifteen-year war. I have been away from my family more times than I count and the progress sometimes seems dismal at best. Still, our presence, even if limited is required to keep the region from becoming a terrorist wonderland again. While it still is to a certain extent, with special operations forces, intelligence operators and our drone program still bustling, the enemy is not as readily able to plan external operations. As such, our policy should be to remain at capable troops levels and assist in the prevention of the Taliban’s increasingly possible return to power.
So why then does it seem as though our policy is contrary to just that. Washington is well aware that the Taliban control as much as fifty percent of the country. They understand the dynamics of the failed National Unity Government, hell, we created it. They know that Ghani is a mess. Yet we still fund the government and its security apparatuses, which begins to make one think, are we allowing the Taliban to take back over or are we just so apathetic now when it comes to Afghanistan and focused on the shiny object, ISIS, that we don’t care? Regardless, it’s an illogical and reckless approach. Sure, we have always known backroom discussions with the Taliban occur on a government level, the country is as corrupt as it is diverse, but why do we allow it? Last year when reports surfaced about Attmar and the government providing ISIS financial support in Afghanistan many of us thought it would be the final straw, ‘there goes the funding for them’. A logical thought right? But alas our support to the government continued.
Enter now the growing sentiment of abhorrence of America and the clandestine meetings with the Taliban and I question why on earth we would allow the current government to continue, or at minimum why funding would not be severed until appropriate discussions and adjustments were made. However, that is not occurring. Our diplomats and intelligence officials are softer than they used to be and telling someone no, doesn’t align with our apologetic stance on all things. The result, like everywhere else, we are being run over and made a fool by the enemy and our biggest international foes.
Just as they are in the Middle East, Russia and Iran are continuing to poke the U.S. in the eye as frequently as possible to undermine their efforts in Afghanistan and drive a bigger wedge between the U.S. and their weakening partners in the region. According to an inside source at the palace, this past week the Taliban opened offices in both Moscow and Tehran. Attmar has also increased his meetings with Russian intelligence further demonstrating that Russia is maneuvering in the region to demonstrate that they can be a more capable and empathetic partner than the weakened U.S.
There is work to be done in South Asia. Afghanistan and Pakistan still have innumerable issues that need to be dealt with, but instead of ramping up a policy that could prevent a large scale return to the war-torn country, we continue to slide into a state of apathy and subsequently mediocrity. Several officers, myself included, who have spent more than a decade in the country are now unclear what our policy even is, as there seem to be several competing with each other. If we want to prevent attacks at home, against our partners in Europe and prevent Russia’s steady rise back to being a dominant global power we need to wake up and realize our current plan is not working.
Rhett Miller is a Senior OpsLens Contributor and former counterintelligence official for the U.S. government.