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Afghanistan- A long hard winter

By Vikram Sood (ANI) | Updated: Oct 25, 2018 10:39 IST

New Delhi [India], Oct 25 (ANI): Reports in January this year were that the Taliban claimed that they controlled 70% of Afghanistan where for nearly 17 years the United States (US) had poured in billions to eliminate the Taliban and Al Qaeda. Even though the Taliban were in full control in only about 4% of the territory at the end of 2017, they had a presence in almost all districts to varying degrees. The Afghan government on the other hand had full control of only 30% of the territory. This is not a lot of territory for a government supposedly running an entire country and a poor advertisement for its ability to control Taliban.
Later on October 18, after a year of continued violence and killings, the Taliban exhibited their control and ability in Kandahar when they shot dead General Abdul Raziq, the strongman of southern Afghanistan. This was done on the day when General Austin Miller, commander of the US and North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) forces was visiting the police training centre for a graduation ceremony. It was an "inside" job and the Taliban quickly claimed credit. The assassination was at the residence of the governor where, ironically, there was a meeting to discuss election security. The governor of the province, the provincial National Directorate of Security (NDS) Chief and the police commander of southern Afghanistan were also killed. Razik was a high value target for the Taliban as he had kept southern Afghanistan relatively stable in a very Afghan sort of way. The Taliban needed him to go and the government should have known. He had been a target of several Taliban attempts to kill him and the most spectacular attempt had been in January 2017. Razik was killed as much by complacency as by the Taliban. Sections of the Pakistani press celebrated this assassination.
There were a number of messages from the Taliban in this multiple killing. The first was to inform once again just who controlled the narrative ahead of the elections. The fact that the assassination was through targeted killing when the US Commander was there and not through a suicide attack or a bomb explosion meant that the Taliban aware of General Miller's presence were not going to endanger him. The message was - we could have used other means but did not. It was a display of power to Kabul and Washington too, just ahead of the elections. The second was to the Kabul government to say that they could if they wanted, disrupt the elections. The third was to their own cadre, depicting strength and reach.
The US special envoy in Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad, was also visiting Kabul around the same time but had gone away quietly to Qatar for an unannounced meeting with the Taliban. Earlier in July this year, Ghani had conveyed to Secretary of State Pompeo his misgivings about any talks with the Taliban that did not include his government representatives. The US was carrying out stealth negotiations with Ashraf Ghani's enemy, the Taliban who would talk to the Americans provided Ghani was not present. The US keen on a getaway, agreed to this When Ghani asked for details of the talks, he received no response from the US delegates. Speaking to rebels behind the back of a legitimate government by a government that supports the legitimate government is not sound policy, reflects a sense of arrogance and creates bad blood. Ghani naturally sees this as further marginalisation of his government. Even Hamid Karzai used to complain of the US playing games behind his back. Ironically, when the Taliban beleaguered in 2001 soon after the US invasion showed a willingness to surrender, US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld turned this down. A surrendered Taliban would knock the wind out of the much larger Global War on Terror, as there could have been demands to call the troops home or scale down.
The Taliban began their campaign of violence and intimidation quite early in the year. Ahead of the parliamentary elections, Taliban's Voice of Jihad website posted warnings and threats against the elections from October 17 to 19. These were on behalf of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan's shadow government. Despite Taliban opposition to elections as they are "un-Islamic", and other related violence including killings that preceded, Afghans cast their ballots on October 20. There were issues of security, power cuts by the Taliban in Kunduz, clashes between the Taliban and security forces in Baghlan, technical difficulties of biometric scanners, and some confusion about identities of voters that caused delays in places like Helmand, about 2500 candidates contested from 249 seats in the lower house of the parliament. The violence delayed voting but it did not or could not stop it. There was a higher turnout in urban areas and lower in in rural areas where Taliban intimidation was more visible. Results will now be declared beginning mid-November with three announcements - initial, preliminary and final results are expected by December 20.
Quite a few candidates were rich businessmen and there were 417 women candidates. Among the younger candidates, there were a few relatives and children of well-known warlords. Bator Dostum, the son of General Abdur Rashid Dostum, the first vice-president and leader of the Uzbek Jumbish party contested from Jawzjan province, Mohammed Baqer Muhaqeq and Muhammed Ali Muhaqeq, the sons of Haji Muhammed Muhaqeq, leader of the one of the two Hazara-dominated parties, Hezb-e Wahadat, contested from Kabul. Muhammed Karim Khalili, the leader of the second Hazara-dominated party, Hezb-e-Wahdat Mardom had his son, Muhammed Alim Khalili contesting from Kabul. Hizb-e-Islami leader Gulbuddin Hikmetyar's son also contested. There were others and also children and relatives of second rung leaders in the fray. Former members of the 2005 and 2010 Wolesi Jirgas like Abdur Rasool Sayyaf, Muhaqeq or Yunus Qanooni did not contest the elections. Among the women candidates from Kabul was Zakia Wardak, whose family had suffered repeatedly during the decades of war. The Soviets killed her father while the Americans had seized and tortured her husband two decades later and her brother was murdered in Kabul last year.
At stake for many young Afghans is the hope and chance of a better life and an end to war. The hope for a democracy after this the third round of elections since 2001 still abides among many especially those countries that have invested in lives and money all these years in the country. The results will be at a time when the country will go in for its presidential polls. It is expected that uncertainties will continue until these presidential elections are concluded.
It is going to be a long hard winter.
Mr. Vikram Sood is former Secretary, Research And Analysis Wing (R &AW), Government of India. (ANI)

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