Ghani government is working on a multi-dimensional security reform programme to bring to an end the four-decade long Afghan conflict. overhaul of the security forces under the new Trump plan is one component of the programme. The other components are Pak-Afghan peace, and political dialogue with the Taliban.
The Afghan government, President Ghani says, is working on a four-year ‘multi-dimensional’ security reform programme, the fundamental aim of which is to provide grounds for a political settlement to the Afghan conflict.
Although United States (US) President Donald Trump’s announcement of a comprehensive strategy for Afghanistan and South Asia was met with backlash in Pakistan, the strategy is something Ghani welcomed.
“It’s what we’ve been waiting for, and the implications are quite significant,” he said in an on-the-record session at the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) in New York ( Sept 21, 2017) moderated by the President and Chief Executive Officer of the International Rescue Committee, David Milliband.
He went onto explain that US troops are set to play a role in the overhaul of Afghan security forces in terms of leadership, management, systems and processes under the programme.
However, the programme has two other major components: Pak-Afghan peace and political dialogue with the Taliban.
In addition to these components, tackling poverty, judicial reform and infrastructural development are all believed to be factors that set the stage for sustainable peace in Afghanistan, according to Ghani.President Mohammad Ashraf Ghani discusses the challenges facing Afghanistan, including its fight against terror groups, and his country’s relationship with the United States.
I welcome President Trump’s decision on a comprehensive strategy for South Asia. It is what we’ve been waiting for, and the implications are quite significant.
Let me first explain what the strategy does not do. It does not return American soldiers to combat roles. The process of security transition is completed. We are not reversing that process. The fighting and, unfortunately, the dying is being done with valor and distinction by our security forces to whom I pay tribute. Contrary to expectation, in 2014 when I was given the honor of serving my people, that the majority of the commentators thought neither the government would last, nor our security forces. We’ve shown our resilience. And this resilience will now be expanded and increased.
Second, the number is modest. The increase in number of American forces is extraordinarily modest in contrast to the major surge that took place under President Obama in his first term. The function that these troops will be performing will be advise, assist, and train. Why are they needed? Because of the reform program that we have underway. And they will be going to the company and division level to help us complete the reform process.
What is important about this strategy is its multidimensionality. First, in terms of the security area, it is completely in alignment and a manifestation of the strategic partnership agreement and the bilateral security agreement. Let me bring it to your attention that these two agreements have been ratified by the parliament of Afghanistan. And they’re the framework for our cooperation till 2024. And again, Afghanistan is the only country between the Mediterranean and the Indian Ocean to have such a treaty arrangement with the United States and equally with NATO, the status of force agreement.
The overarching framework is the four-year security reform program under which our security forces would be overhauled in terms of leadership and management and systems and processes. This process is fully underway in the Ministry of Defense. And it will be implemented now in the Ministry of interior. But what is fundamental about this strategy is to provide the ground for a political settlement. And that political settlement involves two major components, and then the remaining threats that we have to deal with.
The first of these is a comprehensive discussion between Afghanistan and Pakistan as two states, state-to-state relationship, so the inherited problems of the last 40 years can be addressed. Without peace between Afghanistan and Pakistan, political settlement in Afghanistan alone is not sufficient. And second, is I hope and invite—I hold my hand out to Taliban groups and invite them for political discussion. So we can have an upfront dialogue that will bring an end to violence as a means of conversation. Conflict is a relation, but it’s not a relation that’s productive. Our political dialogue within the framework of the constitution modeled on the process that we followed with Hezb-i-Islami would be a critical ingredient of ensuring that the rights and obligations of citizenship are fulfilled.
What I earlier indicated, and welcome very much the strategy, is condition-based not time-based. And this gives us the opportunity to tell people, get a watch, because the famous quip was the West and Afghan government have watches, but Taliban have time. They do not have the time. The reason they do not have the time is because of the type of actions that had been committed that have lost—that have brought enormous disenchantment.
We need to understand that the tolerance of the Afghan public for violence has limits. We need to act on the lessons of history and bring an end to violence as a means of dialogue and replace it with a political process of dialogue, where the strategy equally is not—it’s not a blank check.
Because the Burns documentary is around, let me spend my last four minutes on making some comparisons. Afghanistan is not Vietnam. First, we have endured the first test. Over 100,000 troops were withdrawn and we have stood firm. We’ve paid immense sacrifices for our freedom and continue to do so.
Second, the engagement of the United States in Afghanistan, it’s not because of Afghanistan. Afghanistan is a platform where a global struggle between terrorism and forces of order is taking place. That threat, unfortunately, is nowhere eliminated. The level of the threat compared to 2001 and the tragedy of 9/11, now particularly in this city and this location, where we’ve had detailed conversation, unfortunately still remains.
So the threat of terrorism is what brings us together in a binding relationship. In that regard, we are the first line—not only the frontline state, but the first line of defense of freedoms and democratic processes.
And thirdly, we are absolutely committed as a government and as a people to reform our governance processes to ensure that we are not a burden but an asset. And in that regard, our tragedy is that we are potentially one of the richest countries in the region. The natural resources that we have been endowed with by the almighty are immense. But simultaneously, our country is inhabited by some of the poorest people on earth.
Because of this, regional connectivity is our key goal. After we’ve reversed 117 years of history by rejoining Central Asia, Afghanistan today enjoys the best of relationship with every single one of its northern neighbors and their neighbors. This is a historical transformation under way. Trains from China are reaching our border. Pipeline, railways, transmission lines—a huge series of efforts is under way. And the key to this is harnessing both the natural wealth of Afghanistan and its immense human capital.
I’d warned about Daesh. And I warned about Daesh in my first weeks. People thought I was inventing a threat to get attention. The term that I put forward in Munich was the fifth wave. The current wave of terrorism is the fifth, beginning with the first wave starting with anarchism in Europe. Each of those waves unfortunately has lasted two to three decades. The uncertainty is that response to terrorism, because of the political cycles of elections and others, is short term. We do not understand, I would submit, the scale and scope of the problem.
Three things are combined. First, transnational terrorist networks, but the nature of network is radically different than the networks that were formed by al-Qaida. If al-Qaida was version one of network formation, Daesh is version four to six in terms of network theory. There’s some excellent work done by CENTCOM, open source, that demonstrates.
Second is transnational criminal organizations. Daesh and the related terrorist organizations today are the best-financed networks in history. And crime, particularly the war in Afghanistan, cannot be understand apart from it the drug war. The parallels to Colombia and now to Mexico are striking, and we need to understand the second element.
The third component is, again, the cyberspace. All previous networks of violence were face-to-face, usually cells of five spread around with degrees of anonymity. Now it’s face-to-Facebook, it’s not face-to-face, but face-to-Facebook. (Laughter.) And this means the pattern of recruitment and organization is very different and, embedded in a context of a century of frustrations would change in Muslim-majority countries, it’s become a lethal book.
Why Afghanistan? One, because of history. Al-Qaida was an isolated man and see what he did. They want to repeat that history. Second because of location. We are at the heart of Asia and today there’s a struggle between two platforms. Will Afghanistan become the platform for stability in a round-about for connectivity? Or will it become the center of “Terrorism Incorporated?”
Terror is because of ecology. The ecology of Afghanistan offers the best potential, you know, mountains, valleys, 2,000 (meters), 5,000 meters above sea level, and, in terms of access, with ability to disrupt. But the most significant sector, of course, is that the headquarters for all of these organizations is elsewhere and they would like to push this onto us.
And it’s important to realize that if all these things came together—just one illustration. We arrested a Kazakh in the Sar-e-Pol province in northern Afghanistan. He had been wanted by the Kazakh government through the INTERPOL for six years. And it was an amazing range of information and relationships and with networks that are revealed.
Our E-T-I-M, ETIM, the Eastern Turkistan Islamic Movement, the Chinese movement, it’s amazing when you see the way they move around. The threat now is because Daesh is openly called on its followers in January of 2017 not to go to Iraq and Syria, but target Afghanistan first. So that the presence is really increased because, you know, and, again, we are an open-frontiers society, movement is much easier, so the threat is very real and the desirability is for destabilization of global economy.
The target of this wave of terrorism is what your father had written immensely about. It’s the contract between the citizen and the state. They want to make sure that the Western states, the states in the Western countries, that is, the embodiment of a social contract, is shown to be impotent. So they’re targeting civil spaces, open spaces, spaces of dialogue, spaces of worship, spaces of congregation and association.
The first issue is that it should be very clear to them that they cannot win militarily. And they still had, prior to the announcement of the South Asia strategy, they had confidence that they could win, or at least they could destabilize without the cost. That thing is becoming costly. If they want to choose certain death, it will be their responsibility. They’re losing lives. Their leadership is committing criminal acts by sending young men to their certain death. In the past month, they have lost over 1,300 men. This is unnecessary bloodshed. So the cost is rising very, very substantially. And the capability is increasing.
The second part is the need for engagement. But the type of engagement differs. We can have—our agreement with Hezb-i-Islami was an intra-Afghan agreement, carried out in Kabul, to the Peace Council and then endorsed by the National Security Council and the government. Throughout, the representatives of Hezb-i-Islami came, they left in an open environment. They had full access to the media, to the public, to forms of association. And finally, their leader came. But Hezb-i-Islami had a leader who could act and decide. And today, he lives in Kabul.
Is this possible? That goes back as to whether they can speak for themselves or not. So there’s a fundamental choice for the Taliban. Will they have the will and the ability to speak for themselves as Afghans to other Afghans? Or do they want to give the right of speaking and representation to a foreign power for them? That’s their decision. It’s not ours. But we want to make sure that they have the possibility of engaging in a dialogue. The question of the outcomes depends on the processes. We have prepared a full process with a full outline of the issues to be discussed.
Clare Lockhart and I wrote a long piece on peace agreements summarizing the entire ’90s decade, because peace broke out. And there are key issues that recur with regularity in almost every peace agreement. The distinction I’ll make, and it’s necessary to make, is between peacemaking and peacebuilding. Peacemaking is the ability to come to see that politics—not the dialogue which you’ve been involved in and did an immense job—it shows them there is a price to be paid. You wouldn’t have had dinner with those people who are acting—engaging in act of terror. But tomorrow, because—the next day, because of the peace of U.K., you sat down with them and incorporated them into the government. That’s the internal process.
There’s a democratic process second. Let them participate in the elections and see what—how many people vote for them. If they think they have support, let them contest the elections. If the people of Afghanistan want to elect them as the next president, more power to them. If they want to elect them to parliament, et cetera. This is the democratic process. The other component of this, in terms of maintaining peace, is the need for security. And here, the security reform program, it’s absolutely essential that the security sector is depoliticized. It becomes truly national and everybody can trust. So it’s not a Hobbesian deal, but it is a Lockean deal, that you entrust collective security to the state institutions.
Now, the obstacle. The fundamental issues that the Afghan people, like a lot of other people, associate peace with security. But the global experience is that peace is delegitimated violence, but it’s not necessarily broad security. So that we need to make sure that public support for peace is translated into real security, and particularly for utilization of Afghanistan’s resources.
The second lesson of these peace agreements is that ex-combatants have not been included. And we have a fundamental issue: 40 percent of the population still lives below poverty level. We don’t want to increase this and turn—the risk in a lot of these countries after peacemaking has been increase in criminality. And given the drug problem, which is a criminal-organization problem, we need to make sure that we have a comprehensive understanding.
Again, to make the main point, that peace discussion—invitation to peace discussions are unconditional. The outcomes need to be based on maintaining the goal—the gains of the last. Women’s are nonnegotiable. We cannot put our women to apartheid. They won’t take it. And if Taliban want to engage in any democratic process, they need to understand that the women are part of this.
The adjustment to everybody is to understand that Afghanistan today is not Afghanistan of 1996 or 2001.