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Don’t blame Pakistan for the outcome of the war in Afghanistan

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Watching the recent Congressional hearings on Afghanistan, I was surprised to see that no mention was made of Pakistan’s sacrifices as a US ally in the war on terror for more than two decades. Instead, we were blamed for America’s loss, writes Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan (pictured).

Let me put it plainly. Since 2001, I have repeatedly warned that the Afghan war was unwinnable. Given their history, Afghans would never accept a protracted foreign military presence, and no outsider, including Pakistan, could change this reality.

Unfortunately, successive Pakistani governments after 9/11 sought to please the United States instead of pointing out the error of a military-dominated approach. Desperate for global relevance and domestic legitimacy, Pakistan’s military dictator Pervez Musharraf agreed to every American demand for military support after 9/11. This cost Pakistan, and the United States, dearly.

Those the United States asked Pakistan to target included groups trained jointly by the CIA and our intelligence agency, the ISI, to defeat the Soviets in Afghanistan in the 1980s. Back then, these Afghans were hailed as freedom fighters performing a sacred duty. President Ronald Reagan even entertained the mujahideen at the White House.

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Once the Soviets were defeated, the United States abandoned Afghanistan and sanctioned my country, leaving behind over 4 million Afghan refugees in Pakistan and a bloody civil war in Afghanistan. From this security vacuum emerged the Taliban, many born and educated in Afghan refugee camps in Pakistan.

Fast forward to 9/11, when the United States needed us again — but this time against the very actors we had jointly supported to fight foreign occupation. Musharraf offered Washington logistics and air bases, allowed a CIA footprint in Pakistan and even turned a blind eye to American drones bombing Pakistanis on our soil. For the first time ever, our army swept into the semiautonomous tribal areas on the Pakistan-Afghanistan border, which had earlier been used as the staging ground for the anti-Soviet jihad. The fiercely independent Pashtun tribes in these areas had deep ethnic ties with the Taliban and other Islamist militants.

For these people, the United States was an “occupier” of Afghanistan just like the Soviets, deserving of the same treatment. As Pakistan was now America’s collaborator, we too were deemed guilty and attacked. This was made much worse by over 450 U.S. drone strikes on our territory, making us the only country in history to be so bombed by an ally. These strikes caused immense civilian casualties, riling up anti-American (and anti-Pakistan army) sentiment further.

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The die was cast. Between 2006 and 2015, nearly 50 militant groups declared jihad on the Pakistani state, conducting over 16,000 terrorist attacks on us. We suffered more than 80,000 casualties and lost over $150 billion in the economy. The conflict drove 3.5 million of our citizens from their homes. The militants escaping from Pakistani counterterrorism efforts entered Afghanistan and were then supported and financed by Indian and Afghan intelligence agencies, launching even more attacks against us.

Pakistan had to fight for its survival. As a former CIA station chief in Kabul wrote in 2009, the country was “beginning to crack under the relentless pressure directly exerted by the US.” Yet the United States continued to ask us to do more for the war in Afghanistan.

A year earlier, in 2008, I met then-Sens. Joe Biden, John F. Kerry and Harry M. Reid (among others) to explain this dangerous dynamic and stress the futility of continuing a military campaign in Afghanistan.

Even so, political expediency prevailed in Islamabad throughout the post-9/11 period. President Asif Zardari, undoubtedly the most corrupt man to have led my country, told the Americans to continue targeting Pakistanis because “collateral damage worries you Americans. It does not worry me.” Nawaz Sharif, our next prime minister, was no different.

While Pakistan had mostly defeated the terrorist onslaught by 2016, the Afghan situation continued to deteriorate, as we had warned. Why the difference? Pakistan had a disciplined army and intelligence agency, both of which enjoyed popular support. In Afghanistan, the lack of legitimacy for an outsider’s protracted war was compounded by a corrupt and inept Afghan government, seen as a puppet regime without credibility, especially by rural Afghans.

Tragically, instead of facing this reality, the Afghan and Western governments created a convenient scapegoat by blaming Pakistan, wrongly accusing us of providing safe havens to the Taliban and allowing its free movement across our border. If it had been so, would the United States not have used some of the 450-plus drone strikes to target these supposed sanctuaries?

Still, to satisfy Kabul, Pakistan offered a joint border visibility mechanism, suggested biometric border controls, advocated fencing the border (which we have now largely done on our own) and other measures. Each idea was rejected. Instead, the Afghan government intensified the “blame Pakistan” narrative, aided by Indian-run fake news networks operating hundreds of propaganda outlets in multiple countries.

A more realistic approach would have been to negotiate with the Taliban much earlier, avoiding the embarrassment of the collapse of the Afghan army and the Ashraf Ghani government. Surely Pakistan is not to blame for the fact that 300,000-plus well-trained and well-equipped Afghan security forces saw no reason to fight the lightly armed Taliban. The underlying problem was an Afghan government structure lacking legitimacy in the eyes of the average Afghan.

Today, with Afghanistan at another crossroads, we must look to the future to prevent another violent conflict in that country rather than perpetuating the blame game of the past.

I am convinced the right thing for the world now is to engage with the new Afghan government to ensure peace and stability. The international community will want to see the inclusion of major ethnic groups in government, respect for the rights of all Afghans and commitments that Afghan soil shall never again be used for terrorism against any country. Taliban leaders will have greater reason and ability to stick to their promises if they are assured of the consistent humanitarian and developmental assistance they need to run the government effectively. Providing such incentives will also give the outside world additional leverage to continue persuading the Taliban to honor its commitments.

If we do this right, we could achieve what the Doha peace process aimed at all along: an Afghanistan that is no longer a threat to the world, where Afghans can finally dream of peace after four decades of conflict. The alternative — abandoning Afghanistan — has been tried before. As in the 1990s, it will inevitably lead to a meltdown. Chaos, mass migration and a revived threat of international terror will be natural corollaries. Avoiding this must surely be our global imperative.

This article first appeared in the Washington Post.

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Afghanistan

'Just give us our money': Taliban push to unlock Afghan billions abroad

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A mother shops with her children at the market in Kabul, Afghanistan October 29, 2021. REUTERS/Zohra Bensemra
Sameerullah, 11,  a shoeshine boy cleans a shoe along the market in Kabul, Afghanistan October 29, 2021. REUTERS/Zohra Bensemra

Afghanistan's Taliban government is pressing for the release of billions of dollars of central bank reserves as the drought-stricken nation faces a cash crunch, mass starvation and a new migration crisis, write Karin Strohecker in London and James MacKenzie, John O'Donnell and John O'Donnell.

Afghanistan parked billions of dollars in assets overseas with the US Federal Reserve and other central banks in Europe, but that money has been frozen since the Islamist Taliban ousted the Western-backed government in August.

A spokesman for the finance ministry said the government would respect human rights, including the education of women, as he sought fresh funds on top of humanitarian aid that he said offered only "small relief".

Under Taliban rule from 1996-2001, women were largely shut out of paid employment and education and normally had to cover their faces and be accompanied by a male relative when they left home.

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"The money belongs to the Afghan nation. Just give us our own money," ministry spokesman Ahmad Wali Haqmal told Reuters. "Freezing this money is unethical and is against all international laws and values."

One top central bank official called on European countries including Germany to release their share of the reserves to avoid an economic collapse that could trigger mass migration towards Europe.

"The situation is desperate and the amount of cash is dwindling," Shah Mehrabi, a board member of the Afghan Central Bank, told Reuters. "There is enough right now ... to keep Afghanistan going until the end of the year.

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"Europe is going to be affected most severely, if Afghanistan does not get access to this money," said Mehrabi.

"You will have a double whammy of not being able to find bread and not being able to afford it. People will be desperate. They are going to go to Europe," he said.

The call for assistance comes as Afghanistan faces a collapse of its fragile economy. The departure of US-led forces and many international donors left the country without grants that financed three quarters of public spending.

The finance ministry said it had a daily tax take of roughly 400 million Afghanis ($4.4 million).

Although Western powers want to avert a humanitarian disaster in Afghanistan, they have refused to officially recognise the Taliban government.

Haqmal said Afghanistan would allow women an education, although not in the same classrooms as men.

Human rights, he said, would be respected but within the framework of Islamic law, which would not include gay rights.

"LGBT... That's against our Sharia law," he said.

Mehrabi hopes that while the United States has recently said it will not release its lion's share of roughly $9 billion of funds, European countries might.

He said Germany held half a billion dollars of Afghan money and that it and other European countries should release those funds.

Mehrabi said that Afghanistan needed $150m each month to "prevent imminent crisis", keeping the local currency and prices stable, adding that any transfer could be monitored by an auditor.

"If reserves remain frozen, Afghan importers will not be able to pay for their shipments, banks will start to collapse, food will be become scarce, grocery stores will be empty," Mehrabi said.

He said that about $431m of central bank reserves were held with German lender Commerzbank, as well as a further roughly $94m with Germany's central bank, the Bundesbank.

The Bank for International Settlements, an umbrella group for global central banks in Switzerland, holds a further approximately $660m. All three declined to comment.

The Taliban took back power in Afghanistan in August after the United States pulled out its troops, almost 20 years after the Islamists were ousted by US-led forces following the 11 September 2001 attacks on the United States.

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Afghanistan

Kazakhstan concern at 'escalation of tensions' in Afghanistan

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The president of Kazakhstan says the country is “closely monitoring” the current situation in neighbouring Afghanistan following the takeover by the Taliban, writes Colin Stevens.

Concerns are growing in Kazakhstan about continuing instability across the border, and also about a rising influx of refugees seeking resettlement from war-torn Afghanistan.

Kazakh President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev recently convened a high-level meeting of government ministers and officials to discuss what many see as a worsening situation in Afghanistan. The heads of law enforcement agencies in Afghanistan were also involved in the talks.

Other participants included Kazak Prime Minister Askar Mamin, heads of the National Security Committee, the ministries of Foreign Affairs, Defense, Internal Affairs and the Emergency Situation, along with the General Prosecutor’s Office and State Security Service.

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President spokesperson Berik Uali said a “prompt response to the situation in Afghanistan considering the national interests of Kazakhstan and issues of ensuring the security of our people” were discussed.

He added, “The President instructed the government to continue closely monitoring the development of the situation in Afghanistan, which is extremely important for making decisions regarding further cooperation with this country.”

President Tokayev, after the meeting, spoke about an “escalation of tensions” in Afghanistan and the need “to take measures to ensure the safety of our people and diplomats in Afghanistan.”

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Many nations have desperately scrambled to evacuate their diplomats and citizens since the Taliban takeover in August.

Another issue under spotlight is the temporary settlement of refugees from Afghanistan and a possible threat to security.

 The Chairman of the Kazakhstan Council on International Relations Erlan Karin has sought to allay such fears, saying that the situation in Afghanistan poses no direct threat to Central Asia.

But he admitted, “Of course, as people we have some anxiety. One of the threats posed by the Taliban movement is related to the fact that they gave shelter to various other radical groups.

Kazakhstan, meanwhile, says it has  evacuated a group of ethnic-Kazakh Afghan nationals from Kabul to the Central Asian nation as countries continue to try and move people out of the war-torn country following the Taliban's seizure of power.

According to Kazakh officials, there are about 200 ethnic-Kazakh Afghans in Afghanistan although the actual figure is thought to be much higher.

Since Taliban militants took control of almost all of Afghanistan  many Afghans have urged Kazakh authorities to take them to Kazakhstan, claiming to be ethnic Kazakhs.

But there is thought to be growing discontent of some Kazakhstanis with the situation in which the state was supposedly providing significant humanitarian support to Afghanistan instead of helping its own citizens in need.

Dauren Abayev, First Deputy Head of the Presidential Administration of Kazakhstan, said, “Kazakhstan is not the only country rendering assistance to Afghanistan.The international community must assist in providing the necessary environment for the return of normalcy to Afghanistan after decades of armed conflict. Unless that happens, unless the normal life is restored in that war-torn country, the risk of incursions and attacks by extremist forces, the threat of drug trafficking and radicalism will always invisibly hang over us all”.

As the international community reacts to a Taliban-controlled Afghanistan, one proposal that has been suggested is the deployment of a United Nations-led peacekeeping mission to Kabul in order to create a safe zone for future evacuations. The UN already has a mission in Afghanistan, which has temporarily relocated some staff to Kazakhstan to continue its operations.

A Brussels-based expert on Central Asia said, “Afghanistan has been facing severe financial constraints due to blocking of the foreign aid flow to the country. The Afghan population suffers a shortage of food supplies. The resumption of food delivery to Afghanistan is, therefore, very important for normalizing the situation in the country.

“The way things are, Kazakhstan seems to have the highest stake in the restoration of economic stability in Afghanistan.”

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Afghanistan: New EU Humanitarian Air Bridge delivers life-saving medical aid

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Another EU Humanitarian Air Bridge flight has delivered more than 28 tonnes of life-saving medical cargo to Kabul to address the dire humanitarian situation in Afghanistan. The EU-funded air bridge flight enables the World Health Organisation, as well as humanitarian organisations such as ‘Emergency' and ‘Première Urgence Internationale' to deliver critical health items to those in need. On the occasion, Crisis Management Commissioner Janez Lenarčič said: ”This is the third EU Humanitarian Air Bridge flight since the fall of Kabul in August this year. This EU-funded flight represents an important lifeline to Afghans in urgent need of medical care. However, the overall humanitarian situation is rapidly worsening. In this view and the approaching winter, I urge the entire international community to step up and provide for life-saving aid to millions of Afghans whose lives depend on it.”

The life-saving cargo consists of medical equipment to conduct surgeries and medical drugs. On top of this third EU-funded flight to Kabul this week, further flights are scheduled for the coming weeks as an expression of EU solidarity with the people of Afghanistan.

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