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“…dependent, wandering, miserable”: Ismail Khan on Afghanistan’s relationship with the international military forces

March 24, 2013

By Tim Foxley

Summary: More tough talk from Ismail Khan, critical of the international community’s military failures and arrogance.  Presidential bid, or part of a more worrying anti-ISAF backlash?

Ismail KhanThis in from Tolo News:

The people of Afghanistan should stand against any security agreement with the US because it will only further destabilise the country, the Minister of Energy and Water and former jihadi leaderMohammad Ismail Khan said Friday.

Speaking in Herat at the ninth anniversary of his son’s death, Ismail Khan said that the US-led foreign forces had achieved nothing in the past 12 years, in fact, they were the reason for the rising insecurity in the country.

Ismail Khan, who is also the former governor of western Herat province, said such an agreement with US or any other country will only lead to a continuation of war and insecurity in Afghanistan.

Such pacts would hold Afghanistan back from self-sustainability and the country would remain dependent on other nations for many more years, he said.

“We shouldn’t sign a document by which we would remain dependent, wandering, miserable and at the same time have no other option but to accept foreigners. We shouldn’t sign this pact,” Ismail Khan said before the hundreds of people gathered for the anniversary of his son, Mirwais Sadiq, who was the Minister of Civil Aviation when he was killed in 2004.

The US and Afghanistan signed a long-term strategic agreement last year, but the security pact governing the presence of US troops in Afghanistan after 2014 is still to be agreed on.

Ismail Khan said that despite having tens of thousands of troops and special equipment, the US forces had not achieved anything since 2001 and war and death continues in many parts of the country.

“With the largest laser weapons, and most up-to-date forces – from marines to the commando special forces – it came to Afghanistan, many operations were carried out, but they didn’t bring security. Now you know why there is no security made,” he said.

Ismail Khan urged that the government of Afghanistan should call for assistance from countries that do not seek to occupy it.

Analysis and Outlook

This might be Ismail Khan continuing a presidential candidacy warm-up.  My feeling is that this sort of tough talk from senior figures such as Ismail Khan should be at least as great a source of concern as Karzai’s outbursts (which, to be fair, we have come to sort of expect).  Ismail Khan is a major figure – quietly installed in the government in 2004, I think, when there were strong concerns that warlords (see also Dostum) might be better incorporated into the central governmental system, rather than left in their regions to develop their own interests.  Although usually quiet, this is the second set of strong words from Ismail recently on the same theme.  See my report, here, from November last year.  In brief:

Summary: A single news report from Afghanistan suggests that one Afghan Minister (and former warlord) may be creating a military unit independent of the official armed forces.  The story may come to nothing, but needs to be kept track of.

Of note, is that Ismail won a vote of confidence on this issue when it was brought to the attention of Parliament, so perhaps he feels he has a green light to be more critical of the international community.  I also flagged up the idea that other warlords might be voicing similar opinions.

I am trying to understand the likely direction of the civil war after 2014 (lets face it, this is a civil war).  Although this is highly debateable (and please, feel free to debate with me!), I am starting to get the feeling that the Taliban might actually be militarily “manageable” in their own, as long as the international community doesn’t “do a Soviet Union” and collapse/pull the plug on funding.  However, where it can all unravel, is when significant other factions/leaders/warlords start to pull away from central government and central government lacks the capability or willingness to bring groups back onside.  The stresses and strains on the ANSF’s loyalty will be phenomenal.

My sense, from the Karzai and Ismail outbursts, is that there is a growing sentiment of “ISAF, you can just go now, you haven’t actually achieved much and we are tired of trying it your way.  We can handle this on our own”.  This sentiment, although very understandable, might be misguided, premature and ultimately destabilising.

We should keep close track of other factions beyond the insurgent groups (Taliban, HIG, Haqqani).  We should keep track of Taliban interest in talking to other factions.

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