At least 150 people were killed and hundreds injured on May 31 when an explosives-laden truck ripped through Kabul’s diplomatic quarters. The grisly attack took place in Zanbaq Square in Kabul’s 10th district, close to government offices and foreign embassies. There was no immediate claim of responsibility by any terrorist group. Zabihullah Mujahid, the spokesman for the Taliban, said that the group did not carry out the ghastly attack.
It is worrying to note that the deadly attack took place in Kabul’s highly secured and fortified area which houses major foreign embassies and official quarters. The attack has clearly exposed the sheer incompetence and impotence of Afghan and foreign security forces in terms of safeguarding war-torn Afghanistan from the spree of attacks by lethally-armed terrorists.
Since such massive bombings can be prevented only by timely intelligence, the Kabul attack patently reveals the abject failure of the Afghan intelligence agency to stop militants from executing their nefarious plans. The National Directorate of Security (NDS), Afghanistan’s intelligence agency, put the whole blame of bombing on the Haqqani Network, a Taliban-affiliated group allegedly based in Pakistan.
This was not the first devastating attack this year; the Afghan Taliban and the Islamic State-Khorasan (IS-K) have carried out a number of gruesome attacks in the garrisoned Afghan capital. In March 2017, the Sardar Daud Khan Military Hospital in Kabul was attacked by a group of gunmen, killing at least 49 people and wounding 63 others.
Terrorists and militants have systematically selected the heavily-fortified capital city of Kabul for attacks just to show that they are potent enough to target any nook and cranny of the country. The display of hard power and battlefield successes help non-state actors to attract more and more fighters to their folds.
Despite spending over two trillion dollars since 2001, the US has dismally failed to defeat the Taliban in Afghanistan. At present, the insurgent group claims to fully control 34 districts, contest 167, maintain a significant presence in 52 and have a minimal presence in 6 districts. As per credible sources, these Taliban-controlled provinces are clustered mostly in the north and south, including large portions in Helmand, Nimroz, Uruzgan, Zabul, Ghazni and Farah.
What is now certain from the 15-year-long war in Afghanistan is that both the Afghan security forces and 13,000 American and Nato troops stationed in the insurgency-wracked country are unlikely to defeat the resurgent Taliban. This is due to the fact that Russia, Iran, China and Pakistan have lately ratcheted up their support to the resurgent group to inhibit the IS-K from increasing its footprint in the volatile Pak-Afghan region.
The increasing Russian bonhomie with the Taliban and the recent gruesome attack in Kabul have arguably provided a pretext to hawks in the Pentagon to persuade the Trump administration to deploy 5,000 more troops to Afghanistan. But, it must be noted that mere deployment of additional troops will not guarantee a victory over the Taliban. If it were achievable, the Obama administration would have gained control over Afghanistan when it had more than 150,000 combat troops stationed in the country.
Is the US really inclined to defeat the Taliban and bring serenity and stability in terrorism-stricken Afghanistan? The answer is a big ‘NO’. The protracted war on terror has immensely helped major American arms companies to amass billions of dollars through the sales of sophisticated weapons. The same war has continued to generate job opportunities for thousands of American students who complete their graduate courses in security and war studies.
More importantly, the Afghan war has increased the decision-making role of the Pentagon in formulating American foreign policy. This indicates that if the civilian government in the US ever thinks of shutting down the lingering military engagement in Afghanistan, the US security establishment will move heaven and earth to thwart such a move.
Nor do the Afghan ruling elite and the security establishment seriously wish to bring the simmering insurgency in their country to a halt. They are fully acquainted with this fact that the war has greatly helped them siphon off massive funds, to add to their fortunes. A large part of the hundreds of billions of dollars in aid to Afghanistan has ended up in the pockets of the corrupt political elite. The same deadly insurgency has brought major Afghan political figures closer to Washington, thus helping the former to send their children to the US for higher education and search for lucrative job opportunities.
The Kabul Bank scandal in 2011, in which a fraud of $850 million was detected, exposed the involvement of top Afghan political elite in rampant corruption in the country. This mega scam in Afghanistan’s biggest bank was described by the US officials as “the biggest per capita fraud in history”. The shareholders of the Bank were mainly from the country’s political elite, and included corrupt cabinet ministers, MPs and powerful warlords. The Kabul Bank executives spent $160m alone on 35 luxury villas in Dubai, many of which were registered in the names of its shareholders.
An investigation was conducted into the matter during the Karzai government in order to identify and arrest those involved in the scam. Khalilullah Ferozi, the former executive of the Bank, was sentenced to five years in prison. He was, however, released in 2015 by the National Unity Government so as to sign a $900m real estate project with the Afghan government. He still has several years to serve on two different sentences and owes more than $300m in embezzled funds, interest and fines.
The increasing level of rampant corruption in Afghanistan can also be gauged from the recent incident when President Ashraf Ghani tasked Maj. Gen. M. Moein Faqir to clean up corruption in Helmand province, but he himself was booked in March last year on charges of misappropriating food money meant to be supplied to his soldiers.
Widespread corruption and favouritism have continued to permeate the Afghan security and administrative institutions. Corrupt Afghan politicians and top military officials treat both civilian and military law-enforcement agencies as their personal forces to recruit their kith and kin. That is why the Afghan National Army has so far proved largely impotent to clamp down on even small terrorist and militant groups.
Since the US currently seems least interested in bringing about a lasting reconciliation, and resultant stability, in Afghanistan, the latter is likely to indefinitely reel under terrorist and militant attacks. As a result, the simmering instability in Afghanistan will continue to have adverse security impacts on the already terror-infested Pak-Afghan region.
Some major regional powers consider Afghanistan a battleground to wage proxy wars against their enemies. Though the US dropped Mother of All Bombs (MOAB) to destroy sanctuaries of the IS-K jihadists in Nangarhar province in April this year, Washington is widely believed to be providing leeway to the IS-K so that the militant group may spill over into the Russian and Chinese backyards. To counter this American move, both Russia and China have, of late, increased their backing to the Afghan Taliban.
The Indo-Pak tug of war for increasing economic and strategic foothold in Afghanistan has further complicated the already deteriorating militancy landscape of the country.
Since peace and political stability in Afghanistan is vital to the greater security of Asia, all major regional countries as well as the US need to shun their differences over Afghanistan and come forward to formulate a joint strategy to counter militancy and terrorism while also cleansing the Afghan political setup of massive corrupt practices.
- The Kabul attack has exposed the sheer incompetence and impotence of Afghan and foreign security forces.
- Terrorists and militants have systematically selected the heavily-fortified capital city of Kabul for attacks.
- At present, Taliban claim to fully control 34 districts, contest 167, maintain a significant presence in 52 and have a minimal presence in 6 districts.
- Russia, Iran, China and Pakistan have lately ratcheted up their support to the resurgent group to inhibit the IS-K.
- The Pentagon is persuading the Trump administration to deploy 5,000 more troops to Afghanistan.
- The Kabul Bank scandal in 2011 – a fraud of $850 million – exposed the involvement of top Afghan political elite in rampant corruption.