Prior to receiving US Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, Afghan President Hamid Karzai stressed that “those bombs that went off in Kabul in Khost were not a show of force to America. They were in service of America. It was in service of the 2014 slogan to warn us if they [Americans] are not here then [the] Taliban will come.”
This discourse aroused the resentment of both Hagel and the US military chief in Afghanistan General Joseph F. Dunford. The latter said: “We have fought too hard over the past 12 years, we have shed too much blood over the past 12 years, we have done too much to help the Afghan security forces grow over the last 12 years to ever think that violence or instability would be to our advantage.”
Hamid Karzai’s statements reflect an impression in the public consciousness of Afghanistan that the Americans have a hidden agenda, and that they will not leave Afghanistan or Central Asia for free. This notion was strengthened when the US declared its intention to establish military bases in Afghanistan, and when its endeavor to grant its soldiers diplomatic immunity was revealed.
There are other issues that provoke Karzai, such as Washington’s failure to encourage dialogue with the Taliban under Afghan supervision, as well as the United States establishing contact with representatives of Taliban behind his back. However what enrages Karzai most is American reliance on Pakistan in their “reconciliation” with the Taliban. He feels that the Pakistani military leadership has returned to its previous approach of exploiting contradictory US policies towards Afghanistan in order to serve its own interests.
The attacks on Saturday March 9 targeted the Ministry of Defense headquarters in Kabul. A week earlier, an Afghan military convoy came under attack in Badakhshan during which the Taliban killed 16 soldiers.
It is well-known that Taliban are the traditional enemies of the Tajik, while the Tajik now form the backbone of the Afghan military leadership. This is what arouses Karzai’s suspicion, as he is well aware that the Taliban’s victory in the 1990s was achieved as a result of the Pakistani intelligence apparatus working against the Mujahedeen who refused to join the Taliban. This was mostly the Tajik, who are well known for their patriotism and objection to any Pakistani interference in Afghanistan.
Returning to Karzai’s statements, these will not stop US operations, coalition forces, or Afghan troops from pursuing the Taliban, as well as other armed terrorist militias that are active in both Afghanistan and Pakistan. If Karzai’s main concern is the Taliban leadership (who are permanently in contact with him, but do not want to let him perform a leading role in negotiations that will decide their future), then the coalition’s main concern is the presence of various multi-national and jihadist organizations.
To be even clearer, only a few days after Karzai’s “revolt”, the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) announced it had detained one of the leaders of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, which is an Al-Qaeda affiliate based out of Kunduz province. According to the ISAF statement, the captured leader is accused of being in charge of “directing fighters during the operations against security troops, as well as being an expert in explosives who trained other elements in a terrorist cell.”
It is striking that the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan is fighting, side by side, with both the Taliban and Al-Qaeda. Like Al-Qaeda, it is providing training to Taliban fighters and is active in Afghanistan’s northern provinces, particularly Kunduz. Last year, coalition forces, alongside Afghani troops, launched a total of 36 raids—16 of which were conducted in Kunduz alone.
In the first few months of 2013, the movement suffered eight air raids. If we take into consideration the withdrawal of a large number of coalition troops and the announcement of the withdrawal of 34,000 US troops in 2014, this increase in the number of raids can only mean that the activities of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan are on the rise.
On the same day that one of the leaders of this movement was detained in Kunduz, a suicide bomber blew himself up in the Imam Saheb district, killing 10 people. However, it was later revealed that the target had been the Kunduz security commander and his family (his brother is the Afghan speaker of parliament). The bombing killed the security commander, his father, and four of his guards.
The Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan is a major ally of Al-Qaeda and the Taliban. It is backing operations in Pakistan and Afghanistan, in addition to preparing for operations in Europe. Its affiliates are fighting side by side with the Taliban in Pakistan and Afghanistan and have even been enrolled in the Taliban’s shadow government in northern Afghanistan.
This movement’s fighters often serve as the personal guard of Pakistani Taliban leaders, as well as Al-Qaeda commanders. Apart from its operations in Afghanistan and Pakistan, the movement has escalated its operations in central Asian states. In September 2010, the movement claimed responsibility for the killing of 25 Tajik soldiers, threatening to carry out further attacks in central Asia. It is also worth noting that the common denominator for hostility here is the Tajik.
In 2000, the US State Department added the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan to its list of designated terrorist organizations. This helped ISAF in its war on terror, particularly to reduce support for terrorist organizations.
In October 2012, the US State Department added the name of Qari Ayoub Bashir—chief of the movement’s funding department—on the international terrorist blacklist. Bashir is a member in the movement’s Shura Council and resides in the northern province of Waziristan which is dominated by the Pakistani Taliban. In his capacity as a financier, he is in charge of ensuring the financial and logistical support necessary for all the movement’s operations in both Pakistan and Afghanistan, and is also responsible for raising funds from other states outside of the region.
The Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan became a prime target for the US Special Forces after it claimed responsibility for the attacks against Bagram Airfield in 2010, and the provincial Reconstruction Team base in Panjshir (a Tajik area) in 2011. They also claimed responsibility for the suicide attack that targeted an armoured vehicle in 2011.
Apart from the raids on the movements’ headquarter in Kunduz and northern Afghanistan, US troops focused on the movement’s leaders in Pakistan’s tribal areas, succeeding in killing two of the movement’s commanders in drone strikes.
Last year, the movement announced that its leader Othman Adel was killed in a drone strike in Pakistan, and that Othman Gazi had been selected to replace him. Just like his predecessor, Gazi is committed to continuing the fight in Afghanistan. For his part, Adel has succeeded the movement’s co-founder Tohir Yo’ldosh who was also killed by a drone strike in 2009. Adel was known for his endeavor to consolidate the movement’s roles and activities in Pakistan and Afghanistan following the killing of Yo’ldosh. Whilst Yo’ldosh had preferred to limit the movement’s operations to Pakistan’s tribal areas, Adel acted to expand its operations towards northern and eastern Afghanistan, in addition to Central Asia.
The so-called Greater Middle East is facing several problems and disturbances. Karzai fears that he may be defeated, while he is suspicious about Pakistan’s role. The US is well aware that it needs Iranian influence in Afghanistan, while Pakistan also knows this and is challenging the agreement over the gas pipeline that is set to extend from Iran to Pakistan. Islamabad also knows that the Americans must compensate the Pakistani army for its losses, and must also cooperate with its state apparatus to the highest degree possible in order to succeed in withdrawing its troops via the port of Karachi.
The US does not reject military or financial compensation, which it is moving towards paying. Yet in addition to this, Pakistan wants political compensation; namely returning to the previous security strategy. While today, Pakistan is extending its hand as well as its pipelines to Iran. However Iran is sensing that its standing in Syria and even in Iraq and Lebanon may be destabilized, prompting it to begin pumping gas to Pakistan, while at the same time putting forward a “friendly face” towards Karzai.
The problem with both of Pakistan and Iran is that these two states rely on jihadist and terrorist movements in all their projects.
How long can we countenance this?