Plans to End War with Pashtun and Base US Influence on New North Afghan State
US strategists are working to a formula for terminating hostilities with the Pashtun tribes dominating the Taliban while retaining a foothold in Afghanistan in alliance with the northern populations.
The outlines of this goal are taking shape amid the conflicting and often exaggerated reports of progress made in the informal talks taking place between the Taliban, the US and Afghan President Hamid Karzai. It is also implied in reporting on the fighting around Kandahar in the South.
While US-led NATO forces claim victories in such places as Dand, Mahlajat, Chalghor, Nakhoni, Khanjakak, Zila Khan and the Salawat in the Kandahar region, none assert they mark a turning-point in the conflict.
The usually accurate Taliban naturally offers a different version of the state of combat in those battlefields:
We decided for tactical reasons not to engage them (US forces) in direct combat but to conduct guerilla warfare in order to cause them maximum damage. We mined all the main roads and when the enemy could not make any inroads, they decided to bulldoze local farms and fields to gain at least some ground. But that attempt also proved futile.
It ought to be borne in mind, says the Taliban that the US is not about to halt or end the war in Afghanistan.
Restoring ties with former Tajik, Hazara, Uzbek allies
The impression gained by DEBKA-Net-Weekly's military and intelligence sources is that Washington has began cutting back on combat operations against the Pashtun tribes, who are a majority in Afghanistan – but not in Pakistan or in Central Asia. Having accepted failure in the effort to defeat the Pashtuns – or even to win over a substantial portion aside from the Karzai family and a handful of tribal and small clan chiefs – the United States has now set its sights on carving out a position of strength and influence in North Afghanistan based on the Tajik, Hazara and Uzbek communities and their semi-moribund Northern Alliance-United Islamic Front for the Salvation of Afghanistan (UIF).
Together the three ethnic groups account for 46 percent of the Afghani population, but they are far from united and their UIF is more a virtual entity than a potent force – unlike the Pashtun tribal federation, which makes up less than 40 percent of the Afghan population but presents a solid front.
Many Western experts on Afghanistan advise Washington to concentrate on bringing the UIF back to life and restoring the northern warlords to the unity of purpose and importance they enjoyed thirty and twenty years ago. This alliance, which in 2001 joined forces with the US-led coalition to drive the Taliban and al Qaeda from power, ought now to be helped to establish a northern Afghani state independent of Kabul – or only linked as part of a loose federation. This step, it is argued, would give American influence a valuable edge in Central Asia.
Some of Afghanistan's northern warlords have begun rearming their militias for fear that the peace talks will restore their old Taliban enemies to the heart of power in Kabul. But Taliban believes that by accentuating the discord within the Northern Alliance discord and winning over at least one of its leaders, it would be possible to derail Washington's master plan for post-war Afghanistan. In any case, the Taliban has moved fast to pre-empt the American plan.
Taliban may wield its Central Asian allies to block US plan
Six months ago, the Taliban ally, the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan – IMU began evacuating its northwest Pakistan bastions and heading home to Central Asian destinations, mainly via Tajikistan.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly's counter-terror sources report that initially, US tacticians and intelligence analysts applauded this move as a positive sign that the Taliban-Al Qaeda front's non-Pashtun, non-Arab war allies were throwing in the towel in anticipation of the war's termination.
Now it is seen in a new light, as part of a calculated Taliban move to block the American plan for a non-Pashtun state in northern Afghanistan while opening up a third anti-US front in addition to Afghanistan and Pakistan from Central Asia by means of its Islamist allies.
Already beginning to take shape, this new front would offer al Qaeda fresh safe havens and bases of operation. The free passage the Americans granted at the time for IMU fighters' withdrawal is now challenged fiercely by critics in Washington as a regrettable error.
Islamist fundamentalism has become a growth industry in Central Asia, especially in the lands and provinces of the Caucasus such as Chechnya, Tajikistan, Kirgizstan, Azerbaijan, Kabardino-Balkaria, Uzbekistan and Ingushetia.
The IMU's recent choice of a new leader-emir, Abu Usmal Adil, to succeed Tahir Yuldashev, the Al Qaeda-linked terror group's co-founder and longtime emir who was killed by a US Predator-borne missile in South Waziristan August 27, 2009, shows that this radical movement has no intention of laying down arms. Just the reverse.
In 1995, Yuldashev who was then based in Peshawar, Pakistan established relations between his Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan and Osama Bin Laden and his Arab following.
Now, for the first time in 15 years, the IMU has its first chance for a breakthrough to victory and power – not just on distant Islamist fronts but in its activists' native lands.
Moscow has not uttered on the Central Asian aspect
Moscow will have to decide where it stands on the rise of an autonomous state in northern Afghanistan within the American orbit, a springboard for enhancing US influence in Azerbaijan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. The Kremlin's attitude might be governed by the availability of accords governing the lines dividing US and Russian spheres of influence in Asia and regulating the control over those countries' oil and gas resources. Moscow might alternatively decide to curb the spread of US influence from its planned jumping-off base in North Afghanistan. Central Asian rulers could then play both sides and derive benefits from both Moscow and Washington – on top of perks from Taliban as future rulers of Kabul.
This week, NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen suggested an effort be made to draw Russian troops back into Afghanistan at the November summit meeting between the heads of the NATO states and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev. DEBKA-Net-Weekly's sources call this more a pious hope that a realistic possibility.
After the Red Army was driven out of Afghanistan by US-Backed mujahideen fighters in 1989, no assistance can be expected from the Russians other than, at best, helicopters and certain pieces of equipment; even Russian military instructors for training the Afghan Army would come at a high price in dollars.
Our sources also hold out scant hope of the Northern Alliance of Afghanistan becoming integrated in the talks ongoing between Taliban and Karzai in Kabul.
An emphatic rejection came from Tajik commander Naqubullah when he was asked recently about his movement's participation in the Kabul negotiations.
This process, he said, was "a devious plot by Mr. Karzai – himself a Pashtun – to extend Pashtun influence. My own opinion is it is not a peace process, it is a private deal. The Karzai family are like a mafia."