10.11.2021 Author: Valery Kulikov

Through Whom does Washington Expect to Return to Afghanistan?


Despite the August flight from Afghanistan, Washington does not part with the idea of returning the situation in that country to a channel which would be favorable for it; this time it intends not to use its own forces for this purpose but the capabilities of its “satellites” dissatisfied with the current Afghan authorities.

To this end, in particular, the US is taking steps to partially restore the relations, which have deteriorated markedly in recent years, between Washington and Islamabad, once considered the most important political and military ally of the United States in South Asia and the Middle East. Therefore, to discuss the situation in Afghanistan and future prospects for US-Pakistani cooperation in that country, US Chargé d’affaires a.i. Angela Aggeler held talks with General Qamar Javed Bajwa, Chief of Staff of Pakistani Army, in Rawalpindi, Pakistan, on October 18. Angela Aggeler, according to Pakistani media reports, praised Pakistan’s role in the Afghan crisis and in ensuring regional stability and promised to do everything possible to promote diplomatic and other cooperation between the United States and Pakistan.

In addition, the Biden Administration expects to reach an agreement soon on the use of Pakistani airspace for military and intelligence operations in Afghanistan, as reported by CNN in late October. Administration officials shared relevant plans on the issue during a closed-door meeting with US lawmakers. As CNN reports, access to Pakistani airspace is vital to US leaders because 363 US citizens still remain in Afghanistan, 176 of whom expect to be evacuated.

Explicitly with a view to the United States’ use of Pakistani airspace for military and intelligence operations in Afghanistan, a contract has surfaced on the US Department of Defense website, under which the Pentagon will provide over $11 million to Booz Allen Hamilton Inc to operate in Pakistan. Booz Allen Hamilton Inc is a “consulting company” that Bloomberg called “the most profitable spy organization in the world”; it employs former US intelligence officers. The company is actively involved in cyber espionage operations for the United States government domestically and in global cyberspace. The contractor is the US Air Force.

In addition to involving Pakistan in its tasks in Afghanistan, Washington intends to use the National Resistance Front of Afghanistan (NRF), which, under the leadership of Ahmad Massoud, is opposed to the radical Taliban movement (banned in Russia) that has seized power in the country. To this end, Washington has sanctioned the registration of the NRF office in the US, as announced by Ali Maisam Nazary, Head of Foreign Relations for the National Resistance Front of Afghanistan (NRF), on October 28. He said the US office is the first overseas mission of the NRF, which will formally engage in lobbying activities and persuade US politicians and Congress to support the Afghan opposition. At the same time, Nazary stressed that the US rarely grants registration permission to political and military organizations.

The National Resistance Front of Afghanistan (NRF) was established in Panjsher Province after the Taliban had seized power in Kabul in mid-August under the leadership of Ahmad Massoud, son of Ahmad Shah Massoud, famed Tajik warlord in the 1980s and 1990s. Since then, there have been regular reports of fighting in Panjsher and Baghlan, Badakhshan, Parwān, and Kapisa provinces. Two months after the Taliban took power in Kabul and declared the end of the war in Afghanistan, the resistance to their regime has been rekindled. The northeastern province of Baghlan has been the scene of fierce fighting, with the Taliban suffering their worst casualties in October – dozens killed. These events have demonstrated that combat-ready forces capable of waging protracted guerrilla warfare are still in Baghlan Province adjacent to the Panjshir Valley.

The northeastern province of Baghlan is bordered on the southeast by Panjsher Province, which has remained the last stronghold of armed resistance to the Taliban since the August 16 fall of President Ashraf Ghani’s regime. The Panjshir River Valley, which begins a few tens of kilometers from Kabul, is part of the Hindu Kush mountain range, making the Panjshir Valley challenging to reach and ideal to withstand prolonged siege and guerrilla warfare. The ethnic composition of the area is another factor in making it a hotbed of resistance against the Taliban. Ninety-nine percent of Panjsher’s population is Tajik, while Pashtuns, Afghanistan’s largest ethnic group and a stronghold of the Taliban, account for no more than 20 percent of the area’s population.

Panjsher Valley is also where Amrullah Saleh, the former vice president of Afghanistan, who does not recognize the Taliban’s authority and has declared himself acting head of state, took refuge, besides Ahmad Massoud, the leader of the NRF. All Taliban opposition forces were expected to support the NRF and give a harsh response to the current radical authorities in Kabul. In particular, influential leaders such as Atta Muhammad Nur and Abdul Rashid Dostum, who have their own armies and are considered the masters of northern Afghanistan, were expected to join.  However, it is becoming clear today that despite the common stance against the Taliban, not everyone is ready to join a united front.

To seek consensus and political peace in Afghanistan, representatives of the Taliban were recently invited to the Moscow Format meeting, which was held on October 20, with the participation of countries of the region: China, India, Iran, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Pakistan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan. Russia did not invite to the Moscow Format meeting on Afghanistan members of the FNS and other resistance forces from Panjsher. Representatives of the United States refused to come to Moscow. According to Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, this is the second time the US has avoided a meeting on Afghanistan within the framework of the “extended troika,” which, in addition to Russia and the USA, includes China, and Pakistan.

Therefore, Washington clearly confirms that it continues to refuse a peaceful, discussion-based, and diplomatic solution to the situation in Afghanistan, but prefers a slightly different one, relying on special operations by US intelligence agencies and the armed Afghan opposition.

Valery Kulikov, expert political scientist, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.