Time for Afghanistan to change its counter-terrorism strategy

AjmalshamsJan. 27, 2018, was another bloody day in the Afghan capital Kabul, with more than 100 killed and about 200 injured in a suicide attack in one of the busiest areas of the city, just meters away from the old Interior Ministry complex. As usual, the victims were mostly civilians, including women and children. There was no hesitation from the Taliban in claiming responsibility for this deadliest of attacks. However, contrary to that claim, Kabul believes it was carried out by the Haqqani network based in Pakistan. Only a week before, Kabul was witness to another attack, when terrorists stormed the famous Intercontinental Hotel, which remains a beautiful attraction to both domestic and foreign tourists. The fight lasted for more than 12 hours and took the lives of dozens of Afghans, as well as international guests.

Public anger over such heinous and horrible attacks against innocent civilians is at an all-time high and the city’s residents fear similar attacks in the days ahead. President Ashraf Ghani, while condemning the inhuman acts of terror, referred to the enemies’ repeated failures in face-to-face fights against the Afghan forces on the battlefield, and hence them resorting to attacks against unarmed civilians. Afghan religious scholars and the political intelligentsia have strongly condemned the attacks, terming them un-Islamic and inhuman.

Regardless of whether these terrorist attacks are carried out by the Taliban, Daesh or the Haqqani network, the blood of innocent Afghans is being shed like water in an unstoppable fashion. When the capital Kabul comes under attack, it gets maximum coverage in both local and international media, but the wave of terrorism is spread across the country. Just days before the Kabul attack, the famous non-profit organization Save the Children’s office in Eastern Jalalabad came under a suicide attack, resulting in deaths and injuries to dozens of innocent victims.

While Afghans were still mourning the carnage of their fellow countrymen, Kabul hosted Indonesian President Joko Widodo on Jan. 29. It was the first time in more than 50 years that an Indonesian leader had visited Afghanistan. Widodo met Ghani and other high-level officials of the Afghan government in a visit that was politically significant for Afghanistan. Indonesia is the largest Muslim state and has a strong and booming economy; it can play a potential role in peace-making and the Afghan government is eagerly looking forward to a peace initiative from Indonesia. An essential component of Ghani’s foreign policy is to strengthen relations with the Muslim and Arab worlds and he has been quite successful in this regard.

As a first step in his diplomatic efforts in the aftermath of the Kabul attack, Ghani sent his interior minister and head of the intelligence agency to Islamabad to convey the Afghan government’s message and relevant evidence to the Pakistani civil and military leadership. Yet, such information has been shared with Islamabad in the past without any tangible results.

In reaction to the Kabul attack, Ghani stated his government will come up with a new strategy in the war on terror. He also mentioned that the blood of innocent Afghans will be avenged, adding that peace will be achieved through war. Unlike previous attacks, the Jan. 27 atrocity will have far-reaching implications for the Afghan government in dealing with the ongoing insurgency. Many Afghans now question the efficacy of the Afghan High Peace Council. Some even demand the dissolution of the council, considering it an extra burden on the national budget that is not producing any results. Yet the council claims credit for bringing Gulbuddin Hekmatyar back into mainstream politics — but this would not have been possible without strong political will from Ghani.

Islamabad argues that millions of Afghan refugees who remain in Pakistan are responsible for the ongoing insurgency in Afghanistan and must return home. While Kabul has been making all possible efforts to encourage Afghan refugees to return and has been facilitating their repatriation, it doesn’t accept the Pakistani argument. On the other hand, the Afghan government questions who sponsors, funds and trains the insurgents.

US President Donald Trump, while condemning the Kabul attack, also rejected any peace talks with the Taliban and expressed his government’s resolve to defeat the militants. While Afghans are optimistic about the new US strategy for Afghanistan, they need to see results on the ground. The Afghan government must come up with a new strategy that will be more focused on strengthening the security agencies, enhancing the intelligence capacity of the Afghan forces and increasing pressure on the insurgents on the battlefield. While peace efforts will always continue, waiting for peace will no longer be the government’s priority. The new approach is based on the need “to put our own house in order” and that means enhancing our entire security system in terms of quality and quantity.

By Ajmal Shams: The writer is president of the Afghanistan Social Democratic Party, and a deputy minister in the National Unity Government. Twitter: @ajmshams

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