Bravo, new ISI narrative on Afghanistan

Dr. Naimat U. Khan

Dr. Naimat U. Khan

In his speech at TED Global, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani remarked that an average Afghan listens to three radio stations a day because “the world matters to them”. And it is truer in the case of a change in power in neighbouring Pakistan — The Khaki State. This impact amplifies whenever there is a change of command in the Army’s General Headquarter (GHQ) as compared to the capital, Islamabad. Looking at the recent past and particularly in the backdrop of the war on terror, foreign policy is army’s domain in Pakistan with literally “no foreign minister”.

The newly appointed Chief of Army Staff, General Qamar Javed Bajwa has carried out major reshuffling in Pak Army, including Naveed Mukhtar as a new Director General (DG) of the premier intelligence agency of Pakistan Army, Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI). The new head of ISI is of greater significance for Afghanistan because of his strategic and academic expertise regarding Afghanistan. It is evident from the fact that the current DG, then Brigadier, did a research project titled “Afghanistan — Alternative future and their implications” during his Master degree in Strategic Studies from US Army War College, Pennsylvania back in March 2011. In this project, he proposed four alternatives and its implications in case of withdrawal of the US and NATO forces. In his academic endeavour, he has also endorsed the comments of the former US Commander General David Petraeus that “It’s not possible to resolve the challenges internal to Afghanistan without addressing the challenges, especially in terms of security, related to Afghanistan’s neighbours.”

The DG mentioned various external stakeholders in Afghanistan, including the immediate neighbouring countries, regional powers, and the US and NATO. The intensity of involvement of these countries varies from micro-management of Afghanistan to moderate management. Among them, Pakistan, Iran, India and the US are struggling for micro-management in Afghanistan. Based on ‘certain model’ of strategic management, the ISI chief has suggested four alternatives for the future of Afghanistan which is lying on two axes after considering both exogenous and endogenous factors. On one axis, the Afghan system of governance is ranging from high centralization to decentralisation; on the other axis; there is an assumption of the extreme insurgency to moderate violence in Afghanistan. Taking a holistic analysis of four alternatives, he has suggested three strategies. Firstly, a transition from centralised to decentralised power sharing on provincial, district, and village basis; secondly, the inclusion of moderate Taliban in government; and lastly, both of the above tasks should be done before the withdrawal of US forces.

In the light of these suggestions, let us talk about commonality in the policies of the Afghan government and the DG ISI’s Afghan narrative. The current Afghan government has equally endorsed the suggestion of ISI chief for the inclusion of ‘moderate Taliban’ in the Afghan government. At least, this is the common point in which Afghanistan and Pakistan have the same view. Afghan President Ashraf Ghani also welcomed the frequent visits of Afghan ambassador Dr Hazrat Omar Zakhilwal to Maulana Samiul Haq saying, “Maulana should use his spiritual influence to bring Taliban to table”. Besides this move by the Afghan diplomat, the Afghan government has also appealed the Taliban to come back to their home. These are clear signals where the Afghan government is trying to bring the ‘moderate’ Taliban onboard. In addition, the Chinese and Russian governments are also playing an active role in making the Taliban and the Afghan government reconcile with each other. Reports confirmed the recent visits of Taliban leaders from Qatar to China in this connection. In addition, Moscow hosted a peace conference on Afghanistan on 14 April 2017, with representatives of 12 countries.

Pakistan should play its role in convincing/pressuring the “moderate Taliban” to be a part of the Afghan government in peace building process. As the DG did not downplay Pakistan’s role in influencing Taliban, as he is suggesting in his thesis that “the United States should engage the Taliban with the help of Saudi Arabia and Pakistan so as to ensure that Afghanistan does not return to a pre-2001 state.” In army corridors, DG ISI is perceived a peace-loving person with a more strategist mind. Peace in Afghanistan is good for the whole region including all neighbouring countries. It will pave the way for building “One Belt, One Road”, reviving the centuries-old silk route, connecting China and South Asia with Europe through Afghanistan. (Courtesy of Daily Times)

Writer: Dr. Naimat U. Khan

The writer is an Assistant Professor at University of Pseshawar Pakistan. He can be reached at


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