Chaos in Kabul, again
Insurgents win by not losing; governments lose if they don't win - this simple but tired old formula is playing out once again in Afghanistan
Insurgents win by not losing. Insurgent forces can lose virtually every battle yet still emerge victorious since the objective of insurgency is durability, not military victory. Governments, on the other hand, lose if they don’t win. If they don’t comprehensively defeat the insurgency then confidence in them is undermined and they lose the trust of the people.
This tired formula seems to be being playing out once again in Afghanistan.
On Sunday the 15th of April, Afghan insurgents launched yet another audacious set of attacks in central Kabul targeting the Parliament building, foreign embassies and NATO headquarters. The attacks were bought to an end 18 hours later as the last of the insurgents was killed by Afghan Special Forces.
Insurgents used a number of construction sites close to the Parliament building as bases for their attacks. This is a tactic they also deployed during their last major assault on the capital and it points to severe weaknesses in security and intelligence.
Similar attacks were also launched simultaneously in a number of other strategic provinces. The attacks effectively announced the start of the Afghan fighting season, when snow melts and fighters are able to move around.
It is common for us in the West to refer to all Afghan insurgents as the ‘Taliban’, yet the insurgency in Afghanistan isn’t just about the Taliban and these attacks were led by the far more sophisticated Haqqani Network. In fact, there are a wide range of, mainly Pashtun, groups that are fighting NATO and the Afghan National Army (ANA). All of them have sanctuaries in Pakistan, support in Pashtun tribal areas and a never ending supply of military hardware.
Of course, the planners of these attacks didn’t expect them to be successful – that is probably not what they told the fighters involved, but it is almost certainly the case. The objective of such attacks is to make people aware that they haven’t been defeated and are in high spirits. That is, after all, the best they can hope for in the face of overwhelming firepower and all they really need to hope for as insurgents.
NATO commanders were quick to praise the performance of Afghan Special Forces who, with NATO support, did an excellent job of flushing out the insurgents. However, the question remains – what will happen after 2014?
NATO and the ANA can keep repelling attacks and keep the insurgents at bay but that won’t lead to victory. Most analysts now agree that a military solution to the conflict in Afghanistan is not possible. Someone at some stage will have to negotiate and that will be difficult and painful.
In some respects, the presence of NATO forces merely delays inevitable negotiations since the Taliban would insist on the immediate exit of all western troops as the first pre-condition. At the same time, the presence of NATO forces makes life more difficult for insurgents and thus they are limited in what they can do or threaten.
Direct negotiations between insurgents and the US have thus far failed with the Taliban claiming that US negotiators are erratic and difficult to deal with. This is highly believable, given that the Americans are known for being poor at strategic communications.
Whatever the future holds, the next couple of years at least will be characterised by frequent insurgent attacks that, despite not achieving much militarily, will serve to remind people that the insurgency is far from defeated and has the durability to play a long waiting game.
Ghaffar Hussain is a Contributing Editor to The Commentator. He is a consultant and commentator on Cultural and Identity related issues as well as Middle Eastern and South Asian politics
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