Will the Northern Alliance fight?

Published: April 29, 2012

The writer is Director South Asian Media School, Lahore khaled.ahmed@tribune.com.pk

The Americans are leaving behind an Afghan National Army (ANA) which is more than 250,000-strong, and historically the largest in a country ravaged by state failure. Its officers’ corps is filled by a majority of non-Pashtuns: Uzbeks, Tajiks and Hazaras. The rank and file is plurally dominant Pashtun, apparently undivided but subject to intimidation by the Taliban.

Chances are that the ANA will fall apart after the Americans leave. But one must remember that even in a state of internal division, all of them hate the Taliban. The Afghan Pashtuns who have been polled also show that they overwhelmingly hate the Taliban. The ANA will be somewhat buttressed by the US which has pledged to maintain its military presence in Afghanistan till 2014 in a strategic agreement with Kabul to be signed in Chicago next month.

Dilip Hiro’s latest book Apocalyptic Realm: Jihadists in South Asia (Yale University Press 2012) talks about the past muster of the Afghan Army after the Soviets left: “The civil war erupted about three years after the pullout by the Soviet Union. On the eve of their departure, Afghan president Najibullah declared a state of emergency and appointed a new 22-member Supreme Council for the Soviet military academies, and raised 45,000 Special Guards to replace the departed Soviet troops…In March 1989, his soldiers frustrated a bid by Afghan Mujahedin’s interim government to capture Jalalabad”.

Najibullah, in January 1990, gave autonomy to Hazaras and Uzbeks, which won him the backing of the ten thousand-strong Uzbek militia led by General Abdul Rashid Dostum, who defected from the Mujahedin camp. Yet, his rival Tajik warlord Ahmad Shah Massoud boasted the best army in Afghanistan, numbering 30,000. Will the Tajik faction inside the ANA now fight the Taliban after the American exit?

Will someone additionally help by binding the Uzbek-Tajik rift in the Northern Alliance? Hiro tells us that in the past, when Pak-Saudi backing sent the Taliban into Afghanistan, Iran and the Central Asian states panicked and approached Russia for help: “Central Asia and Russia remain resolutely opposed to the Taliban while Iran tries to juggle its position between the Afghan President, Hamid Karzai, stiffly opposing the US, and maintaining clandestine contacts with the Taliban”.

The Shanghai Cooperation Council (SCO) has six members: Russia, China, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. It assumed anti-terrorism functions in 1998, held military exercises in 2000, established a secretariat in 2004 and changed its name from the Shanghai Five to SCO in June 2001 when it admitted Uzbekistan as the sixth member. Russia doesn’t want the Americans to leave Afghanistan. It describes terrorism as “threat from failing states” which is presumably how it looks at Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Will the Central Asians again seek help from Russia? “In 1989 after the exit of the Soviets, the Taliban’s triumph alarmed the five Central Asian republics. Their leaders met in the Kazakh capital of Alma Aty on October 4-5. The Uzbek president, Islam Karimov, urged his counterparts to strengthen Dostum’s Northern Alliance government, which controlled six provinces. He provided it with military and economic aid”.

This time the war is going to be more chaotic. The Pakistan-backed Haqqani network sits atop all of the Punjabi non-state actors that Pakistan is scared of: the Lashkar-e-Taiba, the Lashkar-i-Jhangvi, the Jaish-i-Muhammad, Uzbek warriors of IMU and all others that Pakistan evacuated from Kunduz after 2001 when Dostum fell on them in the wake of American invasion. If the Northern Alliance in Afghanistan has had a decade in which to prepare itself against Pakistan, the non-state actors of Pakistan are also sure about what they will do to Pakistan after triumphing in Afghanistan.

Published in The Express Tribune, April 29th, 2012.

Reader Comments (26)

  • Babloo
    Apr 29, 2012 - 12:14AM

    Kargil : Non state actors
    Terrorism against India : Non State actors
    Terrorism against Afganistan : Non state actors
    Anti-Shia killimng : Non state actors
    Karachi killings : Noin state actors
    Waziristan : under control of non-state actors
    Osama : sheltered by non-state actors
    Its looks like the non-state actors are doing all the action.

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  • Babloo
    Apr 29, 2012 - 12:25AM

    Sure, I believe they will fight if attacked. I am confused about what Pakistan will do about the many warlords it has been supporting against the Afghan government. How is that relationship going to work out ?

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  • BlackJack
    Apr 29, 2012 - 12:37AM

    I agree that the Afghan National Army may find it difficult to stay a united force in the face of an implacable opposition force as well as their internal divisions. However, they are still likely to be significantly larger than the Taliban without an infusion of fighters from Pakistan. Further, Pakistan may not find it as easy this time to send in its irregulars to buttress the Taliban’s charge – there will be a lot of eyes on Afghanistan this time – in stark contrast to the 90′s when the world coudn’t care less. Another factor is that most of the Pakistani jihadi outlets specialize in hit-and-run tactics (IEDs and soft civilian targets) and may not have the stomach or the training for an all-out war. Afghanistan is likely to remain in limbo for many years to come with some territories falling outside Kabul’s control while others (in the North) remain relatively secure.

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  • Ali Tanoli
    Apr 29, 2012 - 12:49AM

    @Babloo
    That what every super power does too please could u try to stoped them.

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  • ashok
    Apr 29, 2012 - 1:46AM

    @Babloo:

    Pakistan started its Kashmir conquest in 1948 with the same non-state Tribal actors from FATA. Bottom line is Pakistan state is a nursery of non-state actors who are trained, sheltered, funded, armed, protected, provided logistics and infiltrated by the uniformed or non-uniformed STATE ACTORS right from its birth in 1947.

    Line is now much blurred between state actors and non-state actors; they are veritable arm of the army.

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  • G. Din
    Apr 29, 2012 - 2:09AM

    US has declared that it will be in Afghanistan for 10 years after its army exits, presumably to make sure that Afghan army does not fall apart. Since there will be no American feet on the ground, does it portend enlarged use of air power by SCO and NATO together, since their interests are congruent? This will indeed turn into an apocalypses for Afghanistan and no less for Pakistan. The world has reconciled to breach of Pakistan’s sovereignty, so no new ground needs to be broken. Even Pakistan is now resigned to it, notwithstanding brave talk. It does not augur well for Pakistan! Wages of past sins or “karma in action” as the Hindus say!

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  • prashanth
    Apr 29, 2012 - 5:55AM

    @Babloo: Its looks like the non-state actors are doing all the action.

    Yeah, and the state does the acting!
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  • observer
    Apr 29, 2012 - 8:17AM

    @Ali Tanoli

    That what every super power does too please could u try to stoped them.

    Before I answer your ‘question’, let me tell you a small story.

    Once a Frog saw a horse being fitted with a horse shoe. And the Frog then approached the iron-smith with a request for being fitted with a horse shoe. The iron smith tried to dissuade the frog. the Frog insisted and even alleged discrimination against Frogs. So the iron smith gave in to the demand. As was expected the Frog died with the first strike of the hammer.

    Moral- Do not try emulate a Horse (super power) , if you are not a Horse (super power). Now, to the best of my knowledge no one has ever accused Pakistan of being a super power.

    Having said that, a question of my own. Which non-state actors are being supported by ‘every super power’?

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  • Naveed Alam Khattak
    Apr 29, 2012 - 10:25AM

    Afghan situation is almost un-predictable. But one thing is very clear that “Majority is the authority”. Pashtuns in afghanistan are in majority. US is trying to sideline pashtuns in afghanistan, which is against the nature and the result is that even after 10 years of war there is no hope of their success. After US withdrawl, this resistance will continue, unless this balance (Majority is the authority) is acheived.

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  • nazarrabi
    Apr 29, 2012 - 11:25AM

    long live pashtuns Recommend

  • Ali Wali
    Apr 29, 2012 - 1:05PM

    Afghans living in Afghanistan or countries other than Pakistan, have no stomach to be ruled by Pakistan or evil Saudi proxy aka Taliban. Pakistan as country should have equal relations based on respect with Pashtun and none Pashtun Afghans, mind you Pakistan itself is suffering from Afghan Pashtun syndrome, AK47s, heroin, smuggling of every sort, armed robberies, car theft, squating are few tokens of their appreciation for our hospitality. Though there are more Pashtuns in Pakistan than Afghanistan, still Pakistan is more than 80% none Pashtuns, and it does not make sense for us to use Pashtun card.

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  • Ashiq Hussain
    Apr 29, 2012 - 3:08PM

    Babloo…wake up and smell the coffee….:-)

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  • Apr 29, 2012 - 4:23PM

    Traditionally Afghanistan has been violent and ungovernable. I think that this trend will continue. Remember, historically this region has been the cause of many misery in India, with invaders swooping in and raiding, looting and murdering Indians. Thanks to Jinnah this hole has been plugged with the creation of Pakistan.

    What ever happens in Afghanistan, one thing is for sure- Pakistan acts as a buffer. I don’t think Pakistan will be completely taken over by the Taliban ever, the Army is too powerful. But, it will soak up the violence in Afghanistan to the benefit of India.

    Thank you Pakistan. Thank you Jinnah. :)

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  • True Muslim Paki
    Apr 29, 2012 - 5:07PM

    nice article

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  • Ali Tanoli
    Apr 29, 2012 - 5:25PM

    @observer,
    so you mean they are allowed to terrorized and are above the law then why blames small peoples or countries or single person.

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  • Rakib
    Apr 29, 2012 - 5:26PM

    @observer:

    Which non-state actors are being supported by ‘every super power’?

    Along with an interesting story, recalling some recent history too would be useful. Per Reagan Doctrine, covert action & training of guerrillas of Asia, Africa & South America became part of American policy; which was tacitly supported by UK; against Soviets who had a vicious history of their own.. Though Carter began the covert ops in Afghanistan, when Ronald Regan declared the Mujaheddin to be “moral equivalent” of America’s “founding fathers”, he not only elevated these chaps to a high pedestal but certified every nefarious act of theirs to be kosher; and supported them to the hilt with arms & material. And by doing that he sowed the seeds of Taliban of future. India, though no superpower, had played footsie with LTTE just as Pakistanis supported Khalistanis & other elements in India.. No, nobody that matters is clean, really.

    That said, if these are used as justification by anybody, he must factor in the costs too, for, be it Soviets, Americans, Indians or Pakistanis-all have paid price for misadventures.

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  • Wellwisher
    Apr 29, 2012 - 6:31PM

    @Babloo:
    THEN WHY THE STATE IS EXISTING?

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  • Ashamed
    Apr 29, 2012 - 7:06PM

    @Wellwisher:
    State does not rule. It simply engages in corruption!

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  • observer
    Apr 29, 2012 - 7:53PM

    @Ali Tanoli

    No one is allowed anything, but then realpolitik is not a moral enterprise.Don’t plead with anyone to let you commit terror. And don’t crib if there is a fightback. In short,Wear the horse shoe only If you can carry it off .

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  • observer
    Apr 29, 2012 - 7:55PM

    @Rakib

    All available narratives say that Gen Zia insisted on exclusive contact and control over the Jihadi assets. The role of US and allies was just to be the moneywads and arms suppliers. That is why US could never have any assets loyal to US interests,whereas Pakistan was able to divert the resources to create Taliban. JeM,LeJ,LeT etc.
    Your point about ‘cost’ is well taken. The issue is, India learnt its lesson and stopped. Can Pakistan say the same? Can you still term them ‘assets’ anymore?

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  • Rakib
    Apr 29, 2012 - 8:35PM

    @observer:

    Once US compromised & lost its moral compass,whatever Zia did was his shrewd move & Americans from Reagan to Charlie Wilson should have known what could happen if US supported the General & the religious zealots. Afghanistan is only one example of US policy gone haywire. There are horror tales galore of Carter-Reagan era in regard to Angola, Cambodia, Ethiopia, Iran, Laos, Libya,Nicaragua and may be more that escape me at the moment. Nothing is irreversibly stopped & interference is an addiction. No way America’s conduct has been morally superior to any country and certainly not better than that of Pakistan, Zia years notwithstanding.

    Has India learnt the lesson and stopped? May be in regard to SL. Elsewhere? How would one know for sure? Does RTI Act apply to R&AW and IB or is the legendary incompetency of these bodies the only reason that Indians “feel” it in their bones that they will not be up to some mischief somewhere? Would Pakistan give up its “assets”? IMO (& I hope I am wrong) the answer is:no. It is almost impossible for any country to discard assets so long as cold-war type atmosphere prevails; and no Pakistani should expect Indians to embrace Gandhian ways & give up its possessions.

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  • nazarrabi
    Apr 29, 2012 - 8:54PM

    @Ali Wali:
    i see my self a pashtuns not pakistani , i see my self pashtuns not taliban

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  • G. Din
    Apr 29, 2012 - 11:43PM

    @Rakib: to observer
    “…and no Pakistani should expect Indians to embrace Gandhian ways & give up its possessions.”
    It was only after Gandhi himself had approved dispatch of troops to defend Kashmir in response to appeal of Maharaja of Kashmir (after he had signed the Instrument of Accession) that those troops were air-lifted into Srinagar. When it came to defending what we rightfully consider as ours, Gandhi showed absolutely no hesitation in approving violence as that was the most apt tool for the occasion. Was Gandhi contradicting himself by according such approval? No!
    It is a fallacy to believe that what Gandhi propounded was some kind of religion based on non-violence. Gandhi was not a Gautam Buddha! Non-violence of Gandhi was another tool in the toolbox of humanity to fight a righteous battle, nothing more. Because it was a wise choice in the fight against British, that it succeeded. Would it have succeeded against Hitler? If the answer is “no”, what that would have meant was not that non-violence had failed but that it was not the right tool for the occasion, that another tool was needed!
    So, there is no such way as the “Gandhian way” because, as he proved by his decision, he was not attached to non-violence. It may have found his favour as a “first” or “preferred” way but he was ready to discard it for another tool if occasion demanded it.

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  • nazarrabi
    Apr 30, 2012 - 12:24AM

    @G. Din:
    kashmir problem is not pashtuns problem, pakistan problem is not a pashtuns problem,palstan problem is palstan problem not a pashtuns , our problem is to unite pashtuns as one

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  • G. Din
    Apr 30, 2012 - 2:21AM

    @nazarrabi:
    “…our problem is to unite pashtuns as one “
    I am not a Pashtun. I am not even an Afghan. I am an Indian and am partial to pluralism. We in India consider our first identity to be Indian and then some other. Based on our experience, I would suggest to you that you would be better off, if you considered yourself an Afghan first and then a Pashtun. I am presuming you are from Afghanistan. Even if Pashtuns are in majority in Afghanistan, you nor any one can ride roughshod over a sizable minority. Before Pakistan was formed Muslims were around 20% of Indian population. If they could get a country of their own, why can’t a sizable minority ask for division of Afghanistan. The more divided you are the weaker you become. So, if at all possible, stay united as one Afghan nation. We Indians wish well of Afghanistan and would like to see you prosper. I am sure you know that already!

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  • nazarrabi
    Apr 30, 2012 - 9:38AM

    @G. Din:
    i am sorry i dont anderstan you speak indian and see your self indian, i am pashtun whay should i see my self afghan ,taliban ,khan pathan pakistan n.w.f ,khaber and so and so if afghanistan language was pashto only instead of dari farciwall iranin arabic then i would say ok far ,but the language of the land is not pashto so i dont see my self an afghan or pakistani

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