Iraq in Ruin What Next for Afghanistan?


Courtesy Wakil Kohsar, AFP: Afghan Presidential Candidates
Ashraf Ghani (L), Abdullah Abdullah (R)

Afghanistan – July 6, 2014| Iraq with a rich history and culture is on the brink of disintegration. Once a major player in the regional games and a military power house, Iraq is a shell of its former self, a divided country with a de facto Kurdish republic in the north now opting for independence, a non-functional government in Baghdad and a growing extremist menace threatening to overrun the capital.  The possible disintegration threatens to bring a system of government run by extremist elements of the Sunni faith that is hitherto unprecedented in the history of mankind. Worse yet, the ripple effect of the developments in Iraq would be felt far beyond its borders in the region and even around the world. Why are the events in Iraq so alarming to the countries of the region and what they mean to another unfinished project the US undertook before invading Iraq, namely, Afghanistan?

There are some similarities between the two countries that warrant concerns:

Both countries were invaded by the same foreign power for the purpose of changing the existing regimes. In Afghanistan, the invasion was quite legitimate as it was carried out by the approval of the UN and NATO because the country was used as a base by extremist elements who attacked the US on 9/11 and caused one of the worst tragedies in modern history. However, in Iraq the story was different. Although it had a horrible dictatorship that had ruled the country for a few decades, it was no threat to the US or the region and US had no cause to change its regime.

Both countries had a diverse ethnic and sectarian population with a history of animosities along the ethnic and religious lines. In Afghanistan for over two centuries one ethnic group had reigned sometimes with iron fist to suppress the majority of the population. There were wars and massacres of the religious and ethnic minorities most recently during the Taliban reign in the 1990’s in the north where they butchered more than 10,000 Hazara. In Iraq, the Kurds and Shi’ites were suppressed and massacred by the government of Saddam Hussain and the ruling Baath party.

Both countries are to be left alone to their own devices. Iraq is already abandoned by the US and Afghanistan is to be left to its own fate after 2014, with only 9000 US troops to be stationed for training purposes.

Both countries have suffered some kind of foreign interferences during their recent histories. Afghanistan was invaded by the Soviets and as a reaction all kinds of religious extremists were invited to go there and fight a Jihad. Some were even trained by the very US forces that are now fighting them. Afghanistan became the cradle of Jihad from the 1980’s onward to this day. Worse yet, the war against the Soviets brought the countries of the region to the scene who were hitherto not serious players as far as interference in a neighborly region was concerned. The culprits were and still are Saudi Arabia -the extremist Wahabi sect and Iran -the extremist Shi’ite sect with Pakistan as a playing arena for both. Iraq suffered religious interference after the emergence of Islamic Iran which eventually led to the Iran-Iraq war that lasted more than eight years. The Iranian and Saudi interferences started seriously after the demise of Saddam Hussain and continue to this day.


The effects of the recent ominous developments:

First, in Iraq itself, the development would unleash a savage war between the Shi’ites and the Sunnis. The animosity between the two sects has simmered for decades.  The Shi’ites being the majority were persecuted and practically kept out of power by successive governments especially the Baath party that was run by Saddam Hussain during much of the last three decades. During the first Gulf war, their holy shrines were partly destroyed and the southern marshes were almost dried out, depriving thousands of Iraqi Shi’ites of their only livelihood that had sustained them for generations. The second gulf war which toppled the Ba’ath party regime of Saddam Hussain brought a change in the government that led to the emergence of Shi’ites as the major power and in control of the country. This is not forgotten by the Sunnis, who despite being one of the minorities in Iraq consider themselves as the true rulers of the country. Now the government of Noori Al Maliki is blamed for all the ills that have befallen the country.

Although the actual blame goes to the two Bushes, father and son, who invaded Iraq twice and destroyed it. The other blame goes to the successive Shi’ite regimes especially that of Noori al Maliki who uncompromisingly brought a political stalemate in the country. No matter what the blame or who to blame the fact of the matter is that the country would disintegrate along the ethnic as well as the sectarian lines which not only bring disaster to itself , but also to the region. The Kurds are planning a referendum on independence and the ISIL has already proclaimed their Caliphate.

Second, the conflict in Iraq like the other ones in the region such as Syria, Pakistan, and Afghanistan among others is basically fueled by the outside interferences mainly from the Saudi Wahabis and the Iranian Shi’ites each trying to have a finger in the pie. Since the conflict in Afghanistan prior and after the Soviet invasion of the country, Saudi Arabia has been one of the sponsors of extremist groups, funding and propagating religious schools or Madrassas in Pakistan and Afghanistan. The numbers of Madrassas in Pakistan grew from less than 2000 in the early eighties to more than  20,000 in 2010. These Madrassas churned Taliban fighters in thousands during their onslaught on Afghanistan. The Saudis, Pakistanis and the UAE were the first three countries to formally recognize the Taliban government.  The Saudi support goes back to the days of the late president Zia ul Haq of Pakistan. Since then, hundreds of thousands of extremists from around the world from Chechnya to Uzbekistan to China to Algeria to UK and scores of other countries have gone to Pakistan to receive training in terror tactics. Iran on its part has been instrumental in training Shi’ite extremist to fight in Lebanon, Syria, Afghanistan, and Pakistan to name a few. The two religious regimes have fought their proxy wars in the region since the inception of the Iranian regime in the 1970’s and it still continues.  The war in Syria has brought Saudis to the picture again as they wanted to get rid of Bashar al Asad, an Alawite and a close ally of Iran. The Saudis were hoping that the US would do their dirty war in Syria and bomb Asad out of existence. They were bitterly disappointed when Obama did not buy their version of events. The two oil rich and financiers of the extremist Wahabi causes in the Muslim world, Saudi Arabia and Qatar are having a ball as they watch the events in Iraq unfold in front of their eyes. As long as there are places and regions to get into, the two oil rich countries would try to buy influence.

The dangers have been simmering for quite a while, but the recent development in Iraq has brought an urgency and drawn attention to this menace. The crisis is more of political than military or ideology.

In Afghanistan, after the withdrawal of the Soviet forces, the US abandoned and left it to its own devices. The extremists that had been trained in Pakistan remained active and they wanted a venue to practice their trade.  Some went to Algeria to start a civil war, the others became tools of the Pakistani ISI and created problem for India. Still the majority of them were organized to move to Afghanistan where a fiefdom was in the making and became known as the Taliban. The Taliban with the help and support of the Pakistanis as well as the Saudis succeeded in establishing an archaic regime, the type of which perhaps was not seen in history. After the first Gulf war when the US forces entered Saudia Arabia, the extremist Arab fighters who hitherto had been cozy with the West, became disillusioned and turned against the US. The result was the attacks on the US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania as well as on the USS Cole in Yemen and more ominous 9/11. The US retaliated and in 2001 toppled the Taliban regime in Kabul which was backed by much of the people of the world. Two years later, President Bush junior, perhaps in one of the worst blunders of modern history, went to Iraq to topple Saddam Hussain on a false pretext of having weapons of mass destruction or WMD. He also continued to fight the wrong enemy in Afghanistan to borrow an expression from the journalist Carlotta Gall. He helped, financed, and armed Pakistan which harbored the Taliban and Al Qaeda. President Bush made two horrible mistakes: Indstead of bombing the Saudis or Pakistanis who had helped, financed and harbored the terrorists, he bombed Afghanistan and fought the wrong enemy in Afghanistan. Instead of finishing one job in Afghanistan, in a vain attempt to avenge the threat that Iraq supposedly had made against senior Bush, he waged a war on Iraq. Of course the phony reason of WMD that the neo-cons cooked up and made him and others to believe was posed as the real reason to invade Iraq. He had no business changing a regime in Baghdad. Saddam Hussain for all his ills was a secular dictator who had held Iraq together under the difficult circumstances and had fought a war against an emerging archaic regime in the region. If any regime was to be changed, it should have been that of Saudi Arabia which is the financier of all the extremists from Chechnya to Bosnia to Syria.

The war in Iraq changed the tactic and nature of guerrilla warfare. Suicide bombing and car bombing became extensive and pervasive. Nowadays there are hardly any day without a car bomb being detonated in a market place or a street. The Iraq war galvanized would be terrorists and they flocked from around the world to go to war against the Americans both in Iraq and Afghanistan. Perhaps the easiest venue for the international terrorists to the region was through Pakistan where they found a sympathetic regime which harbored terrorists of all persuasions. In fact terrorism was used as a tool of foreign policy by successive Pakistani governments from the civilian to the military general. Now Tehrik Taliban Pakistan (TTP) is trying to make the government taste what it had cooked for others, namely, Afghanistan and India.


Back to present Iraq

The fighting in Iraq had been nonsectarian. In fact Saddam Hussain for all his ills was a secular leader. He went to war because of the provocations initiated by Iran against Saddam Aflaqi, a reference to the founder of the Baath Pary, Michele Aflaq. He had no taste for fundamentalists such as Al Qaeda or the likes and in this respect, the West lost a good ally in the so called “war on terror.”

The advance of ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and Syria) or ISIL (Islamic State of Iraq and Levant) has shocked some and threaten others, small states like Jordan or Yemen or Bahrain. If the ISIS fighters carry out their threats against the Shi’ite shrine in Iraq or massacre Shi’ites in a large scale, the sectarian war will be fully blown where all the countries with Shi’ite population will heed the call of their leaders and join the fighting. Ayatullah Sistani’s call to arms was one such reaction in the war in Iraq. It would certainly deepen the fissure that is already threatening the integrity of Iraq. Furthermore, the events in Iraq has drawn Iran into the picture. Iran which in the past has carried out some of its proxy fighting with foreign fighters, this time will try to recruit volunteer from surrounding countries, especially Afghanistan.

The US position on Iraq and now Afghanistan is a hands-off approach. It left Iraq in disarray and now is in the process of doing the same thing in Afghanistan. The US is so lost in this quagmire that Mr. Obama considers cooperation with Iran, the very regime that Mr. Bush junior called part of the “Axis of Evil.” Iran for the most part has been part of the problem in the Middle East from Lebanon to Syria to Bahrain to Afghanistan.  Making Iran part of the solution is out of total desperation and it will bring nothing but disaster.

There are ominous clouds looming over Afghanistan. The Taliban are in a much better position than when they were driven out of Afghanistan. Their leadership, thanks to the dexterity of Pakistan which played a double game, is intact. In addition to the so called Quetta Shura, there is a new and strong and much dedicated group to the cause of terror, the Haqqani network which was non-existent at the fall of the Taliban.  Pakistan created this vicious group under the leadership of its old stooge, i.e., Jalaludding Haqqani. Pakistan is still wholeheartedly behind the Taliban and it is dreaming of using the group once again as an extension of its army, as it did in the late 1990’s, only this time it will not make the same mistakes as it did then.

The situation is getting increasingly uncertain as the presidential elections in Afghanistan are drawing to a close. The two contenders, Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai, a Pashtoon kuchi or nomad and the other one, Dr. Abdullah Abdullah, a half breed, Tajik and Pashtoon but strongly associated with non-Pashtoon are vying for power. The first round was inconclusive and the second round is fraught with vote riggings. Already there are allegations of stuffing the ballot boxes with phony votes. Allegedly, in the sparsely populated province of Khost alone, there have been more than 400,000.00 votes cast. It is hard to believe that votes will not come in millions from Pakistan. This is for several reasons:

1-      The Pashtoon straddle the porous border between Pakistan and Afghanistan, sometimes the same tribe or clan living on both sides.  They come and go as they please.

2-      The voting cards especially for women carry no name or picture due to cultural strictness of the Pashtoons. So it is very possible to have ghost voters in hundreds of thousands as nobody can question or see the face of a woman.

3-      Dr. Abdullah is part of the Northern Alliance a coalition of forces that fought the Taliban and as a result against Pakistan during the war. Pakistan does not trust the Northern Alliance and the feeling is mutual.

4-      Dr. Abdullah is closely associated with India. In fact his family is living there. He also has a rather close relationship with Russia as well as Iran. Any associate of India is an enemy of Pakistan.

5-      Pakistan in its right mind would not tolerate any government or individual coming to power in Afghanistan if it deems hostile to itself. For Pakistan it is a matter of life or death to have a regime pliant or leaning to India.

Therefore, by hook or by crook, Pakistan will influence the events in Afghanistan even if it needs millions of ballot papers. They reportedly have printed paper in the millions.

In another development, the Taliban reportedly have announced in the southern parts of Afghanistan that people are free to vote as long as they vote for Ashraf Ghani.


All this will most probably result in three scenarios:

1-      Dr. Abdullah wins and the Pashtoons will rebel as they consider only themselves to be worthy of governing the country. In this war the Pashtoons will be on one side and the rest of the population on the other side. Pakistan would be heavily involved both in support of the Pashtoons whose interests coincide with it and because of opposition to Abdullah and his close ties with India. This will split the Pashtoon camp as the first vice president is a Pashtoon and Hezbe Islami that is also supported by Pakistan. If the Uzbeks put all their support behind Dostom who is allied with Ashraf Ghani, they will not be in a good position.  Also in this scenario Pakistan will play the Taliban card and will provoke disturbances in the country and the Taliban are ready and willing to oblige.

2-      Ashraf Ghani wins- There will be a civil war with a similar scenario except the Uzbeks will be divided between the Dostom camp and the supporters of the Northern Alliance. If a civil war breaks out between the Pashtoons and non-Pashtoons, the Uzbeks cannot side with the Pashtoons as they suffered during the decades of Pashtoon dominations of political scene.

3-      The disturbance would cause the government to annul the results as it was done in Algeria and Mr. Karzai will stay as the king of the republic. In the best case Afghanistan will be in a limbo. In the worst case, the country will descent into chaos and here lays the danger that it may follow the Iraqi model.

Pakistan in the past had mulled over the idea of common destiny for Pakistan and Afghanistan. If it can play the Taliban card successfully, Pakistan will be on the verge of another Caliphate, as it is dreamed by its fundamentalist clergy. In any case, the sectarian war that looms in the region will be fought in Afghanistan and the Iranians, Saudis and Pakistanis will try to have their share of the pie. What this brings to the country and people of Afghanistan is anybody’s guess.



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Akram Gizabi

The writer is a former VOA journalist. He is an analyst on Hazaras, Afghanistan, and South Asia. Twitter: @AGizabi

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