THE most recent instances of ‘green-on blue’ attacks in Afghanistan came in rapid succession last week on Tuesday (one US soldier killed in eastern Afghanistan), Thursday (three US soldiers killed after being invited to dinner by an Afghan soldier in Sangin district in Helmand) and Friday (three US soldiers killed in Garmsir district in Helmand).
According to one count the number of Nato soldiers, most of them Americans, killed in green-on-blue incidents has risen to 37 in 26 incidents this year as against 35 in 21 incidents in all of 2011.
These official figures, grim as they are, do not really represent the reality since it has long been Nato practice to acknowledge such incidents only if they result in fatalities. A careful perusal of reports would suggest that the number of incidents where only injury has been caused could be at least as high as those acknowledged by Nato.
Saturday was also the day on which an Afghan police officer killed 10 of his colleagues in Nimruz province before making his escape. This was only the latest grisly example of Afghan police officers and soldiers turning their guns on their own colleagues.
Saturday was also the day on which an Afghan police officer killed 10 of his colleagues in Nimruz province before making his escape. This was only the latest grisly example of Afghan police officers and soldiers turning their guns on their own colleagues. A detailed count of such incidents would also show that there have been dozens of such incidents in this year with total fatalities being more than a couple of hundred.
A detailed count of such incidents would also show that there have been dozens of such incidents in this year with total fatalities being more than a couple of hundred.
Speaking after the Sangin incident, Isaf spokesman Brig Gen Gunter Katz called the incident tragic but maintained that it was an “isolated incident” that “doesn’t reflect the security situation.” And according to the same CBS news story, “White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said he didn’t want to ‘diminish at all the seriousness of the attack’ but ‘it is important within the context here to recognise that missions … are being conducted every day, every hour involving US forces and the 330,000 Afghan forces.’ He added that the US military ‘believes that the operational impact [of the attacks] has been negligible.’”
There is no doubt that many such incidents may relate, as Nato spokespersons maintain, to personal grievances or personal hostility, but there is equally no doubt that in many cases the perpetrators are Taliban planted in the rapidly expanded Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF). It is also certain that every such incident will create turmoil in the village of the perpetrator since two notables from the village are required to certify the bona fides of each potential recruit and implicitly the whole village comes under suspicion after an attack of this nature.
While the ethnicity of the perpetrator is rarely mentioned, most if not all the attackers are Pakhtun. Already the representation of Pakhtuns from the troubled Taliban-dominated provinces in the south and east is about three per cent in the ANSF. Such incidents are likely to inhibit further the recruitment from these areas, exacerbating the ethnic imbalance in the ANSF.
I had noted in earlier articles that these incidents, which have prompted such decisions as the stationing of ‘guardian angel’ sentries to watch over American soldiers while they interact with their Afghan counterparts and the disarming of Afghan and most American soldiers when important visitors come to training sites, will call into question the willingness of the American armed forces to contemplate a residual presence after the Nato force withdrawal is completed in 2014.
While an agreement has not yet been reached between the Afghans and Americans on the conditions for such deployment, it has already been stated that the Americans would not have independent bases but would be stationed at Afghan bases, which would be under Afghan administrative control. They would therefore have to depend on the Afghans for security.
Would the Americans be prepared to accept this now? It is likely that in the difficult negotiations that lie ahead the Americans will want assurances that they could themselves provide security for their base presence and, equally importantly, for the intelligence-gathering units that would be an integral part of the residual presence. Would the Afghans agree? This is another question that will assume fundamental importance if the green-on-blue incidents continue at their present pace.
Much has been appearing about the signals from the Taliban that they are prepared for reconciliation. The most recent is a three-page letter in Pushto believed by some to be authentic and obtained by The Sunday Times which states that the Taliban are prepared to denounce Al Qaeda, permit education for girls and visualise participation in elections. Read in conjunction with Anatol Lieven’s revelations of his talks with Taliban leaders and the earlier Michael Semple interview of the man he called Mawlvi, it does seem that at least one section of the Taliban is prepared for peace talks on acceptable terms. The fly in the ointment is that in none of these seemingly positive indications is there a Taliban willingness to talk to the Karzai administration.
The revelation by Karzai’s national security adviser, though later denied by Islamabad, that Pakistan had facilitated a meeting of Afghan officials with Abdul Ghani Baradar some two months ago is significant. One does not know how influential Baradar remains in Taliban circles, but if he does have influence he has clearly refused to exercise it in these two months to facilitate a Taliban-Karzai dialogue. How should Pakistan view this?
The reconciliation process, if it is to be Afghan-owned and Afghan-led, will include both the Karzai regime, which includes not only moderate Pakhtuns but also significant representatives from the ethnic minorities, and the opposition, comprising largely those identified in the past as the Northern Alliance and the Taliban. If the Taliban stay with the current demand of talking only to the Americans then it would become a question of the Americans brokering talks between the opposition and the Taliban.
This is clearly not in Pakistan’s interest, nor is it in the interest of the goal of peace and stability in Afghanistan.
We should be making every effort to get the Taliban to talk to Karzai and to persuade Karzai to include the opposition in his negotiating team. It will be difficult. There will be spoilers galore — warlords, narcotics dealers and other power brokers who thrive on instability — but we must try because the alternative, given the questionable prospect of a residual American presence, is a descent into civil war, the disastrous consequences of which Pakistan will have to bear.
The writer is a former foreign secretary.