Af-Pak: President Ashraf Ghani and Pakistan’s Shadow over Afghanistan
Ghani’s genuflections before Pakistan’s military leadership, and his numerous significant concessions to Pakistan have incensed and disturbed Afghans across the country, resentful of Pakistan since its inception
Shrinivasrao S Sohoni Delhi
Ever since news broke out in Pakistan in mid-May of the ISI-NDS MoU, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani has been in frantic damage-control mode.
Ghani’s genuflections before Pakistan’s military leadership, and his numerous significant concessions to Pakistan continue to incense and disturb Afghans across the country, resentful of Pakistan since its inception.
Afghanistan is the one country that opposed Pakistan’s admission to the United Nations in 1947.
All the territory west of the Indus is considered by Afghans and successive Afghan governments as part of Afghanistan, and they outright reject the ‘Durand Line’ being designated the international border with Pakistan.
But millions of Afghans have suffered humiliation and pernicious harassment at the hands of Pakistanis since Pakistan was carved out with the Durand Line shown as its boundary with Afghanistan.
‘Ghilam jaam’ (carpet-bundle carrier) is the demeaning pejorative term coined and routinely hurled by Pakistan’s Punjabis at Afghans coming over in their plight, seeking refuge, each with a few belongings roped in a bundle.
The term is used generally against the Frontier people also, including internally displaced persons (IDP) on the Pakistan side of the frontier, – such as droves of Waziris forced out of their homelands since 2014 by the so-called ‘Zarb-e-Abz’ Operation launched by Pakistan’s Armed Forces in Waziristan.
Pakistan-based Terrorism, Pakistan’s obdurate blockading of Afghan goods-transit to the subcontinental market in India, and Pakistan-based radical-extremism, also remain painful inflictions on Afghanistan.
In view of all this, Ghani’s unabashed prostration before Pakistan is viewed the more objectionable and shaming by Afghans.
Stringent criticism has issued from an array of Afghan heavy-weights, including President Hamid Karzai, who wields considerable influence; Atta Mohammad Noor the powerful Tajik warlord and Governor of Balkh Province; even Ustad Abdul Rasul Sayyaf, the warlord of Arab ethnicity and uncommon ruthlessness; redoubtable former chiefs of the NDS, Amrullah Saleh (Panjsheri Tajik) and Asadullah Khaled (Taraki Pashtun); what to say of lesser lights like Dawat Islami head, Fazal Abdul Hadi Muslimyar (Pashtun) the Chairman of the Meshrano Jirga (House of Elders), numerous Parliamentarians of all ethnicities and regions, legal luminaries like Nasrullah Stanikzai (Durrani Pashtun), and diverse Afghan news agencies, including the popular Pashtun television network Shamshad TV.
Equally serious is the smoldering resentment within Afghanistan’s national security forces and agencies smarting against Ghani’s actions: repeatedly subordinating Afghan national interest and national security to dictation from Pakistan in furtherance of Pakistan’s security and foreign policy priorities.
Rahmatullah Nabiel, the DG NDS whom Ghani, on Pakistan’s cue, has for months tried to snub and remove, is struggling to resist Ghani’s undermining of the NDS.
Nabiel is the Article 64 appointee first to win confirmation in Afghanistan’s Wolesi Jirga (People’s Assembly), that too with the largest number of votes and support across ethnic and political lines. Nabiel has made no bones about castigating Ghani in a closed-door sitting of a Parliamentary Commission on National Security examining the ISI-NDS MoU matter.
Barely eight months into his five-year term, Ghani’s image has taken hard knocks, and doubts and questions are rife whether Ghani has the basic bona fides, and whether he can even be trusted to safeguard Afghanistan’s national interest.
As often happens in Afghanistan, when a person is under suspicion, his ancestry also comes in for investigation and minute scrutiny.
Details now bandied include that Ghani’s claims of being of Kochai nomadic ethnicity are unsubstantiated, his maternal grandmother was a Shi’a, and that he belongs to a Pakistan-based family with a history of collaboration with Afghanistan’s enemies.
The tribal name ‘Ahmedzai’ which Ghani abruptly started using during the elections, is summarily dispensed with by him since assuming Presidential office; directives being issued to abolish it from all official records.
Ghani’s Pashtu is disregarded as being the lowly ‘bazaari’ kind.
It is documented that Ghani’s paternal grandfather, one Mohammad Abdal Ghani, was a servant of the hated Nadir Khan - set up by the British in 1929-30 to instigate displacement of the regime of Habibullah Kalakani.
For alleged connivance with the British and Nadir Khan, Abdal Ghani is said to have received his ‘thirty pieces of silver’ in the form of rent-free use of a house in Kabul, and a clerical job in a transport undertaking. He then spun his position there to accumulate lucre, and moved to the Pakistan side of the Durand Line.
Ghani’s father, Shah Pesand, alias Shah Jon, acquired a nickname related to his truck-transport business smuggling contraband to and fro across the Durand Line.
His connexions with the Pakistani security establishment and police, and Ashraf Ghani’s own connexions with those entities, are now recalled with derision.
That photographs exist of Ghani with his Lebanese Christian wife Rula, attending Catholic Church ceremonials outside Afghanistan, is also not proving helpful to Ghani’s image in the conservative Muslim ethos of Afghanistan. Rula as well as both her two children by Ghani, are US citizens, not Afghan.
Among provocations that inflame Islamic clergy most, is a Muslim who exhibits signs of being a ‘Murtad’ (apostate) or a ‘Munafiq’ (hypocrite): both conditions qualifying the culprit ‘Wajib-e-Qatl’ (necessary to be killed) under all schools of Sharia law.
Almost panic-stricken, Ghani’s frenetic actions clutching about for self-preservation and exoneration, have been three-fold.
First, he has kept on denying that any agreement as such has been reached between the ISI and the NDS, let alone signed: facetiously terming the document only a ‘Memorandum of Understanding’; and contending for good measure that even the MoU is still only a draft, - a preliminary draft to boot, and that too under examination, which “if decided, will be submitted to the National Security Council for consideration”.
The trouble with this plea is that the official bilateral authentication of the document and its purposes, has been publicized from the Pakistan side by Army GHQ Rawalpindi’s Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) in unequivocal triumphalist terms, and is marquee news still streaming on the ISPR’s website.
The Army GHQ Rawalpindi’s Spokesman, Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) Chief, Maj Gen Asim Bajwa’s declaration, quick off the mark on Twitter, a preferred channel currently of ISPR press releases, is on record: “MoU signed by ISI and NDS includes intelligence sharing, complementary and coordinated intel operations on respective sides.”
That smug announcement obviously aims to impress on the international community Pakistan’s having established emphatic sway in Afghan affairs, and cocks a snook at the Government of India - hosts of President Ashraf Ghani during his visit to New Delhi just days earlier.
It is not lost on Ghani’s well placed and well-informed critics that Pakistan has scarcely made the claim without solid basis; and the fact that Ghani refuses to show the document, or even share its contents, is further ground to dismiss his protestations.
Secondly, to Ghani is attributed the leaking to selected media agencies - a document containing seven points framed by Ghani for his Pakistani interlocutors for compliance within three weeks.
The stipulations include insistence that Pakistani authorities arrest Taliban insurgency-leaders residing in Pakistan; denounce the Taliban’s so-called Spring offensive; handover fugitives wanted by Afghanistan; agree to an exchange of prisoners; deny Taliban combatants medical treatment inside Pakistan; limit the sale of fertilizers and electrical switches usable in detonating improvised explosive devices (IEDs). By implication this points to Pakistan’s continuing sponsorship of Terrorism in Afghanistan and harboring of terrorists in Pakistan.
Tweaking the sentence he uttered in Washington: “A state of undeclared war has been in existence between Afghanistan and Pakistan for the last thirteen years”, Ghani now says: “A state of undeclared war has been in existence between Afghanistan and Pakistan for thirty-six years, particularly in the last thirteen years.” and he resorts again to bombast that he is a “war President” and that “fire will be replied with fire”.
These assertions also, however, are viewed by Afghans as an apparent and lame attempt to mollify public opinion while, in point of fact, collaborating with the enemy.
Meanwhile, in Islamabad and Rawalpindi, the Foreign Ministry and GHQ ‘Pindi, somewhat irritated, brush away the stipulations, dismissing these as of no particular relevance or consequence. It is widely assumed that Ghani is sure to have received a rap on his knuckles for having the temerity to embarrass GHQ ‘Pindi.
Third, it appears Ghani has thereafter tried sleight of hand to placate his powerful interlocutors in ‘Pindi.
In a move reflecting cunning, Ghani announced two senior appointments in the NDS.
Presidential Official Spokesman Ajmal Obaid Abedy is now Deputy DG in the NDS.
Abedy is the founder-owner of Ariya TV and is an experienced media manager. Abedy speaks eight languages: Pashto, Dari, Tajiki, Arabic, Urdu, Punjabi, English, and Russian. His linkages with Pakistan are no secret.
Abedy’s task evidently is to execute psywar operations of the kind Pakistan desires from within the NDS: putting out stories and manufactured detail aiming to change Afghan perceptions and opinion in favor of Pakistan.
Such psywar activity is ordained by Pakistan for Afghanistan to conduct under provisions of the impugned ISI-NDS MoU.
Ghani next appointed Adib Fahim to a newly-created post of First Deputy in the NDS.
Adib, a Panjsheri Tajik, is the eldest son of the late Marshal Mohammad Qasim Fahim, formerly First Vice President. Hence his appointment may seem a sop to Tajik sensibilities and rank politicization of the NDS.
But while counting on nods of approval from Tajiks, young Adib’s appointment is not just an ethnic card flicked onto the table by Ghani; his play is somewhat more subtle.
Saddling Ajmal Obaid Abedy and Adib Fahim to work cheek by jowl with Rehmatullah Nabiel, ensures that Nabiel stays constricted, the NDS leadership remains at loggerheads, and institutional paralysis and dysfunctionality ensue; - exactly what ‘Pindi desires.
The overarching perception in Afghanistan is, Mohammad Ashraf Ghani, President of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, as part of his brief of services to Pakistan, has worked assiduously over the past eight months since assuming office, to wreck the NDS.
Whatever the fate of the ISI-NDS MoU document, one fact is salient: the NDS stands undermined within its headquarters, debilitated in its operations in Afghanistan, and nullified in Pakistan.
The NDS, under Amrullah Saleh, Asadullah Khaled, and Rahmatullah Nabiel, progressively built up a formidable security network and counter-terrorism combat forces.
In Pakistan, the NDS had developed valuable assets for intelligence gathering and counter-terrorism.
Now, because of Ghani’s calculated actions in compliance of Pakistani dictation, the plug has been pulled on the Pakistan side of the NDS’ assets and operations.
Many NDS agents, informers and channels have been exposed to the Pakistan’s intelligence precipitating dire consequences for them; some being killed brutally, others seized and kept in captivity.
Sensitive equipment in the NDS, acquired at substantial cost, and involving considerable training to activate and maintain in good order, has been rendered dysfunctional.
Key NDS personnel have been shifted around specifically to disrupt and destabilize the organization. Some outstanding personnel have been found mysteriously murdered.
The intelligence and counter-terrorism infrastructure even in and around Kabul, has been drastically weakened.
Meanwhile, Pakistan-based foot-soldiers continue to ingress into Afghanistan’s northeastern provinces of Balkh and Badakhshan – as these are crucial for Pakistan in regional geopolitical strategy.
The crucial Skardu-Kashgar route is to be bolstered; and Kunduz Province and Mazar-e-Sharief, become more vulnerable to a pincer attack; as do north-ward routes across the Amu Darya to Tajikistan, and the south-ward route to the strategic Salang Pass.
These and several other actions, make GHQ ‘Pindi’s game-plan abundantly clear, viz. to acquire an iron grip on Afghanistan, control the land routes for overland trade with Central Asia and further afield, and be in a position to exploit newer routes towards Kashmir for infiltration.
President Ashraf Ghani has played a noteworthy role virtually as Pakistan’s handyman atop Afghanistan’s governance structure.
Ghani once had a brush with stomach-cancer, which till quite recent was assumed cured.
Now there are reports the cancer may have recurred; and is a contributory factor to the frequency of Ghani’s anxiety-attacks and rages.
Be that as it may, whether mere palace gossip in The Arg or otherwise, one thing is certain: Pakistan will wring out every last drop of advantage out of its asset, the President of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, Mohammad Ashraf Ghani.
A sense of foreboding prevails in Afghanistan, as to the target of the next major terrorist attack: an Embassy? An Afghan Government facility? Afghan National Security Force personnel? Congregation at a Mosque on Jumma day? Civilians massing at a bus terminus? An INGO guest house? The Hamid Karzai International Airport? Storming of a key district HQs? An assassination?
The initiative for any and all of these lies with GHQ, Rawalpindi, where the shots are called concerning the AfPak Theater. With Ghani in place as President; Pakistan casts a dark shadow over Afghanistan.
(The writer is a former Senior Adviser, Office of Administrative Affairs & Council of Ministers Secretariat, Office of the President of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan; Secretary to the President of India)