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Paper no. 760                                                  12.08.2003


by B. Raman 

As the jihadi terrorist bees disturbed from the Afghan and Pakistani  beehives by the post-9/11 US action in Afghanistan continue to sting whomsoever they could far and wide, the NATO has entered Kabul to take over the command of the UN-mandated International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), whose job presently is confined to ensuring security in and around Kabul and to train a professional multi-ethnic Afghan military, which could ultimately take over the responsibility for the maintenance of internal and external security.

2. The 5537-strong ISAF consists of contingents from Albania( 23),  Azerbaijan (23),  Belgium: (241),  Bulgaria ( 42), Canada (1900), Croatia ( 36),the  Czech Republic( 7), Denmark (49), Estonia (6), Finland (31), France (548),  Germany (1500),Greece (125), Hungary (11),  Iceland ( 1), Ireland (7),Italy (135), Latvia (9), Lithuania (2),Macedonia (10), Netherlands (43),  New Zealand (4),  Norway (64),Poland (12), Romania (32),Spain (113),  Sweden (21), Switzerland (2),  Turkey (163), the  UK (267), and the United States  (110).

3. In addition, a US-led force, which is much more homogenous , but whose actual strength is not known, is deployed on counter-insurgency and counter-terrorism tasks in southern and eastern Afghanistan.  The ISAF exercises no command and control over this US-led force.  Though both the forces are largely drawn  from NATO member or partner countries, their areas of jurisdiction are different and they vary widely in their expertise. While the US has considerable knowledge of Afghanistan and its people due to its active involvement in covert actions against the Soviet troops in the 1980s, most of the participants in the ISAF have very little local knowledge and expertise.

4. India, Russia, Pakistan and Iran are the four countries which know Afghanistan and its people better than any other country.  While Russia has  kept itself out of the ISAF, the West in general and the US in particular have kept Pakistan, India and Iran out of it for various reasons.  Pakistan has been kept out because of its paternity of the Taliban and its  links with Al Qaeda and with the various components of bin Laden's International Islamic Front (IIF).  India was kept out because of Pakistan's objections.  The distrust of Iran and its links with warlord Ismail Khan of Herat contributed to its exclusion.  Moreover, Teheran itself was not interested.

5. Suggestions from non-governmental experts and requests from interim President Hamid Karzai for expanding the jurisdiction of the ISAF to other areas of Afghanistan too have till now met with discouragement from the US. It apparently apprehends that this could come in the way of its operations against the remnants of the Taliban and Al Qaeda.

6. Till August 11, 2003, the leadership of the ISAF used to be rotated on a six-monthly basis among the  contributors of forces. This arrangement was found unsatisfactory.  Moreover, it militated against continuity of command and control. It was, therefore, decided on April 16 last that the NATO should take over the leadership. It did so at a formal function in Kabul on August 11. Till then, Germany and Netherlands were exercising joint leadership of the force.

7. According to NATO spokesmen, the ISAF's name and mission will not change.  The NATO will work within the same UN  mandate as the ISAF  and will operate according to current and future UN resolutions.  They have described the NATO's decision to take over this responsibility as "a reflection of our transformation agenda and the Alliance's resolve to address the new security challenges of the 21st century."

8. The Supreme Allied Commander Europe (SACEUR), General James Jones, has appointed the German Army Lieutenant-General Götz Gliemeroth as the ISAF Commander and Canadian Army Major-General Andrew Leslie as the ISAF Deputy Commander.

9. In a statement issued at Brussels on July 16, 2003, after discussions with Abdullah Abdullah, the Afghan Foreign Minister,  George Robertson, the NATO Secretary-General, said: "Afghanistan may well be one of the toughest (missions) that we've taken on.  It is not a brief commitment. This is a lasting commitment and we don't intend to fail."

10. Commenting at Brussels on the NATO take-over in Kabul on August 11, Nicholas Burns, the US Ambassador to NATO, said: "The US is ready to examine calls to expand the mandate of NATO-led peacekeepers in Afghanistan beyond Kabul.  This idea will need to be considered seriously once NATO has settled into its role in Kabul.  One option would be for NATO to participate in US-led ‘Provincial Reconstruction Teams’ which are already active in trying to enforce security outside Kabul. " From this, it is evident that while the US is prepared to eventually consider the ISAF contingents participating in its counter-terrorism and counter-insurgency operations in southern and eastern Afghanistan, it is not prepared to concede the leadership role outside Kabul too to the NATO.

11. Even before August 11, the NATO was having what are called partnership programmes with some of the Central Asian Republics (CARs) under which limited training and other assistance are provided to them. These programmes, when they were launched, caused understandable concern in Russia, China and Iran, which viewed them as a NATO trojan horse before it officially extended its jurisdiction far outside its traditional Euro-Atlantic area towards the heart of Asia.

12. The NATO's take-over in Kabul, which is possibly the first step in this direction, should have, therefore, been strongly criticised not only by Russia, China and Iran , but also by India, but, surprisingly, this has not happened. Iran and India have been muted in their reactions.

13. Russia, on the contrary, has welcomed it, but expressed its continued inability to contribute troops for duty in Afghanistan.  Moscow knows the sting of the jihadi terrorist bees better than any of the members of the ISAF and would like to keep away from the beehives.  After a meeting of the NATO-Russia Council at Madrid on June 5, which was attended by Igor Ivanov, the Russian Foreign Minister, George Robertson announced that Russia had  offered to support the NATO’s peacekeeping mission in Afghanistan, but ruled out sending its troops.  He remarked: "The Russian offer, made by Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov, highlighted the dramatic improvement in relations between the Cold War foes.  A few years ago it would have been inconceivable that a NATO presence in Afghanistan would have been welcomed by the Russian authorities.”

14. Equally noteworthy has been the Chinese attitude, which in the past was suspicious, if not openly hostile, to the NATO's entry into the Asian region, under whatever name and pretext. The first indication of a change in the Chinese perception of the NATO came during a visit to Moscow on November 23 last by Tang Jiaxuan, the then Chinese Foreign Minister, for talks with his Russian counterpart.  He told pressmen: "China is currently reviewing its foreign policy and seeking closer cooperation with NATO.  Over the past year, Chinese foreign policy has made efforts to follow a new line on security issues.  As a result, our contacts with NATO have become business-like -- these contacts are aimed at improving our relations, and deepening our mutual understanding.  NATO must make greater efforts to fight terrorism, since only this can help support peace and stability. China's relations with the alliance should be based on mutual respect, mutual trust, mutual benefit, equality and cooperation. " China sought periodic political and strategic dialogue with the NATO, to which the latter responded positively.

15. Why this acceptance of the continued presence of the forces from the NATO member-countries in Afghanistan and the NATO's taking over the command and control of the ISAF? This reflects the continuing nervousness of Moscow and Beijing over their inability to effectively roll back the jihadi terrorists operating in their territories in Chechnya and Xinjiang and their hope that the continued involvement of the NATO forces in the fight against the jihadi terrorist bees would be of benefit to them too.  Till the fight against jihadi terrorism succeeds, if at all it does, Moscow and Beijing are prepared to stomach the presence of the US and NATO in Afghanistan.

16. But, is the fight succeeding? No. On the contrary, there are disturbing indications that the situation in southern and eastern Afghanistan is slowly sliding back to the pre-1994 anarchy, which led to the emergence of  the Taliban, as the only force capable of restoring and maintaining law and order.  Survivors of Al Qaeda, the Taliban and Gulbuddin Heckmatyar's Hizb-e-Islami (HEI), operating from sanctuaries in Pakistan, have been succeeding in extending their area and intensity of operations. Their successful forays into Afghan territory and return to their sanctuaries in Pakistan, often without being intercepted either by the Afghan or the US-led security forces, would not be possible without considerable local support on the Afghan as well as the Pakistan side of the border.  It is becoming evident that despite the training and other assistance received by them from  the Western military, the security forces of the Karzai Government are no match to them.

17. The jihadi terrorists have changed their tactics in recent weeks.  They have been avoiding frontal attacks on the security forces of the US and its allies lest they invite costly retaliation.  Instead, they have been increasingly attacking the Afghan security forces and civilian government servants  and inflicting growing casualties on them, in an apparent bid to demoralise them and to prove to them  and the Afghan people that no number of Western troops could protect them.

18. How troubling is the situation would be evident from the following Kabul-datelined report carried by the "Dawn", the prestigious daily  of Karachi, on the day the NATO took over in Kabul:  "The UN has suspended road missions across much of southern Afghanistan following a series of attacks which left seven dead and 15 injured, a UN spokesman said Sunday.  "All UN missions to the border districts of Helmand and Kandahar (provinces) have been suspended," David Singh told reporters at a press conference. "There are also currently no missions to Uruzgan and Zabul (provinces) or to northern Helmand except to (the capital) Lashkar Gah or northern Kandahar," he said.  Six Afghan soldiers and an Afghan working for the US aid agency Mercy Corps were killed in an attack Thursday on the district commissioner's office in Dishu, southern Helmand province, "by about  40 suspected terrorist elements," Singh said. "The provincial authorities have sent forces to the area to investigate and track down the offenders," he said.  In neighbouring Kandahar province, 10 Afghan staff of the non-government organisation Coordination Humanitarian Assistance were attacked and beaten in their offices in Maiwand district on Tuesday evening.  "They were severely beaten and tied up when they refused to release the keys to their newly-purchased vehicles. The armed men who attacked them set fire to three vehicles," Singh said. That same evening five policemen were injured when a police road checkpoint in Maiwand district was "attacked by suspected members of terrorist organisations equipped with rocket-propelled grenades, heavy machine-guns and grenades."

19. The anger amongst the US troops deployed in Afghan territory near the Pakistan border over the failure of the Pakistani authorities to act against the sanctuaries of the jihadi terrorists in Pakistani territory led to another serious incident when an American field commander called for a strike by helicopter gunships on suspected sanctuaries in Pakistani territory in the  Alwar Mandi area of the North Waziristan tribal agency on August 10.  Two Pakistani soldiers were killed and three others  were reported missing. There has been considerable unhappiness amongst junior and middle level officers of the US army deployed in southern and eastern Afghanistan over the failure of the Pentagon and the State Department to force the Pervez Musharraf Government to act against the jihadi terrorist sanctuaries.

20. It is doubtful whether the NATO's taking over of the command and control of the ISAF  would result in any qualitative improvement in the ground situation unless and until the jihadi terrorist beehives in Pakistan are destroyed..  There is growing anger amongst Afghan civilians who complain that the ISAF and the US-led forces go into action only when their lives are threatened and not when the lives of Afghans are threatened. They allege that when they complain to the Western military officers over the growing insecurity, the latter tell them that it is for the Afghan security forces to protect them. 

(The writer is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, and, presently, Director, Institute for Topical Studies, Chennai, and Convenor, Observer Research Foundation (ORF), Chennai chapter. E-mail: )