August 31, 2011 Inquiry & Analysis Series No. 731

Two Clashing Scenarios for Afghanistan Following the U.S. and Coalition Withdrawal in 2014, and Beyond That to 2024

August 31, 2011 | By Yigal Carmon and Tufail Ahmad*
Pakistan, Afghanistan | Inquiry & Analysis Series No. 731


U.S. and international troops are slated to hand over security responsibilities to Afghan security forces by the end of 2014. However, there are two clashing scenarios emerging in the run-up to 2014, and well beyond that into 2024, a key year in U.S. strategy. Of these scenarios, one is being considered by the U.S. and Afghan government; and the other is being engineered by the Pakistani military's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) and its surrogates: the Taliban, Hizb-e-Islami and other terrorist groups.

Both sides have a vision of what a desired outcome should be in Afghanistan. The U.S. has a hopeful vision of an independent Afghan state capable of taking over its security responsibilities; the ISI's current strategy is to take control of Afghanistan and shape its domestic policymaking and strategic relations with neighboring nations.

This analysis looks at the U.S.-led strategy to ensure a stable Afghanistan, and how the ISI is engineering a counter-strategy as evident in political and military spheres.

The U.S. Strategy for 2024 - Goal One: Mechanism for Prolonging the Stay of U.S. Troops to 2024

Afghan and U.S. officials are engaged in talks to provide a formal mechanism for U.S. troops to stay in Afghanistan beyond 2014. In July 2011, Afghanistan's National Security Advisor Dr. Rangin Dadfar Spanta revealed that Washington and Kabul have reached an agreement in principle for the proposed Afghan-U.S. strategic partnership pact to be valid until 2024, at which time it could be extended or terminated following a review.[1]

Dr. Spanta, who was called to brief the Afghan parliament on this issue, added that the strategic pact with the U.S. will be in the national interest of Afghanistan.[2] He told the lawmakers that there are differences regarding the following demands: the captives in U.S.-controlled detention centers should be handed over to the Afghan control; there should be guarantees that the Afghan security forces will be equipped with arms and supported financially; and the U.S. requires that its troops can stay in Afghanistan only at the invitation of Afghans.[3] The Afghan leaders have also demanded that the U.S. train and equip an Afghan air force to meet the challenge of Pakistani air raids into Afghan provinces.

These differences are minor and will certainly be resolved over the next three years. It is reasonable to assume that an Afghan-U.S. strategic partnership agreement will be in place before the end of 2014.

Goal Two: Shaping the Role of the U.S. Military Presence

As per such an Afghan-U.S. partnership pact, the U.S. troops could be moved away from the battlefields to barracks inside Afghanistan, as they have been in Germany since World War II. In such a scenario, the U.S. hopes to see some semblance of stability in Afghanistan. Initially, the U.S. had proposed "permanent military bases" in Afghanistan. This proposal was widely criticized by all groups in Afghanistan, including independent Afghan analysts, the Taliban, and Hizb-e-Islami.

In February 2011, the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan (the Taliban's shadow government) issued a statement warning against the proposal for permanent U.S. military bases, saying that the "aborigines" will not tolerate the presence of foreign troops for even a single day.[4] Hizb-e-Islami Afghanistan, headed by Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, warned of a "long war" if the U.S. pressed ahead with its demand for permanent military bases.[5]

Following such criticisms, the U.S. has proposed joint control of U.S. military bases, to be set up under the Afghan-U.S. strategic partnership pact. A few weeks before he retired, U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates told Afghan television channel TOLOnews in June 2011 that "bases that belong to one country… [in] another country are always a magnet for trouble… On the other hand if we can have joint bases… I think that is more tolerable to the Afghan people."[6]

These developments also reveal that the U.S. has come to the view that the Taliban will continue to survive as a terrorist organization, possibly for the long term and backed by the Pakistani ISI. The U.S. also hopes that major parts of Afghanistan will be controlled by an increasingly large number of Afghan troops, though terror attacks could also occur, continuing the present trend.

The Pakistani ISI's Counter Strategy in Afghanistan

Pakistan is also implementing its own strategy in Afghanistan, both directly and indirectly, using its own force and its surrogates in the Taliban, Hizb-e-Islami, and other militant groups. The Pakistani strategy can be seen at two levels: military and political.


I) Pakistan Launches Artillery and Missile Attacks into Afghan Provinces

In the summer of 2011, Pakistan launched a series of artillery and missile attacks on the provinces of Kunar and Nangarhar in eastern Afghanistan, killing dozens of civilians. Afghan lawmakers described the Pakistani missile attacks as an "invasion" of Afghanistan.[7]

Criticizing the Karzai government for its silence over the missile attacks, Afghan lawmaker Farhad Azimi said: "I want to ask government officials as to why they call Pakistan a friend when it fires missiles into Afghanistan."[8]

The National Directorate of Security (NDS or Afghan intelligence agency) accused the Pakistani military of being behind the missile attacks. NDS Spokesman Lotfullah Mashal said that Pakistan has long been operating in secret to destabilize Afghanistan by backing the Taliban in the Pakistani tribal region, "but this time the Pakistani Army is taking its [military] intervention further, through heavily shelling Afghanistan in [broad] daylight."[9]

Afghan President Hamid Karzai referred to the attacks for the first time only on June 26, slamming Pakistan for firing 470 missiles into Afghanistan's eastern provinces.[10] A July 4, 2011 resolution of the Afghan parliament, which urged the UN Security Council and the Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC) to mount diplomatic pressure on Pakistan, described the Pakistani attacks in Kunar, Nangarhar, Khost and Paktia provinces as an "act of invasion" by Pakistan.[11]

The missile and artillery attacks were not Pakistan's first use of force against Afghanistan this year. In early February, Pakistani planes bombarded Afghan Border Police posts and civilians' homes in Afghanistan's Nangarhar and Khost provinces. According to the website, the attacks were timed to convey a warning to President Karzai against visiting India that month.[12]

II) Afghan Defense Minister: Pakistani Helicopters Entered Afghan Territory

The June missile attacks by the Pakistani army were accompanied by raids by the Pakistani Taliban, which is backed by the Pakistani regime.

In July 2011, Afghan border police commander Aminullah Amarkhel reported that hundreds of fighters from the Pakistani Taliban – who are supported by the Pakistani military – crossed the border into Afghanistan's Nuristan province, where they attacked police outposts and torched homes.[13]

Responding to the accusations of missile attacks and incursions in Pakistani territory, the Pakistani army denied targeting Afghanistan. Maj.-Gen. Athar Abbas, who is Director of the Pakistani military's Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) department, said: "Rounds were fired for engaging the fleeing militants and there is a possibility that some may have accidentally gone across the border."[14]

In a July 2, 2011 testimony before the Afghan parliament, Defense Minister Abdul Rahim Wardak said that two Pakistani helicopters recently entered Afghan territory.[15]

III) Pakistan Diverting Fertilizer for the Afghan Taliban to Make Explosives

Recently, reports emerged in the Pakistani and Afghan media that Pakistan is exporting fertilizers to Afghanistan where the Taliban are using them to create explosives. Following a complaint in this regard from Indian and U.S. officials, a team of Pakistan's Organization for Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) is reportedly investigating PakArab Fertilizer, the largest fertilizer factory in the country, and is checking stocks in warehouses.[16]

According to a report on the Pakistani website, the U.S. accusation initially came in the first week of July, following which Pakistani Interior Minister Rehman Malik banned exports of fertilizers to Afghanistan. The report noted: "India is also leveling allegations against Pakistan's making of chemical and biological weapons."[17]

The report added, "A senior Western diplomat in Islamabad… [said] that the issue is not limited to accusation or inspection. The U.S… with Indian support, is making a case against Pakistan on the same lines it had accused Saddam Hussain regime before attacking Iraq in 2003… Some of the officials in the diplomatic community are anticipating more inspections and accusations in the near future."[18]

IV) Pakistan Establishes 16 Checkpoints Inside Afghan Territory

Chief of Border Police in Eastern Afghanistan, General Aminullah Amarkhel, expressed concern recently that Pakistani forces have established 16 checkpoints inside the territory of Afghanistan, violating the border with Pakistan.

General Amarkhel noted that there have been 50 cases of border violation by the Pakistani forces on the eastern borders of Afghanistan with Pakistan, and Pakistan has established 16 security checkposts inside Afghanistan's territory; 31 Pakistani security checkposts on the border with eastern Afghanistan are also seen as a threat to Afghanistan.[19]


Pakistani-Backed Taliban Step Up Assassinations of Top Afghan Officials

Early this year, the Taliban, who are backed by the ISI, began a policy of targeting district governors and police chiefs in Afghanistan. In recent months, a number of top Afghan officials have been assassinated.

On July 12, Ahmad Wali Karzai, head of the Kandahar provincial council and brother of President Hamid Karzai, was assassinated by his own guard, and the Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack.[20] On July 14, as officials gathered for a meeting to pay homage to Ahmad Wali Karzai at a mosque in Kandahar, a Taliban suicide bomber killed Mawlawi Hekmatullah Hekmat, the head of the Kandahar Ulema Council.[21]

On July 17, Afghan lawmaker from Uruzgan province Hashim Watanwal and Jan Mohammad Khan, a senior advisor to President Karzai, were killed whenTaliban bombers stormed Khan's house in Kabul.[22] On July 27, a Taliban suicide bomber killed Ghulam Haider Hamidi, the mayor of Kandahar.[23]

On August 4, Payenda Mohammad, Afghan intelligence chief for District Five of Afghanistan's northern Kunduz city, was killed by the Taliban.[24]

Over the past 12 months, top police and district chiefs killed by the Taliban include: Sirajuddin, police chief of the district of Obe in the Herat province; Ghulam Rasool, police chief of the district of Daman in the Kandahar province; Noor Ahmad Nazari, deputy mayor of Kandahar; Ata Jan Kajarwal, border and tribal affairs chief of the Zabul province; Daud Esaqzai, police chief of Gosfandi district of the Sar-e-Pul province; Haji Habibullah, former head of the district of Maroof in Kandahar province; General Daud Daud, police chief of northern Afghanistan; and others.

These assassinations are part of a pattern. Dozens of low-level Afghan officials, especially district police chiefs, district governors, and heads of the National Directorate of Security (NDS, or Afghan intelligence) in various provinces have been killed in recent months as part of a systematic plan by the Taliban.

In August 2011, former Afghan President and chief of the High Peace Council (HPC) Burhanuddin Rabbani spoke publicly about Pakistani support to the Taliban in the systematic assassination of influential Afghan officials. Without naming Pakistan's ISI, Rabbani said that "foreign intelligence agencies" are behind them, adding that "the assassination of high-profile Afghan figures is part of a plot sketched by foreign intelligence organizations to misuse the name of the Taliban and to defame Islam."[25]

Rabbani, whose job is to hold peace talks with militants, made the statement on a visit to southern Kandahar after two provincial representatives of the council stepped down due to security concerns.


Over the past year, Pakistan has been trying take control of Afghanistan on the political level:

I) April 16, 2011: Pakistan Mounts Political Offensive on Kabul

In April 2011, Pakistan mounted a diplomatic and political offensive. On April 16, nearly the entire Pakistani leadership arrived in Kabul to hold talks with Afghan President Hamid Karzai. Except for Pakistani President Asif Zardari, the Pakistani leaders who came to Kabul included: Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani, then-junior Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar, Defense Minister Chaudhry Ahmed Mukhtar, Interior Minister Rehman Malik, Pakistan Army Chief General Ashfaq Kayani, Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) Chief Lt.-Gen. Shuja Pasha, and Foreign Secretary Salman Bashir.

Of these leaders, General Ashfaq Kayani and Lt.-Gen. Shuja Pasha are the powerful duo, who virtually dictate Pakistan's foreign policy with regard to Afghanistan, the United States, India, and Kashmir. Salman Bashir is the architect of Pakistan's new foreign policy which seeks to undermine the U.S. in the region and align with China.

At the Kabul talks, it was decided to seat the Pakistani Army chief at a two-tier Afghanistan-Pakistan commission, thereby for the first time giving the Pakistani military a formal say in the affairs of Afghanistan. A Pakistani daily noted: "The joint commission will work at two levels. The chief executives of both countries, as well as army chiefs, heads of intelligence agencies, and foreign and interior ministers will comprise the first tier of the commission, while foreign and interior secretaries, directors-general of military operations, and directors-general of military intelligence will form the second tier."[26]

II) Pakistani PM Tells Karzai: "Afghanistan will Inform Pakistan Regarding Any Agreement Signed With the Western Allies, Including the U.S. And NATO"

On April 20, 2011, four days after the talks, the Urdu-language Pakistani daily Roznama Jasarat carried a report titled: "[Afghanistan is Told It] will have to Follow Our Strategy, Pakistan's Stern Message to Afghanistan."[27] The Pakistani media report further noted:[28]

"During his recent visit to Afghanistan, Prime Minister Syed Yousuf Raza Gilani delivered a stern message from Pakistan to the Karzai government in which it has been said that Afghanistan will have to consult with Pakistan regarding the number and training of its security forces.

"[Pakistani] development projects in the country should be cleared; the future governments in Afghanistan will have to follow the Pakistani strategy; Pakistanis should be recruited in the [Afghan] government institutions; and Afghanistan will inform Pakistan regarding any agreement signed with the Western allies, including the U.S. and NATO..."

III) Pakistani PM Asks Karzai to Appoint Pakistani Officials in Afghan Government Institutions

A few days after the talks, an Afghan media report also revealed the demands made by the Pakistani leaders to Karzai:[29]

"The Pakistani Premier [Yousuf Raza Gilani] has presented his country's demands to the Afghan government, a source close to the issue has said. [Afghan] experts say the demands, which are yet to be announced officially by the [Karzai] government, threaten Afghanistan's sovereignty and independence. Experts highlighted that any hasty move of the government about the demands would be a big mistake and treachery to Afghans that history will record.

"Pakistan should be consulted on the training and number of Afghan forces; Pakistan's share in Afghan mines and development projects should be cleared; implementation of Pakistani strategies in future governments in Afghanistan, recruitment of Pakistani cadres in the [Afghan] government institutions [should be ensured]; and Pakistan should be kept aware of any sort of agreement between Afghanistan and its Western allies, including the U.S. and NATO; [these] are the demands suggested in written form by the Pakistani Premier Yousuf Raza Gilani during his recent visit to Kabul.

"The Afghan government has yet to officially comment on the demands suggested by the Pakistani premier. Experts see some of the demands as obvious intervention of Pakistan into Afghan's domestic affairs. 'Pakistan has never been honest with us. Now, Pakistan has made a close friendship with the Afghan government and it was hidden before,' Noor-ul Haq Ulomi, an Afghan political analyst, said.

"Experts say that in the past ten years Pakistan has increased its influence in almost all government organizations and even into foreign [ministry] institutions [of Afghanistan], and an increase in violence [i.e. the Taliban attacks] is part of Pakistan's pressures to make the Afghan government accept the demands.

"'Unfortunately, Mr. President [Karzai] has begun to negotiate covertly with Pakistan, and the government's preparation to provide more concessions to Pakistan for reconciliation with the Taliban is one of the biggest mistakes it is making,' Haroon Mir, an Afghan expert, said. Experts urged the government to present the demands before Afghans and the House of Representatives."

IV) Pakistan Offers Citizenship To Afghan Tribes

General Aminullah Amarkhel, the Chief of Border Police in Eastern Afghanistan, has recently expressed concern over the setting up of Pakistani security checkpoints inside Afghanistan.

According to a Dari-language report in the Afghan newspaper Arman-e-Milli, General Amarkhel noted that Pakistani security checkpoints inside Afghan territory have been established also in the eastern provinces of Nangarhar, Kunar, Paktia and Paktika.[30]

General Amarkhel also made startling revelations, noting that Pakistan has offered citizenship to the Afghan tribes living in these areas and adding that there is proof that Pakistan has provided Pakistani citizenship cards to Afghans in the eastern border towns, particularly in Kunar and Nuristan provinces.[31]

The Chief of Afghanistan's Armed Forces General Shir Ahmad Karimi also expressed concern that Pakistan has claimed some changes in the Durand Line, the de fact border created by the British between Afghanistan and Pakistan and never recognized by the Afghans. He said Pakistan claims the real line was some kilometers inside Afghan territory.

V) Pakistan, Hizb-e-Islami Oust Karzai's Spokesman

Pakistani influence in the Presidential Palace in Kabul was recently revealed when Pakistan and Hizb-e-Islami, which operates from the Pakistani city of Peshawar, forced the ouster of Waheed Omar, spokesman of President Hamid Karzai.

An Afghan website noted that Waheed Omar "felt forced to present his resignation as a result of pressures inside the Presidential Palace. Experts believe that Pakistan and Gulbuddin Hekmatyar's Party of Hizb-e-Islami had limited Waheed Omar's space inside the Presidential Palace."[32]

Afghan political analyst Mir Ahmad Joyenda said, "Unfortunately, there are a lot of circles inside the President's office that are moving in a specific direction close to Hizb-e-Islami and Pakistan and they could be involved in Mr. Omar's resignation."[33]

VI) Karzai's Authority Eroded, and Assassination Threats

President Karzai, who has recently preferred to work with Pakistan in order to undermine the U.S. influence in the region, is himself under threat from the Taliban, while at the same time his efforts to engineer a change in the Afghan constitution to allow for a third term in office are seemingly failing.

Karzai appointed an election tribunal, which was seen as a move to declare the victory of several lawmakers in the 2009 Afghan elections as invalid, thereby getting pro-Karzai candidates into parliament to form a two-thirds majority to change the constitution. However, this attempt has led to a deadlock between all organs of the government: Supreme Court, the Parliament, the Election Commission, and others. The tribunal was later quashed, but it created a legitimacy crisis for the Karzai government.

Recently, a senior analyst of the International Crisis Group (ICG) based in Kabul, warned that a desperate Karzai may impose emergency rule in Afghanistan. Candace Rondeaux of ICG noted that President Karzai "shot himself in the foot and wounded himself politically by cutting off his communications with parliament, by building the special court [election tribunal] in order to prosecute people who may or may not have committed crimes along the way with the election process."[34]

The Pakistani-backed Taliban, who stormed the Defense Ministry building in Kabul in April this year, pose an enhanced threat to the life of Karzai. On the night of August 16-17, 2011, the Taliban fired several missiles at the Presidential Palace in Kabul. The attack was claimed by the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan (the Taliban's shadow government) and confirmed by independent Afghan website[35]

Afghan Defense Minister: Security Transition Cannot Be Achieved Without the "Destruction of Terrorist Safe Havens in Pakistan"

In August 2011, Syed Muhammad Akbar Agha, a former leader of the Jaish-ul-Muslimeen faction of the Taliban, commented on the nature of the Pakistani intent on Afghanistan by stating that Pakistan will not be "honest" if it is given a role in the peace talks with the Taliban.[36]

Noting that the High Peace Council (HPC), set up by the Karzai government to hold talks with militant groups, has failed in its objectives, Agha also warned that Pakistan will try to achieve its own goals in Afghanistan "even if they harm Afghanistan."[37]

Recently, Afghan Defense Minister Abdul Rahim Wardak said that a successful transition of security responsibilities to Afghan security forces cannot be achieved by 2014 without the "destruction of terrorist safe havens in Pakistan."[38]

Speaking before the Afghan Senate, Wardak stated: "If we fail in the war against terrorism, the process of security transition from international troops to Afghan forces will not be possible. The real target is victory in the real war."[39]

The defense minister stressed the need for an Afghan air force to counter terror threats from Pakistan. Noting that the international community has committed to support, build and equip the Afghan forces with advanced arms including air force weaponry. He added that "the process of strengthening the Afghan air force is stepped up and a training center in Shindand town of Heart province will be built by foreign support."[40]

The U.S. strategy to secure Afghanistan perhaps does not take into account the Pakistani drive to control Afghanistan. A U.S.-driven strategy to secure large parts of Afghanistan and a complete security transition cannot be achieved unless the issue of Pakistani militant sanctuaries is addressed effectively.[41] The ISI-supported Taliban, especially the younger and ideologically committed of them, will further destabilize Pakistan and push it into a Somalia-like security crisis.

* Tufail Ahmad is Director of MEMRI's South Asia Studies Project (; Y. Carmon is President of MEMRI.


[1] Husht-e-Subh (Afghanistan), July 24, 2011.

[2] Husht-e-Subh (Afghanistan), July 24, 2011.

[3] Husht-e-Subh (Afghanistan), July 24, 2011.

[4] See also, Taliban Issue Statement Opposing Permanent U.S. Military Bases in Afghanistan, Warn: 'Afghanistan is Not a Country Where the Aborigines will Tolerate the Presence of Foreign Troops Even for a Single Day'; MEMRI Special Dispatch Series No. 3599, February 18, 2011

[5] Roznama Jang (Pakistan), July 18, 2011.

[6] (Afghanistan), June 8, 2011.

[7] (Afghanistan), June 21, 2011.

[8] (Afghanistan), June 21, 2011.

[9] (Afghanistan), June 29, 2011.

[10] (Pakistan), June 26, 2011.

[11] Roznama Husht-e-Subh (Afghanistan), July 5, 2011.

[12] (Afghanistan), February 4, 2011.

[13] (Afghanistan), July 5, 2011.

[14] Dawn (Pakistan), June 28, 2011. Some Pakistani militants based in Afghanistan this year carried out attacks in Pakistani areas of Dir, Bajaur and Waziristan. However, Pakistan has not referred to these militant attacks as the reason for the June 2011 series of Pakistani missile attacks into Afghan provinces.

[15] (Afghanistan), July 2, 2011.

[16] www.ummatenglish (Afghanistan), July 26, 2011.

[17] www.ummatenglish (Afghanistan), July 26, 2011.

[18] www.ummatenglish (Afghanistan), July 26, 2011.

[19] Roznama Arman-e-Milli (Afghanistan), August 2, 2011.

[20] (Afghanistan), July 12, 2011.

[21] (Afghanistan), July 14, 2011.

[22] (Afghanistan), July 17, 2011.

[23] (Afghanistan), July 27, 2011.

[24] (Afghanistan), August 5, 2011.

[25] (Afghanistan), August 7, 2011.

[26] The News (Pakistan), April 17, 2011.

[27] Roznama Jasarat (Pakistan) April 20, 2011.

[28] Roznama Jasarat (Pakistan) April 20, 2011.

[29] (Afghanistan), April 19, 2011. The text of report has been lightly edited for clarity.

[30] Roznama Arman-e-Milli (Afghanistan), August 2, 2011.

[31] Roznama Arman-e-Milli (Afghanistan), August 2, 2011.

[32] (Afghanistan), August 3, 2011.

[33] (Afghanistan), August 3, 2011.

[34] (Afghanistan), August 3, 2011.

[35] (Afghanistan), August 17, 2011.

[36] (Afghanistan), August 4, 2011.

[37] (Afghanistan), August 4, 2011.

[38] Husht-e-Subh (Afghanistan), August 3, 2011.

[39] Husht-e-Subh (Afghanistan), August 3, 2011.

[40] Husht-e-Subh (Afghanistan), August 3, 2011.

[41] The current U.S. strategy on the Pakistani militant sanctuaries is limited to using drones, while Pakistani Army has explicitly rejected U.S. pressure to act against the Taliban militant commanders.

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