Road to Afghanistan Goes Via Iraq

If Afghan Defence Minister’s revelation that foreign fighters from Iraq and elsewhere are joining Taleban in the fight against US-led coalition is true, it should be a cause of serious concern to all parties concerned.



According to Defence Minister Abdul Rahim Wardak, as much as 60 per cent of insurgents fighting in Afghanistan are foreigners and mostly came from Iraq.

However, the Afghan claims of indigenous Afghan Taleban fighters numbering only 15,000 in the total insurgency should be viewed sceptically as Kabul would naturally like to downplay that particular aspect. Mostly active in Helmand, one of the most troublesome provinces in terms of insurgency and opium production, these insurgents have been joined by foreign insurgents from Iraq; other foreigners include Chechens, Arabs, Uzbeks and Pakistanis.

General Wardak has directly linked the improved security and lessening of violence in Iraq to an increase of insurgency in Afghanistan. The Afghan army presently consisting of 70,000 troops is set for expansion to 134,000 but needs an increase and improvement in resources and training. In addition, the US has also planned arming select local groups to fight the insurgents, a project that may backfire considering the nature of the insurgency that is far more complex than commonly perceived.

The US plans to delegate another 30,000 troops to the existing ISAF troops stationed in Afghanistan seems to be a replication of the Iraqi strategy of General Petraeus. The Afghan jihad against the Soviets in the 1980s witnessed an influx of mujahideen fighting foreign occupation forces at its climax and today one sees history repeating itself as foreign fighters join the Taleban against the ISAF. As Iraq struggles to gradually achieve a semblance of normalcy with the successful provincial elections that even saw the involvement of Sunni groups, one can in retrospect give credit for this development to the improved security and the political reconciliation process.

The initial extremist violence that was disapproved even by Al Qaeda often targeted civilians and caused widespread terror. It was in turn rejected by Iraqi people and the Sunni factions.

A combination of factors in fact quelled violence that has dropped by almost 80 per cent in the last two years.

The interconnectedness between the geographically distant regions of Iraq and Afghanistan in this context is due to the presence of foreign forces and the perpetuation of policies that result in consolidating certain beliefs about their intent and long-term goals. As Afghanistan braces for a turbulent year ahead, policymakers must bear in mind that a viable solution would require flexibility and a wider participation of local stakeholders. More importantly, it’s essential to address the causes that invited the Western coalition to Afghanistan in the first place.


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