Afghanistan: From the Great Game to the Global War on Terror

Afghanistan: From the Great Game to the Global War on Terror
(Ali Jalali, April 26, 2017)

Transcript available below

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About the speaker

Ambassador Ali Jalali served as Afghanistan’s Ambassador to Germany and designated Special Envoy to NATO. He served as Interior Minister from 2003-2005, overseeing the creation of a trained force of 50,000 Afghan National Police and 12,000 Border Police to work effectively in counter-narcotics, counter-terrorism, and criminal investigation.

He recently served as a Professor at the Near East South Asia Center for Strategic Studies at National Defense University in Washington D.C. His new book is A Military History of Afghanistan from the Great Game to the Global War on Terror (2017).

A former officer in the Afghan Army, Col. Jalali served as a top military planner with the Afghan Resistance (Mujahedin) following the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.

He graduated from high command and staff colleges in Afghanistan, the United Kingdom, and the United States.

A published writer in three languages (English, Pashto, Dari/Farsi), Ali A. Jalali is the author of numerous books and articles on political, military and security issues in Afghanistan, Iran and Central Asia. He is the author of The Other Side of the Mountain: Mujahideen Tactics in the Soviet-Afghan War.

Ali Jalali has taught at higher education institutions of Afghanistan and extensively lectured at U.S. National Defense University, U.S. Army War College, U.S. Naval Postgraduate School, Monterey, California, Command and General Staff College, Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, and the British Army Staff College, Camberley, England.

During his VOA career from 1982 to 2003, Jalali directed broadcasts in Pashto, Dari and Farsi (Persian) languages to Afghanistan, Iran and Tajikistan. As a journalist, he covered the war in Afghanistan (1982-1993) and the former Soviet Central Asia (1993-2000).

For more on Afghanistan, see Dr. Daniel R. Green’s Westminster talk: In the Warlords’ Shadow: Special Operations Forces, the Afghans, and Their Fight Against the Taliban and Hassan Abbas’s Westminster talk: The Taliban Revival: Violence and Extremism on the Pakistan-Afghanistan Frontier.



Robert R. Reilly:

It is a special pleasure to introduce our guest tonight because he is an old friend. I had the privilege of working with him at the Voice of America, and I am happy to welcome the Voice of America Persian service here tonight, as well as Afghan television, as well as the members of the Afghan Embassy who are with us.

Ali Jalali was the director of the Persian service at VOA, one of the most distinguished services that he ran so well. And in my brief tenure as the Director of Voice of America I asked him to please take over the Afghan service, the Pashto and Dari, with which there were some problems. He did that so capably he became head of the Radio Afghan Project, which included the construction of two giant transmitters outside of Kabul and of course that was another big success.

And then he left us to become Minister of the Interior of Afghanistan. As you shall hear, he is currently serving as Afghanistan’s Ambassador to Germany and is the designated special envoy of Afghanistan to NATO.

He served as the Minister of the from 2003 to 2005 during which time he oversaw the creation of an Afghan National Police of 50,000 men. In addition to a 12,000 border police force to work in counter-narcotics, counterterrorism, and criminal investigation, he has served for many years as a professor at the Near East South Asia Center for Strategic Studies at National Defense University.

He is a former colonel in the Afghan Army, was a military planner with the Afghan Mujahedin in their struggle against the Soviets, and he is the co-author of a seminal book on the tactics used in that struggle by the Afghan resistance called, The Other Side of the Mountain: Mujahedin Tactics in the Soviet-Afghan War.

Now, he is here with us. There are many other distinctions that he has earned in his career, but he is here tonight to talk about his new book, which is just out. We have copies of it available in the other room. I am sure Ambassador Jalali will be happy to sign them for you. The book was released at $35. Through a special arrangement it is there for $20.

For those of you who would like a copy, I can simply tell you that Dr. Fred Starr, who is one of the great scholars of Central Asia, sent me a message when he found out that Jalali was talking here tonight, saying that this is the book on Afghanistan and I quote him, “the best history of Afghanistan in any language.” Please join me in welcoming Ali Jalali, who will tell us about the military history of his country.

Ali Jalali:

Director Reilly, Ambassador Mohib, ladies and gentlemen, thank you very much for coming here and giving me the opportunity to speak about certain issues in Afghanistan. Any issue about Afghanistan is both complicated but at the same time probably interesting, and news.

I am very pleased to have Bob Reilly here with us. We worked together during very difficult times after 9/11 when Afghanistan National Transmissions were destroyed. And he asked me to head that project for which we actually got about $20 million, and then contributed to this during the Tokyo Conference in 2002. And I went back. When I went to Afghanistan later and I saw how effective that project was, I remember that one day the head, the Director of the BBG, came to Kabul and assured him of all the issues. And this was all because Bob believes in a war of ideas, and he has done a lot on this issue.

Now, first thing first, a disclaimer. My remarks today represent only my own personal opinions and does not necessarily reflect the opinion of any any official institution, any government, or anybody else.

Afghanistan Today

Today, the news from Afghanistan is not encouraging. Sometimes when people ask me how is the situation in Afghanistan – everybody asks that – I say, “In one word, good. In two words, not good.”

But good and not good both are very, very charged words, so they have different aspects, different dimensions, and others, and it is a complicated country. And it is in a complicated region and international environments, so if you want to understand that, okay, good luck, but you have to put it in a historical context. That is what I try to do, to put it in historical context. There are certain things, certain trends, although they are changing.

You know after 9/11 many authors wrote very good studies, great books. However, their studies tried to find a typology of the way of war in Afghanistan. Most of them actually focused on stereotypes and misinterpretations, and only focused on the last century.

Some people actually wrote books on Afghanistan being the ‘graveyard of empires.’ Afghanistan is not the graveyard of empires. In Afghanistan, many empires actually faced military defeat, but Afghanistan is also the hub of empires. Many great powers came to Afghanistan and created great empires, both military empires and cultural empires.

So I think we have to be very careful when we put Afghanistan in this historical context. It is a very unique country, of course. It is locates on the fault-lines of three main regions; Central Asia, Middle East, and South Asia, but at the same time that fault-line continuously becomes a distinctive entity of its own. Although it is on a fault line, it became a major independent kind of historical unit.

Why? In this book I wrote about the geopolitics of a peripheral state because the empires that were created in Central Asia or in the Middle East or in India either crashed the ages of their empires, which Afghanistan suffered, or when they became weakened, they were unable to control the peripheries, so a periphery by itself, by default became independent.

The Centrality of Geography in Afghanistan’s History

Therefore, Afghanistan’s history is not mostly based on geography, but it is most based on history. But geography played a major role in shaping the history. Geography had been static and dynamic. When there was nothing around, it was static. Nobody bothered, it was ignored. But then when it became prominent because of the geopolitical ambitions of others, the miscalculations actually shaped the future of that part of the world.

In the old days, in the old times, India’s only corridor from West to East was Afghanistan. That was when major armies Greeks, Persians, Mongols, Turks crossed. But after the discovery of sea routes, the gates of India became water gates, sea routes, so Afghanistan was important. Then in the Middle Ages, the fifteenth century, when three major gunpowder empires emerged, the Ottoman Empire, Safavid Empire, Uzbeks in South Asia, and the Mongolian Empire in India, then Afghanistan became instead of a gate to India, it was a gate of India to fight these other rival powers. Babur was talking about Kabul and Kandahar, too, major gates for them to fight the Uzbeks in the north, and in Kandahar in the south.

The Great Game Begins

And then the Great Game came. The Great Game again brought Afghanistan to prominence. However, Afghanistan in the nineteenth century suffered from miscalculations and ignorance and neglect. The First Anglo-Afghan War [occurred] when the Great Game started [between] British India and Czarist Russia, [which] were competing for supremacy in Central Asia, and the solutions for each country were very tactical at the expense [of creating] strategic problems for Afghanistan.

First Anglo-Afghan War

Take the First Anglo-Afghan War. Okay, British India wanted to create a friendly state in Afghanistan in order to check the advance of Russians through Persia, [through] which they had led the army to Herat. Dost Mohammad was really an ally to [the British]. He offered to be an ally to the British, but they neglected, they brought a puppet there because they thought Dost Mohammad could not [effectively] support their cause. The war came, the British suffered a lot, and then brought Dost Mohammad back as an ally in Afghanistan, and he became an ally of the British.

Second Anglo-Afghan War

The same thing [happened] in the Second Anglo-Afghan War. Sher Ali really wanted to be an ally of the British Empire there in order to check the advance of the Russians there, but [based on] the personal whims of policymakers [who] thought that Sher Ali was too independent to do that, [the British chose not to back Sher Ali], so the Second-Anglo Afghan War took place. And then that was a bloody war, they lost a lot, but [it] did not change the situation very much.

An Alliance Rebuffed

Now, during the civil war we had the same problem. Twelve times Afghans actually thought that in order to check Russian advances [near] Afghanistan or in the area, they wanted [an] alliance with the United States, with the Americans. Twelve times the government of Afghanistan from 1930 to 1954 tried to win [an] alliance with Washington, but during the Second World War, it was blocked by the British because they thought [if] Afghans are [armed by the United States government], these weapons will [probably] go to tribal areas, and they will use [them] against the British Empire.

Okay, then in 1948, when the Prime Minister of Afghanistan came to Washington, and asked for this. Secretary [of State George C.] Marshall asked Shah Mahmud Khan, the Prime Minister, who is the enemy? He said the Russians. And he [said] Afghanistan can fight the Russians. He said no, we are not fighting the Russians, but we do want to defend ourselves [against] the Russians.

At that time, there was a study [produced by the] Pentagon [in which] they actually wrote off Afghanistan as an unimportant place. Let me read that assessment of the Pentagon in 1953. It says that Afghanistan is of “little or no strategic importance to the United States. It is situated on the perimeter of the USSR. It remains nominally independent of Soviet domination, but its geographic location coupled with the realization by Afghan leaders of Soviet capabilities presages Soviet control of the country whenever the situation so dictates.”

You know that this is the time that the strategy of containment was the main strategy of the United States. There were three states [on] the southern border of the Soviet Union; Turkey, Iran, and Afghanistan. As my old and great friend, Louis Dupree, said that that was a time when many countries were trying to join the American gravy train, not because they were able to block the expansion of the Soviet Union but because [they] benefit from this bandwagon. That is why at that time Pakistan in 1953 joined that alliance, which was not on the border of the Soviet Union, and conspicuously ignored Afghanistan.

At that time, Afghanistan and India noticed that if it is on the border, it is not on the border of the Soviet Union. Otherwise, arming Pakistan could disrupt the balance of power in the subcontinent against India and Afghanistan. Well, the last effort that was made was in 1954 during the presidency of [former] Gen. Eisenhower. When General Daoud, who became Prime Minister of Afghanistan, thought as a military man Gen. Eisenhower would understand.

He tried to win that support. It was declined, and then three months later, Secretary of the Communist Party Khrushchev and [Nikolai] Bulganin arrived in Afghanistan, and they signed a contract very generously giving $100 million dollars to Afghanistan and started arming the Afghan Army, the armed forces. 1954, that was a year earlier. The Soviet Union, the KGB, recruited the first future leader of the People’s Democratic Party of Afghanistan (PDPA), which was actually formed later on in 1965.

Okay, now, with all of this, Afghanistan was the only country in the region, finally, that fought a bloody war with the Soviet Union, the only country that actually forced the Soviet Union with [the] help of others out of Afghanistan, the country that actually the United States spent the largest [amount of money in] covert assistance to fight the Soviet Union in the Cold War. It was the last battlefield of the Cold War. Afghanistan is the only country from which the United States was attacked. [Afghanistan is] the only country the United States actually invaded in order to overthrow the Taliban. It is the sad fate of Afghanistan to get caught in the crossfire.

And in 1983, in a conference in Monterrey, California, I was at the VOA at that time, but at the same time I had a paper there. The conference was Afghan Alternatives. It was an international conference. We had leading experts from all over the world, and I was one of the very few people that believed that the Soviet Union would one day leave Afghanistan, so I was thinking about what was going to happen after the war. As a military man, if the situation after the war is not better than the situation before the war, why should you fight that war?

And my argument was based on two premises, or two facts, actually. One was I argued that the people in Afghanistan who fight the Soviet Army do not care whether they are losing or winning, they think this is the right thing to do, so how long is the Soviet Union going to do that? That was 1983. That was the year that General Algarkov wrote that treatise, Always Ready to Defend the Fatherland. Maybe you know about that, you are familiar with that. It was translated in Washington into English, and everybody was reading it.

In that treatise, he said that the correlation of forces and means is now based on quality, not quantity. You can produce millions of tanks, millions of all of these APCs or others, but the West is ahead of us in high technology. If the Soviet Union does not catchup in high technology, in ten years, the Soviet Union will turn into a Third World country. In order to catchup, he said, the Soviet Union has to change technologically. In order to change technologically, it had to change economically. In order to change economically, it had to change politically.

So that was 1983. I said, okay, if that is the case, the first change should come from Afghanistan because that is what undermines all prestige, all of the image of the Soviet Union, and everybody is against it. So, the Soviet Union will leave one day. When it leaves, think about what the fallout will be from the kind of wars now being waged in that country. All extremists were supported. The national parties got the least assistance, but the extremist fundamentalists were receiving more. That is because I am not going to talk more about what happened in Pakistan, the ISI and others, but that created an environment where extremists thrived. And when the war finally ended, the Soviet Union was out, but the fallout of the war actually again undermined the stability and security of Afghanistan, particularly when others also helped it.

Now, this brings me to another point, a historical point, that in Afghanistan, every foreign invasion is followed by an internal war or internal instability. Why? Because the nature of armed forces in Afghanistan is such that beside the state armies, you have public armies. Very few Afghan leaders or Afghan states could monopolize the deadly use of force, as they say is the prerequisite for legitimacy of a government.

[This is] because the governments in Afghanistan, the states, traditionally, could not reach out to every part of the country, so it was a localism. Each locality had to rely on its own resources. They had their own militias. When they need them for their security, they will use those militias. So when the war came, when the invasion took place, this war was fought not by armies only but these militias, by local people.

In the process, some people became very prominent during the war. After the war, these – you can call them ‘warlords,’ you can call them ‘local strongmen,’ you can call them ‘patronage networks’ – became the real factors in the country, and quite often they competed with each other and destabilized the country after the war. This is what happened in the 1990s. This is the same thing that happened in the First Anglo-Afghan War from 1838 to 1842. The same thing happened in the Second Anglo-Afghan War, 1878 to 1880. So what happens after an invasion? Okay, the Afghans succeeded in forcing the outsider outside of the country. They suffer, many were killed, the economy was destroyed, institutions were killed, but the most devastating thing was after the war.

In Afghan tradition, there are two centers of authority, formal, which is the government, the state, and traditional. Traditional is the tribal leaders, the mosque, landlords, and others, people of influence. They do not compete with the government, but the government can use them in order to bring stability or security. During the war, a third center of authority emerged. I call it a derivative center of authority. That is dangerous because it not only challenges the formal centers of authority but also the traditional center of authority.

After the Soviet war, the people who reemerged as powerful people were not necessarily the traditional leaders of tribes and others. They actually during the war, which actually happened to be the last battlefield of the Cold War supported by others. People with the money and guns of others became prominent. They do not want to be called warlords, but they are warlords. And they actually in the 1990s – the Taliban were Taliban when they emerged in the 1990s.

Three major factors helped them to export their power. Three factors actually made them unpopular and made them easier to overthrow. The three things that helped them to come to power were [as follows]. One was the promise to end lawlessness and infighting. People liked that because in each street in the cities, somebody was dominant. The roadblocks, checkpoints of local warlord leaders created a miserable life for people. Second, they said they would disarm people. Third, [they said they would] unify the country.

People liked that. They helped them, but when they actually made their way, three other things made them very unpopular. One, they interpreted Islam against what Afghans knew what Islam is, a moderate Islam. They are very pragmatic, very moderate, Pashtuns particularly. They are very moderate. Second, they discriminated against other ethnicities. Afghanistan is comprised of different ethnicities, but it is a very unique country where you do not have ethnic wars. In fact, they brought foreigners, Pakistanis and Arabs. These three elements made them unpopular in those days.

I was in Washington at that time. When the war started, people thought, okay, this is going to drag on to the next year. No, no, it was very easy. They just wanted someone to help people overthrow these people. In two months, the Taliban’s regime was overthrown, the Al Qaeda network was disrupted, and the leaders [were] on the run. So what happened in Afghanistan was fallout of the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan during the 1980s.

Logistical Limitations on Troop Deployments

I can talk about [this] more [later], but [for now] let me talk about one more thing of [how] historical [events] impacted on military operations in Afghanistan, which this book is all about. Three trends actually affect any military invasion [or] operation in Afghanistan. First, no invaders can deploy more than a certain level of troops in Afghanistan because of logistical problems. [If] they deploy a smaller force, [they] can get defeated. The largest force cannot be supplied.

In the First Anglo-Afghan War, the Army of the Indus, which came all the way from Shikarpur, going to Kandahar, and then to Kabul, and then from Peshawar through Khyber Pass to Kabul. It was about thirty thousand fighting men, and twice this amount [served as] support elements. And you remember Major-General [William George Keith] Elphinstone’s division was destroyed between Kabul and Jalalabad. It was 16,000 to 17,000, 16,500. Of this, 4,500 were combat units, soldiers, troops. The rest were service people. That was the level of troops that the British could deploy in Afghanistan.

In the Second Anglo-Afghan War, initially, the combat troops in the division of the Khyber direction, in Khorram, and in Quetta direction altogether was [a force of] fifty thousand combat troops. They had twice that troops to maintain the communication lines in order to supply these troops. And they could do this for only two years. During the Soviet period, the Soviet Union could not deploy more than 110,000-120,000 troops in Afghanistan because they could not support them. On top of this support, initially in the early ’80s, only 9 percent of these troops were able to launch combat operations. The rest were doing security duties.

In the late ’80s, they improved it so 30 percent of the troops were fighting. The rest were all in logistics, or supply, or security duties. The Soviet Union had a better situation because across the border they maintained large forces and they would use them for operations inside Afghanistan and then took them back, particularly in the northern parts of Afghanistan.

That actually created this terminology in Afghanistan that there were internal Russians and [external] Russians, foreign Russians. The foreign Russians were very brutal, they say, because they came, they were indoctrinated in Tashkent that they were going to fight Americans, Pakistanis, and Arabs. And they were fighting villagers in Afghanistan, but they were really brutal because they thought they were fighting others.

Those who were inside Afghanistan thought the Soviet Union could not deploy – I think in one study of the Soviet General Staff they said in order to control the country, if you want to control the country, you need thirty to thirty-five divisions, the kind of Czechoslovakia that you want. And at that time, the Soviet Union had 565,000 troops in Eastern Europe and 65,000 in other countries, in Cuba and other countries. While in Vietnam, the United States deployed half a million troops.

So what this means is when you cannot deploy large [numbers of] troops in Afghanistan, the smaller troops get defeated, or they can only control key areas, cities, major networks. And that creates a large space of ungoverned area. That is where the resistance emerges. And if that space, the population in that space, supports the government, it is difficult for the occupying forces. If they do not [support the government], or they are on the fence, then the situation is better [for the occupying forces], something like what we see today in Afghanistan.

According to Asia Foundation’s surveys, only 9 to 11 percent of people want the Taliban to come back. [If that is true, then] why can they use that open space against the government? [It is] because they are not sure whether the government can protect them or not, so they either defend [themselves] or they are forced to cooperate.

Decentralization of Forces

The second trend is the decentralization of forces in Afghanistan. Afghanistan is a country that [has] annual precipitation [of] 300 mm of water, so life is where the water is. People are settled, the villagers and all that, in areas where water is available, so they are separated from one another. When they are in the village area, they have to become self-reliant. This is a subsistence economy. Then a village, traditionally, I am not talking about today, traditionally, a village is a village state, actually. It has a government, and that is the chief of the village or the tribal leader. It has a school, that is the mosque.

It has private property. Anybody in a village has property, land, that is part of his identity. Those who do not have that land are either Mullahs, who live off other people, or they are artisans who come from time to time to the village. So the private property is part of the identity of the village. And there is public property, that is the irrigation system. And then there is a judicial system, that is the Mullah, who makes decisions. And then every able man when the village is attacked become the army of the village.

When an invader comes, he is never short on enemies. He has to fight for every village because there is no centralized power, that has been [the case] for a long time, you know, even from the time of the Greeks, Alexander the Great, invaded and occupied Syria, Medea, Persia, Parthia, one thousand miles wide in one year, July 331 BC to July 330 BC. But then he arrived in Bactria and Sogdiana, according to some calculations, he spent two years only to dominate 325 square kilometers because he could easily have won the wars of kings. If the army is defeated, that is it. But there, [in Bactria and Sogdiana], he had to fight every village, and then that village will stand again.

Irregular and Regular Warfare Complement Each Other

That is another trend in Afghanistan. I think it was General [Mikhail] Gromov, who once reported to the Politburo that there is no spot in Afghanistan that the Soviet Army did not visit, but 70 percent of this area is under mujahideen control, not our control, because they go there, they destroy whatever. When they, [the Soviets], leave, they [the mujahideen], come back. So this is the trend that makes it very difficult for occupation.

And the third [trend] is the type of the warfare. Afghanistan is one of maybe only a few places where irregular warfare and regular warfare actually complement each other. Regular armies fight using regular warfare methods, but at the same time they sometimes adopt irregular warfare methods. Roosk Kempel was a political agent of the Peshawar area during the Third-Anglo Afghan War. He wrote to his government once. He said the Afghan Army is fine. Although they fought better than we expected, they are easy [to fight, we] can defeat them with the help of the newly established Royal Air Force. We can defeat them in Balkh, and we even reached Dhaka. But the problem is the irregular people, the tribes, and one they rise, it is not going to stop, and we will be concerned about India, as well. So this is the kind of warfare.

That warfare is very different from the traditional guerilla warfare. Guerilla warfare, typical guerilla warfare, wants to overthrow the government and establish a new government. The Afghan guerilla warfare is defensive. They wanted to defend themselves. They were able to do this very effectively.

Kazakh Warfare

Let me read to you from that kind of warfare from the point of view of a Pashtun warrior of the seventeenth century. I am sure you have heard the name Khushal Khattak. He called guerrilla warfare ‘Kazakhi warfare’. The reason is Kazakh means ‘guerilla,’ actually, because today when you have Kazakhstan, they are Uzbeks. They are guerilla Uzbeks, actually, because when they broke up with their leader, and they went to the Central Asian plains, they were called Kazakhs, so Boboren is Boborama when he calls the years of warfare the years of Kazakhi. And the Kazakhs of Russia are actually the same because they send those people who have some kind of independence to protect the borders of the empire.

So for Khushal in the seventeenth century, he called this guerilla warfare of Afghans ‘Kazakhi warfare’. He said that the Kazakhi method of warfare is more effective in a pitched battle. Kazakhi is an enemy killer, and it protects small forces against a strong enemy. There are two prerequisites for this kind of warfare, good horses, that is mobility, and good archers, that is firepower. These two can help a small force defeat a large enemy. No heavy equipment should be carried in Kazakhi war.

When you fight a smaller enemy detachment, you should decisively attack with surprise. But if the enemy receives reinforcements, or when you encounter a stronger enemy force, avoid decisive engagement and swiftly withdraw only to hit back where the enemy is vulnerable.

That is the war of one thousand cuts. That has been the traditional war. I think once Winston Churchill, who was covering the punishing British force in the Malakand area, said this is a force that has the marksmanship of the Boer, the brutality of Indians, American Indians, and a tenacity that no one can match. These are the people who fought, but they could fight only in their solidarity space. They defend their own solidarity space. They had no ambition to go beyond that. That makes it a war of one thousand battles.

A New Great Game?

Now, today, some people are telling me that okay, it is from the Great Game to the Great Game, or the Great Game to the War on Terror. I said, well, it is not the Great Game now, actually. It is a totally different world, actually, but it is a war of many games. There was a very good chance for the regional actors and for Afghans themselves to take advantage of what happened after 9/11 through a kind of consensus to bring stability to Afghanistan, but unfortunately the regional consensus and the internal consensus that was there until 2006 is no longer there. Gradually, cracks in that consensus [emerged].

The regional consensus among many of the countries in the region was that stability in Afghanistan was going to help stability in the region. But today you have three different trends there. There are some actors who think their stability [is something they want] but [only] on their terms. I want stability, but the way that I want. There are probably still others who are confused as to what stability means in Afghanistan anymore.

Terrorists are Terrorists

And then there is a third group who instead of dealing with the government, they are in hedging mode, reaching out to non-governmental groups and fighting groups to secure their own security. They think that okay, maybe the Taliban is better than Daesh, but what is the difference between Daesh and the Taliban? For many years in Afghanistan, the Taliban fought under the Taliban flag and Daesh under the Daesh flag.

There are groups that one day they raise the black flag, and the next day they raise the white flag. In Afghanistan, there was an attack on a hospital in Kabul. Daesh claimed that we did it. That was a massacre. And now, the attack on the headquarters of the corps in Mazar-i-Sharif, the Taliban claim that we did it. What is the difference between these two [groups]? A terrorist is a terrorist. They are identified by what they do.

This actually brings us to the question then. Russia thinks the Taliban are a political force. If it is a political force, they should act like a political force. But as long as they act like terrorists, like a terrorist group, nobody can expect that you can deal with that through negotiations, political negotiations. Those who want to have a future in Afghanistan, should act like somebody that cares about Afghanistan and the people of Afghanistan.


Today, I think the most disappointing point is this lack of consensus internally and externally about Afghanistan. Unless this consensus returns, I do not see any hope in the near future we will see a stable Afghanistan. It will muddle through, but one thing is sure. In Afghanistan during the past sixteen years, a lot of progress took place. The most important thing is that a critical mass physically, mentally, and psychologically has been created that will prevent the country from going back to that situation. I will stop here and if we have time, I will be happy to take some questions.


Calculations in Confrontation

Audience member:

Thank you very much, Dr. Jalali. I am an independent researcher. Could you give us a feel for the calculations that a tribal leader in Helmand Province, for example, or Zabul, or any troubled area must make as he confronts the Taliban post-2006 as the Taliban occupies his territory? How does he come to terms with that occupying force? Thank you.

Ali Jalali:

First of all, I do not think Afghanistan is facing a civil war or a war between the people and the Taliban. It is a much wider war. There are so many forces involved. According to many studies, there were twenty to thirty international terrorist groups involved, fighting in Afghanistan, so it depends on who you are dealing with. The Taliban, the real Taliban that actually emerged and fought, were not different than the people of Afghanistan. Somebody’s cousin was not with the Taliban, he was living in the city. Somebody’s brother was there. Somebody’s nephew was there. So that is a different kind of Taliban.

That is why I [distinguished] in this book [between] the first Taliban war and the second Taliban war. The first Taliban war was 2001 until 2006. The second Taliban war began in 2006. After 2006, it was very different. We and international partners missed two opportunities to make a deal with the Taliban, to that Taliban that actually were defeated in 2001.

One was in 2001 when the Taliban leader sent his defense minister and a letter to Hamid Karzai, who on the day that he was accepted and appointed as the head of the transitional administration of Afghanistan in Bonn, he came from Shaulikot. He was on the way to Kandahar near Kandahar. The Defense Minister sent him a letter. Karzai told me he read the letter. It said now that you are backed by different groups, you are selected as head of this government, we surrender Kandahar and all of the other provinces to you. And Karzai told me that he gave that letter to them and said go and broadcast this on Kandahar radio, and they did. They broadcast it on Kandahar radio.

However, this created perceptions everywhere outside that Karzai is trying to declare a message to everybody, including Mullah Omar. I think it was the Defense Department that said if that is the case, everything will go south, those were exactly the words, so this caused the Taliban to go underground. And then the arrivals, who came with the Coalition forces to Afghanistan, wanted to settle scores with them. They reported them as Taliban, Al Qaeda, and many of them were arrested like that. And they ended [up] in jails in Bagram or somewhere else. That made everybody go underground.

About a year or two later, I was Minister of Interior at that time, they had a meeting in Karachi. They said what should we do because after they arrived, they left Afghanistan. And then there they were used by Pakistan. Many of the tribal leaders told me that we have two choices. Either you protect us or if you go to Pakistan, we cannot stay there. They say either you go back to Afghanistan, fight Americans in Afghanistan, or we report you as Al Qaeda to the Coalition forces.

They sent emissaries to Afghanistan. They contacted me. They contacted the Minister of Interior, the Minister of Defense, Mr. Karzai, and others, and they wanted two things as a pre-condition for coming back and joining the peace process. One was to give them immunity from prosecution. The second was to let them act as a political party, no fighting, but a peaceful political party. This was something that was very easy to accept, but they said no, it is not easy.

Everybody who is involved in Afghanistan should join collectively to give this assurance. They said you are only the Minister of Interior. That is the Minister of Defense. They do not talk to each other maybe. There are the international forces. They are Americans, they are British, there are also others. If all of you can do this together and give us this [assurance], we will talk. Otherwise, they said Pakistan is telling us, you fight or you will be reported as terrorists, so we have no choice, they said, this or that.

Then it took us many months to discuss this. Unfortunately, there was no consensus inside the country or among the coalition partners. The Iraq War had just started at that time. Everybody was busy there. And on the other hand, everybody thought that the Taliban was a spent force. They were a spent force, but they were revived by others and used by others. To Afghans, they were terrorists or insurgents. To them, they were intelligence instruments to be used.

So now, in 2006, the second Taliban war started, and that is a much wider war. Those who actually belonged to other international organizations joined them. Today, those who are fighting in Afghanistan are not fighting for Afghanistan. The Uzbekistan Islamic Movement is fighting for Uzbeks. The East Turkestan Islamic Movement is fighting for Uyghurs. Lashkar-e-Taiba is fighting for Kashmir and India. And Al Qaeda is fighting globally. Daesh is fighting globally. And they see this space in Afghanistan to polish their credentials, get recruits, get resources from those who can support them, and that is the problem in Afghanistan today.

Now, if you are talking about something in Uruzgan, unfortunately he does not have that luxury today to talk to the person that who knows. He is from the village or the tribe. He has seen other people who do not even speak his language, so that is the problem today in Afghanistan.

Audience member:

I have been working with the central bank of Afghanistan for the last fifteen years. You said that the future of Afghanistan required some kind of consensus among various groups. What in your opinion could that consensus look like and how in your opinion would it be achieved?

Ali Jalali:

Yes, there are two kinds of consensus, actually, that we have talked about in the past few years. One was deals, political deals. I call it appeasement. Somebody has power, somebody has guns, somebody has a militia, somebody is a drug lord. I call this Pax Drugotica and Pax Bellicosa. That has not worked in Afghanistan so far. That happened in Afghanistan. Not only did the internal actors do this, but the external actors also tried that.

What was the result? We are seeing weak institutions and strong individuals. We have to reverse that, make institutions strong and individuals weak. In order to do that, I think [we] need a major consensus among Afghans.

In the past forty years, despite the enormous investment that was made in Afghanistan, four things undermined this. The first one was nation building on the cheap. The second was tactics without strategy. The third was the failure of Afghan leaders to rise above personal and group interests, to work for the Afghan national interest. And the fourth was interference from outside, particularly Pakistan, [which] tolerated the sanctuaries [of the Taliban].

These four things created that situation. According to all of the calculations, the Marshall Plan for reconstruction cost the United States $13 billion dollars at that time. Converted to today’s dollars, it is $103 billion dollars. In Afghanistan in 2016, only the United States invested $117 billion dollars. Sixty percent of it went to the building up of security forces. But the way it was spent created weak institutions and strong men, strong individuals, strong groups. We have to reverse that.

Why did drug [production] explode? Because it is not a very risky activity in a very risky environment. You have to turn that around, [flip it]. Make it a risky operation in an un-risky environment. There are so many other things to [reverse]. Now, in Afghanistan the powerful people want their men in the army, they want their men in the police force, and if he is removed, [they believe that] somebody from the same group should be there [to replace him]. This deepened the division in Afghanistan, and that should stop.

External consensus should integrate everybody into a government. Today, you have individuals, you have positions, not strong institutions, and that is why government does not function as well. We have parts of a machine, but not a complete machine that can work.

Audience member:

Thank you very much, Professor Jalali. First of all, I would like to pass [on the appreciation of the] Afghan people, especially from social media, regarding your book, especially from the young generation, which really loves your book, and expectations are high for this book’s translation to Farsi and Pashto.

What is your expectation from the current administration of Afghanistan to solve all of these problems? Also, you mentioned a link between the Taliban and Daesh. In some cases, the Taliban accepted the peace process. What about Daesh? Should Daesh join the peace process?

Ali Jalali:

Labeling is very difficult in Afghanistan. Today, Daesh is 70 percent former Pakistani Taliban. There are other Taliban [groups]. Once upon a time, the Uzbekistan Islamic Movement was allied with part of the Taliban, and now, it is allied with Daesh, so it is a very opportunistic situation in Afghanistan. You have to judge people by their deeds, by what they are doing, by what they want, not by what they call themselves. Therefore, whoever wants to join the peace process, regardless of what their brand did, I think they should be welcomed. I am not [suggesting we should start saying] this group is acceptable, and this group is not. Whoever is able to make a difference, fine, [let them join the process]. Thank you for the [comments on my] book. I will be happy if somebody translates it, but they should talk to my publisher before they do that.

Robert R. Reilly:

If I could ask you a question about the sources of legitimacy in Afghanistan, some have suggested that a failure both on the part of the Afghan government and of the United States and other forces operating there was conceding the grounds of legitimacy to the Taliban in the sense that they did not contest them at the level at which they were being made, giving the Taliban what is called the theological safe haven. Could you comment on that, that the Taliban have a religious infrastructure through the mosques that was far superior to anything that the government had or that allied forces had there? Is that being addressed?

Ali Jalali:

Looking at the Islamic legitimacy of a leader, of whomever, the legitimacy is based on two pillars. One is to protect the citizens, and protection or security means human security, all of the elements of human security. And the other pillar is justice or the rule of law. In order for any government to be able to provide these two services, it needs to control its territory, which is also an element in sovereignty in international law. So in Afghanistan now, legitimacy comes by default in a difficult situation.

With the question about the Taliban, we raised this issue with them when I was part of the informal talks in Chantilly in France with the Taliban. When they talked about how the Constitution, and foreign troops, [etc.], I said if you want to change the Constitution, go through the legal process. If the people of Afghanistan agreed with you, fine, we would change. Otherwise, if you are going to impose your ideas on Afghanistan on the battlefield, it is not going to happen.

Now, people do not give legitimacy to the Taliban because of what they say. So far, I think in all of the talks where all of the policies were made, or if the Taliban wants to join the peace process with no conditions, whatever they want should be put on the table during the negotiations. And if they want any change, it should be changed through the legal process. If I understood that [question correctly, that is my answer]. Have I answered the question?

Robert R. Reilly:

Very much, you addressed the question, but you said there is not a political consensus. To what extent is there a consensus as to the illegitimacy of the Taliban’s religious claims? In other words, they seek to monopolize the religious claims. Has their monopoly on those religious claims been compromised?

Ali Jalali:

I think they got this legitimacy by default because the ulema do not want to speak out. They know it is not Islamic, but they are afraid that they can harm them. The government cannot protect them. That is the problem everywhere. Whether it is Al Qaeda, the Taliban, or whomever, if the Muslim ulema or others believe that they are interpreting Islam not in the right way, it is their responsibility to defend their own religion.

Nobody else can do it. If somebody else, an outsider, [tries to] do it, it is not going to happen, it is not going to work. If you are a CEO of a company and your product is poisoned by somebody, it is your responsibility to remove the perceptions that were created by that kind of a sabotage. So it is the responsibility of Muslim ulema, Muslim religious leaders, to refute what the Taliban says are the tenets of Islam or the interpretation of Islam.

Practically, yes. All surveys show they, [the Afghan people], do not want them to come back to power, or even those who want them to come back to power, it is because of security issues, because security probably will return if they stop fighting.

Audience member:

Col. Jalali, I, too, am an independent scholar. You had a phrase that you mentioned several times in your talk. Mohammed Yousaf in his book The Bear Trap, which was about Pakistani strategy against the Soviets, in the war against the Soviets, [in] the first sentence he says, “Our strategy was death by a thousand cuts.” You mentioned this several times. I have the perception that that remains Pakistani strategy today, death by a thousand cuts. How do you deal with a force that has that strategy?

Ali Jalali:

Well, I think one who can succeed in bleeding the enemy of one thousand cuts can do it only when one has the support of the population. Without the population’s support, that cut cannot happen. Okay, yes, Taliban resorted to terrorism. Two sets of measures are needed to deal with that kind of situation. The first set of measures should aim at reducing the level of threat by nonmilitary means. That is good governance, that is the economy, [and] that is peace talks [with] regional actors to pressure those who give sanctuaries to these people. These are nonmilitary measures that reduce the level of the threat.

Then the other set of measures is to build the capacity to spawn [a reduction in violence]. Now I think the way the war is being fought in Afghanistan has its own problems. Unfortunately, if you look today in Afghanistan, 70 percent of the armed forces are sitting in static security posts, creating a target for the people who are looking for one thousand cuts. Why do we do that? Thirty percent of the armed forces, they call it the special forces, are active. They are taking the war to the insurgents, and they are doing a very good job. Why can’t all of them do that? [In my last] BBC interview, I focused on that.

The effectiveness of special forces is not because of what they have or their training, it is because of the way they fight. You can create more special forces, but what do you do with the other forces that you have? They are as well equipped, as well trained, but you can use them the say way that the special forces are being used.

Audience member:

I would ask you, Mr. Ambassador, and you, Bob, to reflect on what we hear of the Trump administration’s budget proposals with regard to public diplomacy and the implications of budget cuts that we have been hearing about. You both were involved in such affairs in your careers. What is at stake here with regard to Afghanistan specifically?

Ali Jalali:

I am a proponent of public diplomacy. And there is an institution based in Berlin. I am on the advisory board of the Institute for Cultural Diplomacy. And I think in most cases we forget that winning the minds of the people is the most important thing.

In 2007-2008, I was asked to go for a series of lectures in Europe in order to drum up support for the European participation in NATO in Afghanistan. I went around. I spoke with many people, and I was surprised by how little information these people had about the war. Why were the people there? I talked to the SPD. I talked to the Christian Democratic Union. I talked to the Greens.

The people who were on the top knew somehow, but the people, the grassroots, did not know much. And I told the leaders that this is your responsibility. They said how can I convince my constituency to support me sending so many troops to Afghanistan? I said why don’t you speak to them the way I am speaking to you?

And one very strange encounter I had was in southern Germany in Munich. It was 2007, I believe. And one person [told me] what you said here makes sense, but we heard different things about Afghanistan. I said what did you hear? He said we heard that freedom fighters are fighting cowboys in Afghanistan. I said there are no cowboys there, and not freedom fighters there. [He said to me], if you, the Afghan Army is actually fighting the terrorism, they are freedom fighters. How this kind of perception can develop in the minds of the people [of Germany is not something I understand]. That is why I think there is a great, large gap in public diplomacy both in Afghanistan and [elsewhere].

Bob is the expert on this, and he is the warrior of ideas.

Robert R. Reilly:

Well, I would only suggest that some of these leaders may not be explaining to their people what they are doing in Afghanistan because they, themselves, do not understand what they are doing. I would prefer to close with a question, if I may. By the way, I want to acknowledge the presence of the Afghan Ambassador to the United States. Ambassador Mohib, welcome here this evening.

Amb. Hamdullah Mohib:

I am honored to be here.

Robert R. Reilly:

[I have] this very difficult question, so no softball question for you here. Absent a real peace between India and Pakistan, how can there be peace in Afghanistan with the constant interference of Pakistan in the affairs of Afghanistan?

Ali Jalali:

I think this question has been asked many times, and some of my friends [are] very distinguished writers. [One] once wrote a piece, [saying] okay, [we need] a grand deal, but it would require the lifetime of Noah, the wisdom of Solomon, and the patience of Job. We do not have that.

But we can decouple the problems India and Pakistan have among themselves, [so as] not to do it in Afghanistan. I think this is possible, but if they wait, [if they tell us that] first we have to settle our Kashmir issue and other problems, it is not going to happen. Many years ago, I co-authored a piece. I think it was ‘Firefight or a Vent’ for other policies. Is it being used to justify other policies, or is it really, really a conflict area? This is going to take a long time.

For Pakistan, as long as they believe that India is the enemy, they will depend on three instruments of power, their nuclear arsenal, their large army and air force, and these other extremist elements used as instruments of policy. So as long as they believe that they [are threatened by India], they will not get rid of these instruments of policy. But others can bring pressure on them. On the other hand, logically it is possible to decouple this, not to fight in Afghanistan. Kabul is not Kashmir. They should not bring Kashmir to Kabul.

It is possible, but if we wait for them to sort out all of their problems and then [desist in their interference in Afghanistan], I do not think it is going to happen, Bob. I do not know. I hope it will happen. It will happen someday, but I do not know.

Robert R. Reilly:

Great. Thank you so much.