On 15 Oct 2012 I was interviewed by both the Dari and Pashto channels of the Voice of America – Afghanistan. Below are the videos of each interview, and further below are the approximate English transcripts.
VOA: Given Afghanistan’s achievements and the security challenges facing the country, including green-on-blue attacks, can the transfer of security responsibility to Afghans succeed?
DHY: It can certainly transfer, yes, but its success is a different question. It’s important to remember that only 15% of these attacks are the result of infiltration–that is, the Taliban sends one of its fighters undercover into the Afghan National Security Forces to attack NATO forces at a later time. Another 15% are the result of coercion of existing ANSF members–either by blackmailing them and threatening their families if they do not attack NATO forces, or by bribing them with money. The remaining 70% are due to cultural clashes. The reason for those cultural clashes are frequently rooted in the way of training. American forces tend to train Afghans by using a great deal of shouting, profanity and even humiliation because that’s how most armies are trained, including America’s. In fact, Afghans train the same way, but it completely changes the dynamic when the trainer is an outsider and not from the same culture or religion as the trainee.
VOA: Many Afghans fear the return of a civil war if the international community doesn’t stay the course after 2014. Do you agree with that?
DHY: I do believe there will be a limited civil war in remote pockets of the east and south. As Coalition Forces draw down, so too will Afghan forces, from about 350,000 to 230,000 mostly due to budget constraints. And when that happens, the remaining troops will focus their efforts on cities and other populated areas, leaving much of the rural areas of the east and south unprotected. As a result, I believe Kabul will deliberately instigate civil war in those unprotected areas by employing militias to keep the Taliban and Al Qaeda busy enough in the remote areas to ensure they stay out of populated areas.
VOA: The US is increasingly focusing on a political process where the Taliban can be reconciled to help stabilize Afghanistan. Is this approach from a position of weakness going to work?
DHY: It may be from a position of relative weakness, but I believe it can and should work. But that’s hardly the only obstacle. The peace process remains the best path for ensuring Afghan stability after ISAF withdraws. But the US government recently announced that it would not be pursuing a negotiated settlement before 2014 because it realized how unlikely success has become. Unfortunately, it is unlikely to come after 2014 because the primary leverage that might compel the Taliban to negotiate is the presence of international forces. Once they leave, there is little motivation for the Taliban to negotiate because they have refused to negotiate with the Kabul government. On the other hand, the Taliban is extremely divided on whether to negotiate with US forces because most of the mid-level commanders are furious that their leaders appeared to be abandoning them to cut a deal. In the end, however, the US appears to want a deal more than the Taliban, and that means they are more likely to offer far more concessions to secure a deal.
VOA: Given the elections in the US and the economic crisis gripping most NATO countries, how do you assess the prospects of international military involvement in Afghanistan after 2014?
DHY: No matter what happens, the residual force remaining after 2014 is expected to number between 10-20,000, mostly trainers and special operations forces. the number could be significantly higher or lower. Preliminary negotiations recently began to establish the Status of Forces Agreement, which will determine the exact number and nature of the forces remaining. The long-term SOFA in Iraq failed over the issue of accountability. Americans wanted any Americans who committed crimes in Iraq to be tried by American courts, while Iraqis wanted them to be handed over to Iraqi courts. I expect a similar fallout to disrupt negotiations in Kabul with unknown results. But the US is committed to security forces beyond 2014. Their exact make-up is simply unknown.
VOA: Foreign troops are expected to withdraw from Afghanistan after 2014. What would you suggest to US and NATO about a continuing contribution to Afghanistan beyond that?
DHY: Well, when the Soviet Union collapsed, Najibullah’s regime collapsed with it because the money stopped flowing. If the money ever stops flowing to Afghanistan’s security forces in the next decade, they will inevitably collapse. As a result, even if US forces leave, our support for ANSF must remain, or everything we fought for will be in vain.
VOA: Peace efforts are still happening with the US and Afghan governments. Is there any hope for a positive result of these efforts before 2014?
DHY: I’m afraid not. The US government recently announced that their negotiation effort with the Taliban had essentially failed, and that any effort in the future would have to take place between the Afghan government and the Taliban directly. Unfortunately, the Taliban refuses to recognize the legitimacy of the current Afghan government, so at this rate any peace agreement is highly unlikely any time soon.
VOA: Pakistan says they can facilitate negotiation between Afghan and Taliban leaders. Do you see Pakistan as a reliable partner in this counterinsurgency?
DHY: Pakistan is certainly a reliable partner in fighting the counterinsurgency in Pakistan, but in Afghanistan I’m afraid I haven’t seen any evidence that Pakistan is a full-faith partner to the American counterinsurgency effort there simply because it is not in their interest, in my perspective. Certain segments within the Pakistani government–not the entire government, but certain powerful elements that are able to influence the Taliban–don’t see fit to contribute to counterinsurgency in Afghanistan. In Afghanistan, Pakistan certainly could contribute to the counterinsurgency by urging the Taliban in Pakistan to come to the table, and they’ve been claiming a desire to arrange for visas for the peace office in Qatar and shuttling between Afghanistan and Pakistan, but I haven’t seen any evidence that it can go beyond verbally encouraging it.
VOA: Afghanistan’s government frequently says that this war is not being waged in Afghan cities and villages but rather outside of the country. Do you think the US and NATO recognize these statements?
DHY: It is fashionable to blame Pakistan for most of the things going wrong in Afghanistan. As I said, there are certain elements of the Pakistani government that support the Taliban, and for that reason it is tempting to blame the insurgency solely on Pakistan. However, the foreign fighters that cross the border in Afghanistan have to link up with locals. They have to have local help to identify who the leaders are that are currently supporting the government, and who are opposing the Taliban. Without these local facilitators, foreign Pakistanis can do nothing in Afghanistan except cause terrorism in rare instances around the country. They need locals to facilitate it, and this war, while being funded in my eyes (and evidence has shown) in Pakistan, this insurgency is being implemented and fought by Afghans.