Dialogue April-June, 2015, Volume 16 No. 4
Afghanistan: New Great Game unfolds
A twenty-first century version of the Great Game is unfolding in Afghanistan, even as its internally fractured regime strives to stabilise a land ravaged by 14 years of war that has not yet ended. Once the arena of intense rivalry between the British Indian Empire, Tsarist Russia and the Chinese authorities, with Persia a keen watcher on account of the region’s geostrategic location as gateway to India, Persia, and Muslim Central Asia (part of the ancient Silk Road trade route), the stakes today are higher than ever before.
There is, to begin with, the official wealth of Afghanistan – its huge deposits of gold, copper, lithium and other minerals, estimated at around $3 trillion. Then, there is the multi-billion dollar opium trade, whose profits mainly land in Western offshore banks and give them liquidity, especially since the 2008 economic meltdown.
The front ranking players in Kabul presently include China and Pakistan; both have leverage with the Taliban that has to be appeased for the country to stabilise. Britain is reticent, but the fragile Ghani-Abdullah regime is banking on US troops for security. The dual need to fight and pacify the Taliban and balance the Pakistan interest; has pushed India into the background. So far, there is no clear role for Iran and Russia; both are unlikely to be content with the role of bystanders for long.
Looming in the background is the Dawlat al-Islamiyah f’al-Iraq w Belaad al-Sham (Daesh) or Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), which is possibly being pushed into Afghanistan to protect the poppy fields as the Taliban is accommodated within the regime, a goal that, if achieved, bodes ill for India and the region. The situation is highly fluid; many Taliban cadres are defecting to the Islamic State. For now, we may note some broad themes.
The unstated bottom line in Afghanistan is the lucrative opium trade. After US President Barack Obama announced that troops would start pulling out of Afghanistan from July 2011, Afghan opium production began to rise and peaked in 2014, according to the UN Office on Drugs and Crime’s (UNODC) ‘2014 Afghan Opium Survey’. In 2012, poppy cultivation covered over 154,000 hectares, an increase of 18% over 2011. The potential opium production that year was around 3,700 tonnes, which strategic expert Michel Chossudovsky feels is an underestimate belied by UNODC’s own prediction of record harvests. Even accounting for bad weather and crop damage, historical trends show that the potential production for 154,000 hectares should be over 6000 tonnes; in 2003, just 80,000 hectares yielded around 3600 tonnes of opium.
Hitherto, UNODC estimated heroin production on the premise that the entire global opium crop was processed into heroin (10 kg of opium = 1 kg of heroin); but in 2010, it changed the methodology to downwardly revised estimates for 2004 to 2011. UNODC claimed, without evidence, that much of world opium is no longer linked with the illegal heroin market. This masks the size of the Afghan drug trade, which is a multi-billion dollar cash crop for Western financial institutions and organised crime. In 2014, UNAIDS reported that poppy cultivation expanded to 224,000 hectares despite the US alone spending $7.6 billion on counter-narcotics programmes. In December 2014, the UN issued a separate report recording a 60 per cent growth in Afghan land used for opium cultivation since 2011. Farmers openly confess, “We’re forced to plant opium,” in order to survive.
The lucrative drug trade may be luring Daesh/ISIS into Afghanistan. Observers say northern Afghanistan is ISIS’s fallback option as it faces resistance from Iran-led Shia militia and non-Wahhabi Sunni forces of Iraq and Syria. As in other countries where it is establishing roots, the ISIS could eventually pose a threat to the Pakistani Army, which is why Islamabad turned down Saudi King Salman bin Abdel Aziz’s request for help in Yemen, where Riyadh intervened on 25 March 2015. But the pressure on Pakistan has intensified.
ISIS marked its presence in Afghanistan with suicide bomber killing 33 people and injuring over 100 others outside a bank in Jalalabad on Saturday, 18 April 2015. Local media said a former spokesman for the Pakistani Taliban claimed responsibility on behalf of ISIS in both Pakistan and Afghanistan; President Ghani too accused ISIS. The Taliban condemned the attack as “an evil act”.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has informed the Security Council that ISIS has entered Afghanistan and some Taliban commanders have joined it. Nicholas Haysom, UN Special Representative and chief of the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan, reported to the Security Council that ISIS has the potential to unite different groups under its command, but that it has not yet established “firm roots” in the country.
But Russian envoy to the UN, Zahir Tanin, warned that ISIS could spread its footprint to the Central Asian States, thus endangering Russia and her neighbourhood. Experts say Kazakhs, Uzbeks, Tajiks and Kyrgyz are joining ISIS in increasing numbers. Beijing is nervous about the situation in Xinjiang.
Gen. Sergey Smirnov, deputy director of Russia’s Federal Security Service, told the media that the authorities have information on about 1,700 Russian citizens fighting alongside Sunni extremists in Iraq. He said, “The danger of ISIS is also in their ability to infiltrate other terrorist groups.” Indeed, some leaders of the Imarat Caucasus group have pledged loyalty to ISIS. In Tajikistan, according to the International Research Group for Crisis Regions, nearly 4,000 people from Central Asian countries have joined ISIS. The Shanghai Cooperation Organisation’s regional anti-terror body has decided to monitor the movement of ISIS cadre in their States and jointly thwart their activities. Last December, Russia banned ISIS as a terrorist organisation and asked all nations to recognize ISIS and the Al-Nusra Front as terrorist groups.
Kabul is aware of the ISIS presence on its soil and is fighting it. On 11 March, 2015, ISIS commander Hafiz Waheed, who succeeded his uncle, Abdul Rauf Khadim, was killed with nine others in an airstrike by Afghan forces in Sangin district, Helmand province. Khadim, a former Taliban commander and Guantanamo detainee who reputedly switched over to ISIS, was killed in a US drone strike on February 9. Overall, violence in Afghanistan peaked in 2014; a UN report in February recorded 3,699 civilian deaths (as opposed to nearly 3,000 for 2013). A total of 4,380 Afghan soldiers and policemen were killed as of October 2014.
In an interview with Voice of America in Washington, President Ashraf Ghani said that when his government took over, “the threat of Daesh (ISIS) was not even in the minds of the people.” But the terrorist networks are changing and “they have begun concentrating on us [Afghanistan] through various factors. Our historical name of ‘Khurasan’ has a vital and symbolic significance for the ISIS and you are aware of the fact that many ISIS members have changed their surnames to ‘Khurasani’. In their (ISIS) philosophy, Dajjal (the false prophet) will emerge from Khurasan and fight them [ISIS] in the apocalyptic war in Syria.”
Early in April, CNN recorded Daesh members parading at a camp south of Kabul, wearing military-style fatigues and face masks; they admitted belonging to ISIS. The Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, which operates in northern Afghanistan, recently declared allegiance to Daesh and released a video of the beheading of an Afghan National Army soldier to avenge the detention of some female IMU supporters by security forces in Faryab. Confirming the death, the National Directorate of Security said the soldier belonged to Andarab district, Baghlan province.
Several Afghan MPs have expressed concern over ISIS activities in the country. It is believed to be behind recent serial attacks on civilian buses and abduction and killing of passengers. Black flags have been spotted in several provinces. Washington says Daesh has a limited capacity to make recruits, but President Ghani told the US Congress, “We are the front line. The terrorists neither recognize boundaries nor require passports to spread their message of hate and discord. From the west, Daesh is already sending advance guards to southern and western Afghanistan to push our vulnerabilities.”
China, Pakistan and India
In a bid to expand its influence in Asia, and pursue its Silk Road project, China took a seat at the Afghan high table by inviting the Taliban to Beijing (November 2014) and urging them to negotiate with the elected government; it appointed a special envoy for Afghanistan. China maintained diplomatic ties with the Taliban when it ruled Afghanistan, to protect its interests in the country’s natural resources. A spokesman for the Taliban admitted that a two-member delegation from the Qatar office had been to China.
Beijing is concerned because Uighur extremists receive training in Afghanistan and Pakistan and return to Xinjiang to perpetrate terror attacks. It wants the camps along the Afghan-Pak border shut down, which requires cooperation from the Afghan Taliban and Pakistani Taliban. Now, the ISIS has vowed to ‘liberate’ Xinjiang. Beijing kept close ties with then President Karzai, inviting him to the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation summit conference in Beijing in June 2012, where President Xi Jinping and Karzai issued a joint statement on a “China-Afghanistan Strategic and Cooperative Partnership.” In September, China’s internal security chief, Zhou Yongka, visited Kabul and signed a number of economic and security agreements that included training 300 Afghan police officers over the next four years. Karzai again visited Beijing in 2013 and received a grant of 200 million yuan ($32 million) for 2013. President Xi offered to host the annual 14-nation regional conference on Afghanistan, the first of which was held in Istanbul in November 2011.
Beijing was the first capital President Ghani visited (October 28, 2014), just before the Fourth Ministerial Conference of the Istanbul Process on Afghanistan began on October 31. Calling the People’s Republic “a strategic partner in the short-term, medium-term, long-term, and very long-term”, he declared willingness to talk with the Afghan Taliban and requested the Chinese leader to urge Pakistan to persuade Taliban leaders to talk. China promised 2 billion yuan ($327 million) in economic aid through 2017 and publicly offered to mediate between the Afghan government and Taliban. But only Islamabad and the Pakistan Army can make the dialogue possible; hence Chinese diplomats went to Peshawar last November to nudge Pakistan to begin consulting the various Taliban shuras on both sides of the Afghan-Pakistan border.
China has managed to do business in Afghanistan, regardless of the regime in power. The consortium, Metallurgical Corporation of China and Jiangxi Copper Corporation, won a $4.4 billion contract to mine copper at Aynak near Kabul in 2007. In 2011, the China National Petroleum Corporation secured rights to develop three oil blocks in northwestern Afghanistan with an investment of $400 million, in joint venture with a local firm Watan Oil & Gas. The US investments, $75 million by 70 firms, lagged far behind.
Ashraf Ghani next went to Islamabad in November 2014. After meeting Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, he called on Army Chief Gen. Raheel Sharif, a move that dismayed New Delhi, but necessary to woo Taliban. He tweaked the strategic partnership agreement Hamid Karzai signed with New Delhi in 2011, and in a major gesture of appeasement, deferred a heavy weapons order placed by Karzai with India and refused India’s offer of military training. After much delay, Ghani is likely to visit India in late April, though he met Prime Minister Modi on the sidelines of the SAARC summit in Kathmandu. Chief Executive Officer Abdullah Abdullah visited New Delhi in March, to attend the India Today Conclave. In contrast, Hamid Karzai was a frequent guest in New Delhi.
Ghani’s request to Pakistan coincided with fresh turmoil there. Hitherto, the “good” Taliban was useful in Jammu & Kashmir and Afghanistan, while the “bad” Taliban targetted the Pakistani State. But on 16 December 2014, the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan, which has close ties with the Afghan Taliban, butchered 132 students, mostly children of army officers, at the Army Public School in Peshawar. The killings – revenge for the army summer offensive Zarb-e-Azb, which killed thousands of Taliban cadre in North Waziristan – rattled Pakistan; Nawaz Sharif declared that henceforth there would be no distinction between “good terrorists” and “bad terrorists.” The army launched massive air strikes against the Taliban in North Waziristan and political parties united to prepare a plan to tackle terrorism in each province. The army claimed it did not spare the Haqqani Network which is reputedly linked with Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI). But Pakistan has failed to formulate a firm policy on terrorism and is conflicted over the handling of its most notorious terrorist masterminds, even as attacks on Shias continue in cities like Peshawar, Lahore and Rawalpindi.
Gen. Sharif made a return visit to Kabul to share intelligence about the Taliban, following which Ghani sent a symbolic six army cadets to Pakistan’s military academy for training. Both Karzai and former foreign minister Rangin Dadfar Spanta opposed this as subordinating Afghanistan to Pakistan, which is the main sponsor of the Taliban. Spanta doubted the merits of keeping India, the region’s superpower, at arms’ length and claimed that New Delhi had since gone slow on some key development projects. Karzai and Spanta said that though Ghani sent troops to eastern Afghanistan to fight the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan, the Afghan Taliban was safe in Pakistan. Pakistan was also given access to TTP prisoners held in Afghanistan. Kabul was further dismayed to learn that Ghani met Pakistan spy chief, Rizwan Akhtar, without the presence of Afghanistan’s intelligence chief, Rahmatullah Nabil.
New Delhi has been generous and effective in rebuilding the war-ravaged country. Its $2 billion in aid went far because there was hardly any waste or corruption and because it focused on building wells, the Salma Dam, electricity transmission lines, schools, health clinics, etc. The new parliamentary complex on the outskirts of Kabul, which India is funding to the tune of $140 million, is a landmark. India helped train Afghan civil servants in Indian academies; the Confederation of Indian Industry trained over 1,000 Afghans in small skills and the Self-Employed Women’s Association of India trained more than 3,000 Afghan women in microenterprises.
However, the United States may value the Indian presence in Afghanistan, to assist its fledgling democracy in rebuilding the shattered economy and in civilian security. New Delhi is keen that Afghanistan does not become a safe haven for jihadis, seeking Indian targets. The attacks on the Indian embassy in Kabul in 2008 and 2009 and the consulate in Herat in 2014, were carried out by the Taliban and the Pakistan-based Haqqani Network and Lashkar-e-Taiba. India has sent forces to protect its diplomatic facilities and construction teams. Further, India accounts for 27 per cent of Afghan exports, which could increase once the Afghanistan-Pakistan Transit Trade Agreement is fully implemented. In 2011, an Indian consortium won the tender for the Hajigak iron ore mine in Bamiyan province.
Indian engagement can be enhanced via regional diplomatic coordination. The International Contact Group on Afghanistan includes 50-odd countries and regional organisations; India hosted the January 2014 ministerial. The Heart of Asia–Istanbul Process in 2011 included India. The Shanghai Cooperation Organization includes India and Pakistan in discussions on Afghanistan’s stability, and they are cooperating in the Conference on Interaction and Confidence-Building Measures in Asia and the Regional Economic Cooperation Conference on Afghanistan.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s emphasis on the development of the South Asian Area of Regional Cooperation (SAARC) region holds much promise. At the summit in Kathmandu in November 2014, a regional electricity agreement stalled by Pakistan achieved unanimity after member-nations exerted pressure on Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. It was under the SAARC umbrella that Indian Foreign Secretary S. Jaishankar visited Islamabad recently to resume the stalled dialogue.
Talk about the Taliban peace process was on during Indian Foreign Secretary’s visit to Kabul. New Delhi may ask Qatar, which hosts Taliban and with whom India has a defence and security understanding, to protect its interests in these negotiations. Previously, when Washington was leading the negotiations with Taliban, India informed the then President Hamid Karzai of its reservations about Pakistani mediation and asked that the Taliban leaders involved should not be linked with the ISI-backed Haqqani Network. Having spent nearly $1 trillion fighting the Taliban since 2001, Washington has been keen on a face-saving deal that will help it to exit the “graveyard of empires.” Hence, its strategy to accommodate the “good” Taliban in the government.
Ghani now needs Pakistan to bring Taliban representatives for official talks with the Afghan government – the Pakistan army chief assured him that Taliban is keen for talks – and an end to the violence, beginning with a ceasefire. When in Washington, the Afghan president reached out by claiming in an interview (March 26) that peace with the insurgents was “essential” and that some Taliban members had been falsely imprisoned and tortured and deserved an apology. Speaking before the US Congress (March 25), he said Taliban members could return to Afghan society if they agreed to respect the constitution. But so far, there has been no progress – talks should have begun several weeks ago – though Gen. Raheel Sharif has made several trips to Kabul. However, he has begun consultations with former jihadi leaders, religious scholars and civil society groups on peace deals with the Taliban.
That leaves the ISIS. Will the Pakistani army cut deals with terrorist groups who will take money to fight (or pretend to fight) Daesh? Experts agree that even if Taliban makes a deal with the regime, the threat from ISIS and groups like al Qaeda will grow in 2016. Al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri is still ensconced in Pakistan.
By the time Ashraf Ghani took office, the security situation had become complex and a firm date for withdrawal of American troops was no longer a priority; indeed, one of his first acts was to sign the Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA) with the US and the multilateral security agreement with NATO, which Karzai had resisted. This was urgently needed to prevent the loss of some provinces to armed jihadis.
Washington agreed that complete withdrawal would embolden militants in Afghanistan and Pakistan (still a key US ally), with the potential of spreading to Central Asia and even China. The rise of ISIS is troubling, as is the fact that jihadis from Afghanistan have already joined ISIS in Syria. The Syrian, Iraqi, Yemeni, and Afghan wars comprise an arch of instability from the Middle East to Central and South Asia. Washington therefore feels it is prudent to retain bases in Kandahar, Jalalabad and Bagram for longer, though troop commitment beyond 2016 would have to be decided by the next US president. However, Obama has permitted US troops to resist the Taliban, if US interests are at stake or in danger.
Ghani, who served as finance minister under Karzai and was judged the best finance minister of Asia in 2003 by Emerging Markets, is moving cautiously. In Washington, he lauded his predecessor’s efforts to initiate the peace talks, pointing out that President Karzai travelled 26 times to Pakistan as part of this quest, which he (Ghani) is continuing in earnest. CEO Abdullah Abdullah also served Karzai briefly as foreign minister. A senior member of the Northern Alliance under Ahmad Shah Massoud, he also served under President Burhanuddin Rabbani. Abdul Rashid Dostum is a Vice President. There is, thus, a measure of continuity between the Karzai regime and the new unity government. Ghani told his American audience that Kabul seeks closer ties with the US, China, and the Arab and the Islamic world.
When Ashraf Ghani and Abdullah Abdullah landed in Washington in late March, the Obama administration readily committed an annual $4 billion to fund the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) at the level of 352,000 troops for the next two fiscal years, up to 2017. President Obama agreed to slow down troop withdrawal, originally slated to be completed by 2017, after Ghani expressed fears about ISIS advances and a resurgent Taliban, with whom Afghan troops are currently engaged in intense fighting which is expected to escalate in the coming summer. Nor have Taliban sanctuaries in Pakistan been neutralised. Originally, half the 9,800 US troops in Afghanistan were scheduled to withdraw by the end of 2015. These will now remain and this may encourage the coalition partners to retain their 3000 troops in the country.
The Afghan delegation met Defense Secretary Ashton Carter and Secretary of State John Kerry and discussed reforms Afghanistan would have to undertake before receiving up to $800 million in US aid to tackle the looming financial crisis. Washington is impatient over the slow progress in government formation, with too many vacancies at the top; Ghani appointed 16 cabinet members before departing for Washington, but 32 provinces remained headless.
Negotiations with the Taliban are fraught with risk. The reduction of international coalition troops from 2011, as a prelude to withdrawal, emboldened the group, enabling it to operate more freely in the countryside. Hence, casualties of Afghan security forces and civilians peaked in 2014. There are fears that failed negotiations or a deal too favourable to Taliban may erode the regime’s credibility. The Taliban on its part fears that negotiations may prompt hardliners to break away and join ISIS. Furthermore, the fact that Pakistan would be brokering the deal has created apprehensions that this may put Kabul too much in Islamabad’s debt.
When Mullah Omar’s regime fell to American intervention in 2001, the group found a haven in Pakistan, under ISI protection. Omar has not been seen since 2001, but all statements from the group are issued in his name. The Taliban is currently reputed to have around 60,000 armed fighters, with strongholds in the south and east, and links with Pakistan’s western tribal areas that have consistently defied Islamabad. The Taliban saw the US drawdown in 2011 as a victory of its war of attrition against the occupation forces: “America, its invading allies... along with all international arrogant organisations have been handed a clear-cut defeat in this lopsided war,” it said in a statement. After Washington rescheduled the pace of withdrawal, Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujaahid said this left them with no choice but to continue to fight against the US.
US drone strikes against the militants continue. The security situation in the country is so fragile that the ceremony marking the end of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) mission was held in secret due to Taliban threats.
America seems caught between the devil and the deep sea. In 2014, Washington released five top Taliban leaders (including Mohammad Fazl and Mullah Nori, suspected of involvement in the massacres of Sunni Tajiks and Shia Hazaras in Afghanistan) from Guantánamo Bay, ostensibly in exchange for Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl (now charged with desertion). The real reason was to facilitate talks with the Taliban, but Mullah Omar saw the release as a sign of being “closer to the harbour of victory.” Similarly, President Obama has offered Pakistan a $1 billion arms deal in lieu of cooperation on counter-terrorism, but the ISI continues to protect the top Taliban leadership for “strategic depth” against India.
The ISI cultivated the Afghan Taliban from the time of the Soviet invasion and gave them safe havens along the 1,500-km long border between the two countries. Several militant groups also hide here. Now, Islamabad is expected to bring the Afghan Taliban into the unity government, but the jihadi groups are closely intertwined. The Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (close to Afghan Taliban) condemns the Pakistani State as apostate for aligning with the US post-9/11. The TTP has links with al-Qaeda and Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, which are behind the violence against Pakistani Shias.
Terrorism is an issue between Pakistan and Afghanistan. Islamabad wants Kabul to hand over Mullah Fazlullah, believed to be in an Afghan hideout. Kabul accuses Islamabad of protecting the Afghan Taliban, including the Haqqani Network, which continues to harass it with suicide bombings. Kabul is also unhappy that Pakistan firing in Afghan territory while pursuing militants has killed, wounded, and displaced its border population.
As efforts intensify to bring the Taliban to the negotiating table, questions legitimately arise whether the group can be trusted to accept the country’s constitution or would (ab)use its position to restore its emirate. Will the Taliban formally renounce terrorism and surrender its arms, and will all its factions come on board?
These developments are taking place in the background of an evolving situation in Iran, where Washington is trying to hammer out a nuclear deal amidst growing tensions with Russia in Europe. America needs a stable Afghanistan to oversee developments in Central Asia and China (Xinjiang, and the Silk Road project), even as a nuclear-armed Pakistan remains internally conflicted and fragile. New Delhi is wary of the prospects for peace in a situation of inherent instability among the leading actors. The ISIS strike in Jalalabad has introduced a new element of volatility which may make the Taliban even more reluctant to strike a deal with the government.
- Sorry, what? Afghan president says time to apologize to Taliban, 26 March 2015 http://rt.com/news/244173-afghan-president-sorry-taliban/
- Afghanistan Opium Survey, 2014, United Nations Office of Drugs and Crime http://www.unodc.org/documents/crop-monitoring/Afghanistan/Afghan-opium-survey-2014.pdf
- The Spoils of War: Afghanistan’s Multibillion Dollar Heroin Trade, Michel Chossudovsky, 7 January 2015; http://www.globalresearch.ca/the-spoils-of-war-afghanistan-s-multibillion-dollar-heroin-trade/91
- All’s Well With Afghanistan’s Opium Trade, James Hall, 2 April 2015; http://www.thesleuthjournal.com/alls-well-with-afghanistan-opium-trade/
- High fail: Afghan opium production rises as ex-Blackwater profits, 1 April 2015; http://rt.com/usa/245877-afghanistan-pentagon-blackwater-opium/
- Pakistan declines Saudi call for armed support in Yemen fight, 10 April 2015; http://www.reuters.com/article/2015/04/10/us-yemen-security-idUSKBN0N10LO20150410
- Afghanistan president blames Islamic State for Jalalabad suicide bombing, 18 April 2015; http://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/apr/18/afghanistan-suicide-bombing-kills-dozens-jalalabad-islamic-state
- Second commander linked to IS group killed in Afghanistan: officials, 16 March 2015; http://www.worldaffairsjournal.org/content/second-commander-linked-isis-killed-afghanistan
- Second commander linked to ISIS killed in Afghanistan, 16 March 2015; http://english.alarabiya.net/en/News/middle-east/2015/03/16/Second-commander-linked-to-ISIS-killed-in-Afghanistan.html
- Afghan civilian casualties rose in 2013 as foreign troops headed home, 8 February 2014; http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/feb/08/afghan-civilian-casualties-2013-un-deaths
- IS emergence in Afghanistan worries UN, Russia, 18 March 2015; http://www.worldaffairsjournal.org/content/isis-emergence-afghanistan-worries-un-russia
- Islamic State threat to Russia is real – FSB, 10 April 2015; http://rt.com/politics/248685-russia-islamic-state-threat/
- Daesh activity caught on camera in Afghanistan, 7 April 2015; http://www.worldaffairsjournal.org/content/isis-activity-afghanistan-caught-camera
- Afghanistan’s changing of guard: ISIS recruits in Taliban territory, 6 April 2015; http://www.worldaffairsjournal.org/content/isis-recruiting-taliban-territory
- Lessons from Iraq for Afghanistan, 23 march 2015; http://nationalinterest.org/feature/lessons-iraq-afghanistan-12465
- UN Security Council: ISIS replacing Taliban in Afghanistan, 17 March 2015; http://rt.com/news/241349-isis-afghanistan-central-asia/
- Ghani’s spokesman rejects secret meetings with Taliban, 3 April 2015; http://www.tolonews.com/en/afghanistan/18883-ghanis-spokesman-rejects-secret-meetings-with-taliban
- VOA Exclusive: Interview with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, 23 March 2015; http://www.voanews.com/content/voa-exclusive-afghan-president-says-he-is-working-with-us-to-repair-relations/2691265.html
- Will America ever leave Afghanistan? 24 February 2015; http://nationalinterest.org/feature/will-america-ever-leave-afghanistan-12308
- Hamid Karzai: Afghanistan in danger of sliding ‘under thumb’ of Pakistan, 9 March 2015; http://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/mar/09/hamid-karzai-if-we-give-up-control-of-our-foreign-policy-pakistan-taliban-ashraf-ghani-india
- China, Pak court Taliban on Afghan talks, India sidelined, 21 March 2015; http://www.sunday-guardian.com/investigation/china-pak-court-taliban-on-afghan-talks-india-sidelined
- US promises billions to fund Afghan military through 2017, 23 March 2015; http://rt.com/usa/243393-us-afghan-army-withdrawal/
- Obama halts Afghanistan troop withdrawal, 24 March 2015; http://www.cnn.com/2015/03/24/politics/obama-afghan-president-ghani-meeting/
- What Afghanistan wants from Washington, 23 March 2015; http://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2015/03/ashraf-ghani-obama-116303.html#.VS0C6PmUf50
- Obama halts Afghanistan troop withdrawal, 24 March 2015; http://www.worldaffairsjournal.org/content/obama-halts-afghanistan-troop-withdrawal
- Afghan President Ashraf Ghani is the partner the United States needs to get the job done, 26 March 2015; http://blogs.cfr.org/davidson/2015/03/26/afghan-president-ashraf-ghani-is-the-partner-the-united-states-needs-to-get-the-job-done/
- Ghosts of imperialism past: How colonialism still haunts the world today, 4 February 2015; http://nationalinterest.org/blog/the-buzz/ghosts-imperialism-past-how-colonialism-still-haunts-the-12185
- Time for Pakistan to get tough on terrorism, 13 January 2015; http://nationalinterest.org/feature/time-pakistan-get-tough-terrorism-12018
- The Taliban: An Overview; http://www.cfr.org/terrorist-organizations-and-networks/taliban/p35985?cid=marketing_use-taliban_infoguide-012115
- Taliban pledge to continue fighting as Obama approves US troops to stay through 2015, 25 March 2015; http://rt.com/news/243985-taliban-afghanistan-usa-troops/
- The Great Game in Afghanistan (Twenty-first century update), 31 March 2015; http://www.tomdispatch.com/post/175975/tomgram%3A_dilip_hiro%2C_afghanistan%27s_china_card/#more
- Ashraf Ghani: America’s new Subedar? – Analysis, 9 April 2015; http://www.eurasiareview.com/09042015-ashraf-ghani-americas-new-subedar-analysis/
- Why the United States should work with India to stabilise Afghanistan, Policy Innovation Memorandum No 53, April 2015; http://www.cfr.org/afghanistan/why-united-states-should-work-india-stabilize-afghanistan/p36414
- Obama’s failed Afghan peace strategy, Brahma Chellaney, 16 April 2015; https://www.project-syndicate.org/commentary/obama-failed-afghan-peace-strategy-by-brahma-chellaney-2015-04
*Sandhya Jain is a senior Journalist and author, and writers on contemporary affairs.
(This article was written before the visit of Afghan President Ashraf Ghani.)