Will There Be Friction Between Afghan National Army And Pakistan?
There was never a time in modern Afghan history when Afghan state was in a position to financially afford a security force on its own. Afghans have always been financially dependent on outside force for sustaining their military force and the modern state structure. The modern Afghan state and its armed forces, since they were created in the later part of 19th century, were always dependent either on British or the Soviets for paying salaries to their troops or for the procurement of modern weaponry for their forces.
Afghan state itself was never able to generate enough financial resources—initially dependent on revenues from agriculture and artifacts exports and little later natural resources like natural gas was added to the list of exportable—to sustain a modern security force.
In pre-modern times, Afghans rulers used to pay their armies by raiding neighbouring Punjab and raising taxes or through loot and plunder. But this ceased to be a possibility when British colonial government brought Punjab under its rule and extended their strategic reach to the area where now Durand Line is located. Afghans then became dependent on British financial help for raising a modern state structure and a standing army—both weapons and finance were provided by British colonial government in India.
After British colonial government was replaced by two independent states of Pakistan and India, even this ceased to be a possibility. Afghan approached Washington as a source for modern weaponry in the mid-1950 but by then “Cold War Warriors” in the American capital had already put all their eggs in the basket of the Pakistan Army. So the request of Afghan rulers was rejected, who now turned to Soviet Russia for help. This continued till the end of civil wars in the 1990s and by that time the Soviet backed Afghan Army had imploded from within and broke up into factions with each faction supporting its ethnic kin in the civil war.
In the wake of the Bonn process, the responsibility for raising an Afghan National Army was shouldered by the US administration and so in the process a more than 400000 strong army was raised to act primarily as a bulwark against any possible internal threat to the existence of Afghan government. Again Afghan National Army is dependent on outside financial help to sustain itself, “The United States is committed to pay $4 billion annually until 2024 to finance Afghanistan’s security forces. As of December 31, 2020, Sopko said the U.S. has spent $88.3 billion to help the Afghan government provide security in Afghanistan — roughly 62 percent of all U.S. reconstruction funding” senior official of US administration John Sopko, told a Congressional hearing in March, 2021. He said that Afghanistan’s security forces were demoralised. He said the figure of 300,000 troops in the security forces was a guesstimate because of the many so-called ghost soldiers, where commanders list non-existent personnel to collect their pay checks.
Pakistani military and intelligence services are no less distrustful of Afghan security structures. In 2012 during formal talks with American officials, both in Washington and Rawalpindi, Pakistani military officials dismissed Afghan National Army as a highly destabilizing force in the region. With high levels of desertions, drug use and involvement in drug peddling the Afghan National Army was described by General ® Kiyani, in his talks with American military officials, as part of the problem rather than part of the solution.
This aversion shown by Pakistan’s military establishment towards the structures of Afghan land forces-whose number reached a 200000 by the year 2014-could be the reflection of the frustration of Pakistan establishment over the failure to acquire the responsibility of training the Afghan forces. Most of the training of Afghan national army in the more than 10 year of its formative period was carried out by the NATO forces in Afghanistan. Part of the problem was that Indians got the responsibility to train a small group of Afghan army cadets much before the same responsibility was delegated to Pakistan Military Academy in early 2015.
More than two dozen Afghan cadets were undergoing training in Indian military academy Dehradun in 2013. Officials say that Pakistan first made the offer to train Afghan cadets back in 2010, but that offer never got beyond bureaucratic proposals. Things, however, started to change in 2013 when the first Afghan defense delegation in the post-Taliban era visited Islamabad and Rawalpindi in December of that year. And clearly Americans convinced the new army chief in Pakistan that closed cooperation between the security forces of two countries is necessary in the wake of withdrawal of NATO troops.
Certainly there was a kind of Indo-Pak rivalry playing out in the background in the proposals made by two South Asian rivals to train the Afghan national army. But there was an element of truth in General ® Kiyani’s assertions as well that Afghan National Army would be a highly destabilising force in the region. Drug peddling, drug use and high level of desertions have been identified as major problem in the functioning of Afghan army even by the American officials themselves.
Many structured attempts were made to bring Pakistani and Afghan diplomats and military-intelligence officials across the table in the presence of western and Chinese diplomats and military officials. None of these attempts have attained a discernible success.
One such attempt was quadrilateral meetings between Pakistan, Afghan, American and Chinese officials that started in 2016. The quadrilateral meetings were seen as a big step forward in diplomatic terms as in the words of a senior western diplomat for the first time that the talks with Taliban will have an existence outside the murky world of intelligence.
Now there are reports that Indian Air Force would be training the Air element of Afghan National Army to build their capacity for operations against the Taliban. This would be another point of friction between Pakistan and whoever would be at the helm of affairs in Kabul.
Umer Farooq is an Islamabad-based freelance journalist. He writes on security, foreign policy and domestic political issues.