Afghanistan is facing growing armed violence, not a civil war. There are other drivers such as activities of over 20 terrorist groups, presence and activities of drug trafficking gangs, poverty in the country and the region, use of terrorism by countries as an instrument of state policy, networks of criminal economy on global level and etc. have caused escalation of geographical war and violence in Afghanistan and intensification of conflict in the region and the world.
Afghanistan is assumed to be the front line of war against global and regional terrorism that has paid ultimate sacrifices for ensuring global stability. In order to effectively fight the increasing threats, President Ashraf Ghani attending various international and regional summits, has introduced the root causes of current violence as well as the solutions to eliminate them, and has warned over its consequences of negligence and inattention.
During the recent years, government of Afghanistan has taken fundamental steps and put diplomatic efforts into recognizing the root drivers and goals of the current waves [of violence] in the world – focusing on their expansive activities in Afghanistan – explaining the drawbacks of state sponsorship of terrorism, and creating national, regional and global consensus to counter them.
During over two years of his office, President Mohammad Ashraf Ghani delivering his remarks and speech in different summits, has articulated the drivers of violence and its threats as well as goals of the terrorist groups. In this piece, we intend to present a review of the president’s thoughts on causes of the current war in Afghanistan, its goals and consequences as well as solutions to deal with them.
Key words: terrorism, narcotics, poverty, imposed war, the fifth wave of political violence.
Root causes of current violence in Afghanistan
From the president of Afghanistan’s perspective, there are issues and elements which have caused the creation, continuation and strengthening violence in the region and the world particularly in Afghanistan which are explained as following:
Terrorism is one of the most significant and serious challenges of the human community in the present era, and Afghanistan is currently the front line of war against this heinous phenomenon. Over twenty terrorist groups are currently active in Afghanistan aiming to destabilize Afghanistan, the region and the world.
Terrorism is fed by the criminal economy, narcotics in particular, and thrives in ungoverned spaces. “They [terrorist networks] hate order, and disorder is what they thrive on.” (1)
“The range of organized forms and techniques of violence today draws on previous waves of violence throughout history: anarchism, anti-colonialism, terrorism of the 1960’s and 70s, and violent ethnic and identity movements of the 1980’s and 90s.” (2)
“The ecology of terror is transnational and highly symbiotic with global, regional and national criminal networks expert at utilization of technology and the new media, disciplined in use of violence to awe and overwhelm and skilled at identification, manufacturing and exploitation of grievances and social fissures to create discords. In terms of organization and networks, their morphology shows rapid change.” (3)
Mafia economic networks are another driver of armed violence in Afghanistan and the region. “Criminal economic networks centered on drugs, smuggling, human trafficking and other illicit activities provide the platform for criminal politics.” (4)
“Criminalization of the economy is an indispensable part of this new ecology of terror. Control over the narcotics trade is providing the financing for those groups to find weapons and recruits.” (5)
Criminal economy, like terrorism, thrives in ungoverned spaces and is keen on expansion on ungoverned spaces. The concept of ungoverned space is critical to the operation of terrorist networks. (6)
Narcotics are a major driver of violence for instance the drugs war of Latin America. The narcotics cycle consists of producing, processing, trafficking and consuming, and studies have shown that all countries in the region are, somehow, involved in this cycle. (8)
Unfortunately, drivers of violence are interrelated; criminal economy provides financial support for terrorism; therefor, terrorism and narcotics are two interwoven phenomena and two similar challenges.
Poverty is the main enemy of the human society, and if poverty overshadows, stability will not be ensured. Collaboration is required to establish stability so that poverty can be eradicated. (9)
Fundamentalism and radical interpretations in religion are other drivers of violence in Afghanistan and the region. (10) It is worth mentioning that extremism and fundamentalism have had no roots in Afghanistan’s culture and they have been transferred from other countries to ours. (11) With misfortune, expansion of unemployment, violent insurgency and progress of fundamentalism in the region increase the possibility that economic reforms agenda might not be materialized due to political instability. (12)
6.Use of terrorism as instrument of policy
There are countries in the region and the world using terrorism as an instrument of state policy. The president has warned such countries on their strategic errors specifically in differentiation of terrorism into good and bad; “Our message to Pakistan is affirmative and clear! Every country that differentiated the terrorism into good or bad has itself paid the price...” (13)
The president believes the responsibility of all states to fulfill their obligations in not differentiating between good and bad terrorism is essential. States that differentiate between good and bad terrorism will pay the price and will suffer. (14)
7.Fifth wave of political violence
The fifth wave of political violence is a theory that President Mohammad Ashraf Ghani recently articulated during security summits with Afghanistan’s ally countries; the fifth wave which draws on the previous waves of violence, is another driver of mounting violence that threatens stability, order and rule of law.
The president believes that the range of organized forms and techniques of violence today draws on previous waves of violence throughout history; anarchism, anti-colonialism, terrorism of 1960s and 70s, violent ethnic and identity movements of the 1980s and 90s. The symbiotic relationship between criminal economic networks – manifested in drug and natural resources wars – and criminal politics is making this Fifth Wave a medium-term obstacle to global security. (15)
Judging by the previous four waves of violence, covering the period between 1860 to 1990, confronting this wave requires a strategy of 10-20 years, as acknowledged by the Australian Defense Policy. The fifth wave builds upon, incorporates, and amplifies the techniques of violence and destructiveness of the previous four waves, starting with anarchism. Its Network effect is, however, intensified as it exploits the huge potential of face to Facebook rather than face-to-face relationship of the past. As disrupting the social contract between the citizens and the state through an all-out attack on freedoms embodied in the creation of the nation state and the international system is the core objective of the Fifth Wave, mobilization of the state system at all levels is crucial to defeating and destroying this wave of violence against citizens and states. (16)
West Asia, however, is again haunted by specter of conflict. The long Asian war, now active now dormant, has entered a new phase of destructiveness. (17)
Related to this wave is its embedding and deep criminal economy; the narcotics economy is one component of this; but there is a deep criminal economy that threatens our common peace and stability. (18)
The war going on in Afghanistan has been imposed on our people by some countries. (19) The current war is an international and regional war, and Afghanistan is only defending itself. (20)
9.Afghanistan’s Geographical Location
“Geography has placed us [Afghanistan] at the heart of Asia and history has made us a pivotal intersection of contending powers and ideas. Recognizing that we are at the intersection of five circles of international relations, our goal is to provide the platform for collaboration of these states, organizations, powers and networks of virtue.” (21)
Unfortunately, Afghanistan’s geographical potentials have resulted in flow of hundreds of terrorists from different countries in the region to this country. The countries in the region and the world need to understand this issue that terrorism not only targets Afghanistan but the global order. As the president frankly articulated this issue in one of his statements, “One issue that was bluntly brought into discussion was where international terrorism comes from? Afghanistan provided a clear answer to the question that ‘terrorism comes from countries of their origin namely Pakistan, China, Central Asia and the Middle East. The terrorism’s war is mainly not with Afghans, but the state order in the region. Terrorist networks intend to pursue their international agenda through disruption of the state order in the region.” (22)
Measures for countering violence and bringing stability
President of Afghanistan has constantly underscored that brining stability and overcoming violence requires a simultaneous commitment on national, regional and global level, and without regional cooperation in the region and the world, terrorism cannot be contained. Afghanistan, likewise, has made and is making a lot of efforts to contain terrorism and other drivers of violence; similarly, it has started its efforts in this regard on regional and international level.
A.National Unity and Internal Consensus
President in his different statements has articulated different factors that result in containing violence, bringing stability, and realizing the programs for “change and transformation” in the country.
1.Building and managing transformation through national determination
The necessity to “transformation” is fundamental that all of our people agree upon, but this transformation is an ambition which cannot be achieved without a national determination. Problems that our country is facing, is a chain of circles that every circle has direct impact on other circles, and it is not possible to get rid of other vicious circles through amending one circle. That’s why; we have no way but to move toward transformation by having a great outlook and comprehensive perspective so that we can get out of this vicious circle. We need to proceed both processes state-building and nation-building simultaneously.
Without a multifaceted and fundamental transformation in these areas, our nation will inevitably go back to the drawing board after any circumstance, so taking this into consideration, the country will never achieve the stability that is required. (23)
2.National wisdom against the enemy’s psychological war
We are not only fighting with enemies of this soil in battlefields, but they have consistently pursued another goal which is use of psychological war as a tool to destroy the people’s morale. We need to stand against this situation collectively and knowingly in order to neutralize this evil trick, to invigorate our people and soldiers, and to not let the enemy achieve their goals through unnecessary provocation. (24)
Afghan nation have consensus on peace, but an enduring peace, a peace which is in compliance with Afghanistan Constitution, and a peace which secures interests of all Afghans can save the country. (25)
4.Unity and empathy
The president believes that, after the God’s support, unity and empathy is the secret of achieving freedom and liberality where our people stood against strongest armies with low possibilities and empty hands. (26)
Empathy in the area of politics is specifically a precondition for success. As a great nation that believes in patience and pluralism, we can settle our team and group disagreements openly in a rational manner. Our soldiers will gain victory in battlefield by trusting our political elders and statespersons. Therefore, we should strive for building trust, national unity, patience and tolerance.” (27)
5.Supporting, strengthening and mobilizing security forces
The army that we want is a professional, national army pursuing Islamic beliefs. Another point is financing, mobilizing and training [of the army]. We will knock each and every door for the sake of Afghanistan Defense and Security Forces in order to mobilize, finance and train them. (28)
The president has constantly asked the people of Afghanistan particularly political elders, Ullama [religious scholars], parliamentarians, media and civil society to underscore support for security forces in their comments, initiatives and performances; leave [the task] of fighting and struggle to our brave soldiers and provide full support for their role and significance. (29)
6.National collaboration in bringing security and stability
Through people’s engagement, detractors of this country will come to this conclusion that now they are facing with a heroic and decisive nation, not a Defense and Security institution…Security is ensured through “legitimate” use of force while stability is achieved through engagement, collaboration and national trust. The part that civilian sectors can take in national Jihad [holy war] for stability and survival of Afghanistan is as similar as military sectors can. (30)
B.Joint regional cooperation
Different statements of the president indicate that following points are essential for eliminating the roots of violence in the region.
1.Fighting poverty through establishment of joint economic networks:
When network and cluster effect combine, the scale of change becomes irreversible. Each new connection produces a network effect but when these points are connected to each other, it produces a combined developmental impact that can lift our people from poverty to prosperity. (31)
The president believes that “the largest task is [to eliminate] poverty in the region; the political will and focus in the region generated to define poverty and terrorism as our two central challenges.” (32)
2.Coordination and collaboration in fighting with criminal economics and narcotics:
“To tackle criminal economics, we need to convene at the Asian and regional way and document who benefits from producing, processing, trafficking and consuming [narcotics]”. (33) Unfortunately, there haven’t been serious efforts to counter narcotics in the past, and it is necessary to devise a specific agenda in this regard. When tons of narcotics are trafficked to a specific destination, there must be numerous security check posts on its way as well as in its consuming place. Terrorism and narcotics are a joint problem, and [their eradication] requires joint effort. (34)
3.Joint anti-terrorism measures
The countries in the region need to take shared steps through following measures in order to counter terrorism
3.1.Verification of the terrorism [terrorist networks] financial resources, their mobilization, and places from which they run their activities
An Asian and international regime is proposed “to verify cross-frontier activities and terrorist operations. We do not want blame game; we want verification.” (35)
“For a more effective response to the challenge of terrorism in the region… an authorized regional session needs to be convened in order to verify where the terrorism originates from, what goals they want to achieve, and what techniques they are using. This session must prepare a transparent mechanism in this regard, and make decision on mechanism of identifying terrorist groups as well as intelligence and pragmatic cooperation for fighting terrorists. (36)
3.2.Defining terrorism and coherent actions against it
“We invite all members of the Shanghai Cooperation [Organization] to join forces with us in defining the problem, bringing consensus in the intelligence community, the security community and the political community as to what are the dimensions. At the regional level, what is extremely important is to agree on common mechanisms of cooperation, common mechanism of verification and tackling of actors that support this.” (37)
A shared regional strategy is required to overcome the regional threats and challenges. So, cooperation for joint fighting against terrorism must be reinforced further. The cooperation can be more in sharing information, shared analysis and shared measures. (38) Because, recognizing the enemy, its origination, its financial resources, manner of financing and those actors using it as instrument, are necessary for cooperation to effectively fight against terrorism. Without understanding and realizing these elements, our responsibility in this area will be incomplete. (39)
3.3.Putting an end to strategic use of terrorism as an instrument
“Terrorists don’t have political dispute with the State of Afghanistan, but their plan and goal is to destabilize the region. Without complete understanding of terrorism, elimination of this phenomenon is difficult and impossible. Terrorists target us from Central Asia, China, Pakistan, Russia, Saudi Arabia and Middle East. Terrorists are continually entering to Afghanistan’s territory from Pakistan’s, and both countries are included in their terrorist agenda. Therefore, terrorism is the common enemy of all of us. (40)
We, in contrast with those considering terrorism as their strategic tool, have strong determination to continue our construction-driven, peace-driven and development-driven approach as we did in the past; we have taken significant steps in this regard so far, and our good relationship with the countries in the region and world indicates this reality. (41)
C.Global Support and Consensus
According to the theory that President Mohammad Ashraf Ghani put forward and presented in the recent Munich Security conferences, the terrorism we are facing now is “the fifth wave of political violence” integrating and expanding the techniques of previous waves in the past 160 years.
Based on the theory, the history of violence is a continuous history. There is no civilization, no religion or no part of the world that once in the last 160 years has not been a major center or engaged in terrorism. In no way, shape or form is terrorism related to one civilization or to one religion.
The past geology of it needs to be understood because it is a series of continuous techniques. It has combined social network and virtual networks into a deadly force. The social networks are continuity of the past; the virtual networks are the new phase and that is what gives it such lethality. The previous networks were face to face; this is face to Facebook. (42)
The president believes that in addition to cooperation, convergence and shared measures against roots of violence on regional level, we need to take measures on international level as well.
1.Joint global fight against terrorism through the following channels:
1.1.Avoiding toleration policy, instrument policy or strategic silence against terrorism
One of the most significant areas that requires [global] attention is states’ tolerance or state sponsorship enable these networks to operate and expand of terrorist groups. (43)
Unfortunately, “all too many times we see a state relying on malign non-state actors as an instrument of policy. They consider it an instrument of a weak state.” (44) “But there is no such thing as an instrument of a weak state. We are all together; we swim or sink together.” (45)
1.2.Coherent and unified action
In order to fight terrorism, a medium-term coordinated approach is required where actions need to be taken from intelligence to military action but particularly social action.” (46) Unfortunately, “the response of the states has been fragmented and some still provide sanctuary and support or tolerate these networks.” (47)
1.3.Taking a comprehensive approach in fighting with roots of terrorism and violence
“We require a comprehensive approach where use of legitimate force is necessary, but it is not sufficient because the platforms are the widespread poverty, alienation, exclusion and particularly government-level corruption.” (48)
1.4.Isolating those states using terrorism as instrument of state policy
“We have failed repeatedly to draw rules of the game regarding those who flout openly, systematically and consistently agreed upon rules and obligations of statehood, and unless there are mechanisms to ensure coherence or minimally non-interference, the phenomenon will persist.” (49)
Similarly, international organizations particularly NATO’s gaze, by necessity, must be global taking stock of its neighborhoods in the world, focusing on strengthening the international state system as a system of rights and obligations, and striving to persuade states not to support or adopt behavior characteristic of malign non-state actors. (50)
1.5.Strengthening Afghanistan and providing support for it
Afghanistan is the front line of war against global terrorism and has paid ultimate sacrifices in this area, and is now fighting terrorism with sacrifice and bravery.
“Afghanistan has shown in security sector that it neither lacks determination nor human power to fight terrorism. Our national unity is robust; our security forces are capable; and our people’s will for a bright future is strong. In fighting against terrorism, Afghanistan National Defense and Security Forces have shown such bravery that the regional countries praising them. Of course, our forces need more equipment particularly in air support, and fortunately some countries in the two summits [Warsaw and Brussels] committed to assist us in the area of providing enablers and equipment. (51)
It is certain that “the war has been imposed on us, and we are fighting against terrorism on behalf of the region and the world. It is essential that others joint this fight with full power and coherent action.” (52)
“Narcotics is a joint problem and needs joint effort to eliminate… with sharing analysis and comments, a unified plan should be prepared, and available possibilities be combined for overcoming this heinous phenomenon.” (53)
2.Support and strengthening state-building on global level
“As the international system depends on each constituent state fulfilling the rights and obligations of statehood, failure of politics in several states puts a strain on the entire state system. Failing or weak states, in turn, provide the breeding ground both for nihilistic politics and criminal networks. The interpenetration of destructive politics and criminality, presenting the ugly side of globalization, give these networks a speediness and flexibility that severely tests the capacity of hierarchical organizations to respond.” (54)
Measures and recommendation of President Mohammad Ashraf Ghani
Terrorism, narcotics, extremism, poverty and criminal economy are considered to be the root causes of violence in Afghanistan and the region, and in order to eradicate these roots, it requires fundamental actions on national, regional and international levels.
President Mohammad Ashraf Ghani’s recommendation and approaches for countering the roots and levels of violence in Afghanistan consist of:
-Unity, convergence and providing support for security forces on internal and national level in Afghanistan;
-avoiding to use terrorism as instrument of state policy;
-coordination and providing a unified definition of enemy and understanding the threats of terrorism by all countries in the region;
-taking unified measures against terrorism;
-isolation of those states sponsoring terrorism;
-joint fight against narcotics;
-support and strengthening state-building on global level;
-and providing support for Afghanistan as the front line of war against terrorism on international level.