The Shadows over Afghanistan and the Region Turn Darker

Published: May 18, 2015 - 18:13 Updated: May 27, 2015 - 12:53

By making Afghanistan’s National Security Directorate (NDS) sign a MoU for intelligence cooperation and coordination with Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), Afghan President Abdul Ghani has done great disservice to the proud people of the country
Shrinivasrao S. Sohoni Dili

The Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan’s Riyasat-e-Amniyat-e-Milli (Directorate of National Security), popularly known in Afghanistan as the ‘NDS’, and Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence i.e. the notorious ISI, signed a Memorandum of Understanding  late last week in Kabul.

It became well-known quite immediately in Afghan governance circles that the DG NDS, Rehamatullah Nabiel had vehemently opposed such a move but had been overruled.

The NDS, Afghanistan’s premier intelligence agency, much respected and admired by Afghans generally, was relied upon by the earlier Presidential Office, and  the National Security Council, the Ministries of Defense, Foreign Affairs, and Interior (Internal Security).

During my time in 2006-2013 as Adviser in the Edar-e-Umoor wa Dar’ulansha-e-Shura-e-Wazeeran (The Office of Administrative Affairs & Council of Ministers Secretariat) at the apex of President Hamid Karzai’s core presidential establishment, I came also to be acquainted with, among other things, the working of the NDS.

The NDS kept a watch, gathered intelligence, made analyses and assessments, and also carried out highly sensitive counter-intelligence operations.

The NDS’ attention was focused primarily on: terrorist-leaderships, terror-networks, terrorists, their auxiliaries and suppliers, organizations promoting Radicalization and Violent Extremism, espionage agencies and agents, and fifth columnists whether in the Military, Police, Civil Services, or Civil Society.

Despite shortages of funds, trained human resources, and sophisticated equipment (e.g. the NDS lacked satellite and air reconnaissance capability) the NDS proved to be a resolute, proactive, dependable and impactful check against Afghanistan’s enemies, external and internal; overall: a vigilant sentinel and dynamic bulwark of national security.

Numerous and incisive had been the successes registered by the NDS, many personnel making the supreme sacrifice, and almost always at great personal risk and cost to all tasked to achieve operational goals.

The history of the past thirteen years showed that, most of the worst heinous mischief committed or attempted against Afghanistan originated from Pakistan, and almost entirely on account of the ISI, with the ISI’s ideation, promotion, instigation, and direction.

All the most serious outrages, such as those involving assassinations of prominent persons, bombings of embassies and international offices, major attacks on and inside Afghan Government Ministries and offices, Afghan National Security Forces, sensitive installations including Kabul’s international airport, arterial roads, and soft targets like international hotels and guest houses, etc., were traced to the ISI.

Similarly, ISI origination, sponsorship and direction was revealed underlying the most grievous attacks carried out against the lay public of Afghanistan, at crowded public places such as markets and bus stations, and on important religious and social occasions attracting dense public attendance.

It was no surprise therefore, that Afghanistan’s NDS became an organization by orientation wary of, vigilant against, and fiercely hostile to Pakistan in general and against the ISI and its partner agencies in particular.

In this, the NDS’s attitude towards the ISI was rather like that of an indomitable, nimble and sharp-biting mongoose against a highly poisonous and vicious black king-cobra.

Faced with such a menace, in the period 2006-13, the NDS gradually developed its own assets and networks vis-à-vis its proven enemy, the ISI, and the ISI’s parent establishment, the Army GHQs, Rawalpindi.

The NDS built useful resources for counterintelligence across the Durand Line inside Pakistan: in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province, FATA, Karachi, Baluchistan, and even in Pakistani Punjab and the capital Islamabad.

This capacity of the relatively underequipped NDS to thwart the formidable ISI’s operations reportedly caused considerable dismay and frustration in Army GHQ ‘Pindi and in the ISI.

Therefore, all through the recent years, the ISI had also targeted the NDS, and had scored some hits.

At one juncture, viz. at a time when President Karzai, bereft of international support, had been cornered and isolated, the then intrepid Director of the NDS, Amrullah Saleh, bore the brunt of an incident of breach of security and was obliged abruptly to relinquish his command.

In Saleh’s place, President Karzai however eventually appointed Asadullah Khaled, a resourceful and gutsy Pashtun, and Khaled went after the ISI and its agent-saboteurs with zeal and ferocity.

Thereupon, the ISI mobilized and insinuated a suicide-bomber who, with an explosive device in his rectum, got past security and on detonation left Khaled wounded almost fatally.

Maj-Gen. Rehmatullah Nabiel was then appointed DG NDS, and even against rising odds and restraints, the NDS kept up a fierce struggle combating threats to Afghanistan’s national security.

President Karzai, throughout his twelve years as Afghanistan’s head of state and government, had unflinchingly supported, encouraged, and protected the NDS.

Things changed however, as fully expected by the NDS, after Mohammad Ashraf Ghani was made President of Afghanistan in September 2014 – a succession contrived by US Secretary of State John Kerry with behind-scenes endorsement and support of GHQ, Rawalpindi.

GHQ ‘Rawalpindi  now had their man in the office of the President of Afghanistan.

People in ‘The Arg’, the Presidential Palace, have had to keep careful record of the menus prepared for dinners and lunches served to the Pakistan Army Chief, Gen. Raheel Shareef, the DG ISI, Lt. Gen. Rizwan Akhtar, PM Nawaz Sharif, and National Security Adviser Sartaj Aziz – so as to not serve up the same delicacies too often to these worthies.

Numerous and regular have been Ghani’s calls to his handlers via fixed scrambler telephone, satellite, and Skype.

In the recent visit of PM Nawaz Sharif and Army Chief Raheel Shareef to Kabul, after official talks and private confabulations, Ghani addressed assembled media with the unprecedented statement: “The enemy of Pakistan is the enemy of Afghanistan, and the enemy of Afghanistan is the enemy of Pakistan!”

Nawaz Sharif PM looked like a cat that had polished off a large bowl of cream, and in a magisterial tone read out the same assertion in course of his statement.

Under the ISI-NDS MoU, there is to be intelligence cooperation and coordination between the two agencies, including ISI access to and interrogation of detenus in Afghan prisons, Pakistan’s pursuing of investigations in Afghanistan,  joint ISI-NDS operations, ISI training and equipment of NDS, and joint planning. This opens for the ISI access to and control over the whole gamut of NDS assets and operations.

Ghani compelled the NDS to fall in line with this decision to sign this MoU with the ISI and bend knees before it.

Signing this MoU for intelligence cooperation and coordination between the ISI and the NDS has been an agonizing and excruciating humiliation for the NDS forced by the ISI through the NDS’ own supreme commander and President, Ashraf Ghani.

Serious as this is, more serious is the set of changes being rushed through.

As per ISI dictates, meekly agreed to by Ghani, key NDS officers are being weeded out.

All the operations of the NDS inside Pakistan have been discontinued, assets exposed, and communication networks destroyed or impaired.

Over the months since September 2014 Ghani’s machinations and carping against the NDS, have eroded morale in the NDS and sabotaged its role.

Some knowledgeable friends in Afghan governance circles have compared this with the impact that the “Gujral Doctrine” and its related decisions had on India’s own external intelligence agency.  

The same is being done to ruin intelligence gathering and counterintelligence inside Afghanistan.

The next target of the ISI/GHQ ‘Pindi for intensified attack via President Ghani, is expected to be the HQs of the Afghan National Army and the Afghan National Police.

Not long ago, in Washington, during his recent visit, President Ghani had declared in the United States Institute of Peace (USIP): “For the last thirteen years, Afghanistan and Pakistan had been in a state of undeclared war. The fundamental question is not peace between Afghanistan and the Taliban. The fundamental question is of peace between Afghanistan and Pakistan.”

Subsequently, in India, after referring to Terrorism as a threat to all in the region, Ghani, striking a heroic note, declared: “I shall make Afghanistan the graveyard of Terrorism!”

The stark fact however is that President Mohammad Ashraf Ghani of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan has in practical terms undermined Afghanistan in a manner and to a degree that no traitor in Afghan history can equal.

Ghani has in effect prostrated before Army GHQ Rawalpindi; and has suborned Afghanistan’s sovereignty, national dignity, and national security.

Perhaps this has been his method to usher Peace:  surrender and submission.

There is widespread resentment across ethnicities including the Pashtun/Pakhtun community, against the shame and humiliation being precipitated on the nation under Ashraf Ghani.

Whatever may befall Ghani, is however of miniscule consequence in contrast to the seriousness of the damage already suffered by Afghanistan, and what befalls Afghanistan and the region in the days ahead.

John Hopkins University and Columbia University Prof. Ashraf Ghani, though an intellectual and an academician of eminence, has made easier the rise of Pakistani Militarism in Afghanistan and Radicalization, Violent Extremism, and Narcotics Syndicates, across the region and beyond.