The Afghan National Resistance Front Outlines Its Strategy: Implications for US Foreign Policy

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  • A recent FPRI-sponsored interview with the head of foreign relations for Afghanistan’s largest resistance organization, the National Resistance Front, highlighted the front’s political goal of a decentralized Afghanistan that respects human rights and its military goal of protracted guerrilla warfare to achieve that goal.
  • A strong emphasis on political decentralization could mean a further political and military strategy aimed only at trying to defeat the Taliban in majority Tajik and other ethnic minority areas in northern Afghanistan, which, if successful, could lead to a de facto partition of the country. .
  • The possible future partition of Afghanistan, as well as the presence of numerous international and regional terrorist organizations in the country, presents US foreign policy with some difficult challenges, but also with options for the future.

in 2022 November 15 The Institute for Foreign Policy Research conducted a personal and Zoom event entitled “The Future of the Resistance in Afghanistan” with Ali M. Nazary, Director of Foreign Affairs of the National Resistance Front (NRF). Nazary, an outspoken spokesman for the NRF and anti-Taliban affairs in Afghanistan, delivered one of the most comprehensive briefings to date to a broad American audience on the NRF’s goals and strategy. This short essay will briefly outline those goals and strategy and assess what they might mean for US foreign policy.

The event with Nazary was the third focused on Afghanistan an event or publication FPRI has been created over the past three months in an effort to highlight the various challenges facing American foreign policy beyond current headlines. All three focused on the two main issues of US foreign policy toward Afghanistan after the Taliban takeover: the presence of multiple international and regional terrorist groups in Afghanistan, the movement of resistance to Taliban rule, and how to address both.

According to Nazary, the NRF is fighting for a democratic, decentralized Afghanistan provides equal rights to all citizens, including gender equality. To this end, the NRF guerrilla forces are conducting a classic Maoist insurgency, which is in the first phase of building up strength in the countryside, exhausting its enemy. The NRF hopes to move quickly into the next phase of the insurgency by liberating certain regions of the country, which would allow them to gain resources for the final phase of a large-scale battle to topple the Taliban.

Nazary described the Taliban as divided into factions based on conflicts over resources and tribal differences. Most interesting were his comments on the relationship between the Taliban and the Islamic State. The Islamic State-Khorasan Province (ISK) terrorist group in Afghanistan has split itself into several smaller groups, some of which have developed good relations with the Haqqani network, he said. Islamic State members who have fled Syria and Iraq to Afghanistan do not have the same animosity toward the Taliban as some ISKP groups. The Taliban reportedly used some Islamic State expatriates to kill rival Taliban members and suppress a Hazara insurgency in Sar-e Pul province in August. (However other reports shows that the bloody internecine war between the Taliban and ISKP continues, especially in eastern Afghanistan). Describing the NRF as still fighting the global war on terror against the Taliban and their terrorist allies, Nazary presented the NRF as the only democratic force that can be relied upon as an anti-terrorism ally in Afghanistan. He suggested that the United States might want to use the NRF to fight terrorist groups in Afghanistan, as it has used Kurdish forces to fight the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.

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In his comments on the NRF’s vision for Afghanistan’s political future, Nazary unequivocally emphasized the need for a decentralized government system that devolves power to provinces and districts. According to him, the cycle of violence that has lasted for more than five decades in Afghanistan was the result of the centralization of power in Kabul and the power of one person – the monarch, the communist general secretary or the president. Asked how exactly devolution could be implemented, he suggested that it be left to the people in a referendum. After further questioning, Nazary denied that decentralization was a step towards dividing Afghanistan between ethnic minority groups in the north and Pashtun tribes in the south, saying that Afghanistan had not reached that stage “yet” and should not pursue it until there were other options. such as a federation (a union of partially self-governing states in which the central government has supreme authority) or a confederation (a union of fully self-governing states in which the central government has only discretionary powers).

However, the NRF’s goal of creating a decentralized Afghan state is likely to result in either a confederation that preserves Afghanistan’s current territorial integrity, or a partition that disrupts it. Decentralization contrasts with a strong federal system where provinces and districts can be subject to decisions from Kabul. Therefore, according to the logic of decentralization, a confederation is the best option for keeping a united Afghanistan, with ethnic minorities, who make up about 40 percent of Afghanistan’s population, controlling their territories and the majority Pashtuns controlling the rest of the country. The NRF’s best-case scenario would be a parallel Pashtun insurgency that replaces the Taliban and unites them into a confederation, perhaps with regional capitals in Mazar-e Sharif and Qandahar, and a weak central government in Kabul to maintain foreign relations while both sides of the country develop their own political, social and security systems.

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However, a confederated Afghanistan is unlikely because the Taliban would never agree to it willingly and would require a total victory over the Taliban, as happened in 2001. between November and December to introduce such a system to the Taliban. Even in 2001 in the fall, the Tajik-dominated units of the Northern Alliance never got very far with the mostly Pashtuns. The defeat of the Taliban in these areas was achieved through a combination of anti-Taliban Pashtun tribal forces, supported by American advisers on the ground, and heavy air support. The NRF probably realizes that such a combination is unlikely to happen again and that they alone cannot defeat the Taliban across Afghanistan without a parallel anti-Taliban Pashtun insurgency. Therefore, the NRF official’s strong emphasis on decentralization suggests that the NRF is only interested in defeating the Taliban in the majority Tajik and other ethnic minority areas of northern Afghanistan. With the Taliban maintaining control in the south and east of Afghanistan and little hope of a political compromise between the two sides, partition is the most likely end result of a successful military campaign by the NRF and other anti-Taliban forces in northern Afghanistan.

What does this mean for US foreign policy?

The division of Afghanistan is contrary to the general principle of opposition to separatism. Since many states in the world are multi-ethnic, high levels of separatism can lead to a slippery slope to the violation of the territorial integrity of states, and thus the international order. However, the results of separatism were accepted as de jure The United States and the international community many times over the last few decades with the collapse of the Soviet Union, the collapse of Yugoslavia, the velvet divorce of Czechoslovakia, and the separation of South Sudan from Sudan and East Timor from Indonesia. Currently recognized de facto Libya and Somalia, which are divided into two or even three separate, independently functioning regions or mini-states.

If the NRF or the broader resistance organization defeats the Taliban in the minority-dominated areas of northern Afghanistan and forms a functioning civilian government there that is accepted by the various ethnic groups, would the United States be prepared to recognize a divided Afghanistan? One argument is that it would be bad for the principle of territorial integrity of states, but good for US counterterrorism goals. Afghanistan, basically divided along north-south lines, would prevent international and regional terrorist groups from accessing the borders of Central Asian states, those governments would be welcome as it would greatly reduce the threat of terrorism and internal unrest. This would give the United States more opportunities to develop intelligence and infrastructure to disrupt terrorist operations on the part of the Taliban in Afghanistan. A pluralistic northern Afghanistan could also serve as an alternative model for those areas under Taliban control and a haven for those fleeing Taliban misrule, further undermining the Taliban regime.

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Any future decentralization Afghanistan is one of the possible scenarios for the country’s future, and much depends on the success or failure of the armed resistance against the Taliban. Afghanistan’s political future will reflect the military correlation of forces between the two sides. But if success favors the NRF and others opposed to the Taliban, US policymakers may have to deal with the possibility of a partitioned Afghanistan.

If partition is not the desired end state and there is no recognition of the Taliban regime, the United States should work with and support the various anti-Taliban forces in Afghanistan to exert any influence on the countries deciding the country’s post-Taliban future. . This would include participating in and supporting any Pashtun anti-Taliban forces emerging in eastern and southern Afghanistan, as was done twenty years ago. The United States, in addition to its counterterrorism goals, should at least support the efforts of all those in Afghanistan to preserve the positive social changes of the past two decades in terms of democracy and human rights in a part of the world that often lacks them. Positive developments in Afghanistan may reverberate across the region, especially given the current protests in Iran.

The resistance against the Taliban is still in its infancy, and its survival is not assured. But if it survives and succeeds, the strategy of its largest and most organized force, the NRF, could have unmistakable ramifications for many U.S. interests, from counterterrorism to regional stability. After all, the first Taliban regime only lasted five years from 1996 to 2001. Therefore, the goals of those seeking to replace him should be carefully analyzed and understood as the United States decides what its next steps will be in Afghanistan.

The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of the Institute for Foreign Policy Research, a nonpartisan organization dedicated to publishing reasoned, policy-oriented articles on American foreign policy and national security. priorities.

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