Afghan Forces Good Enough

Wanted: New NDS Director

Facebook: it’s how all the cool NDS directors quit these days.

I used to get into arguments with this guy I knew. I thought we were the kind of friends that could do that, you know? The kind of people who could really get after it over something really important, like if we had to choose, if we’d go Professor or Mr. Howell. Or whether Dora really hears people talking to her through the screen, and if she does, why isn’t she medicated? There was a brief PBR fueled discussion about testing out the Wanted “bend-the-bullet” scenario, but cooler heads did prevail and we quashed that scenario.

Then we had that argument, the one you can’t get past. The one that no matter how long you let it sit for, you know that it’s going to do damage to your friendship. Our friendship was never the same after that. To be honest, it was over after that. I don’t even remember what it was about, not really. I do know I learned a lot from it: I learned that it is possible to agree to disagree. That there are some things they can’t unsay, and there are some things you can’t unhear. And that some things are just really hard to clean out of a woodchipper.

Nabil turns in his pliers

Ashraf Ghani had an argument like that last week with the recently former head of the NDS Rahmatullah Nabil, who resigned after a Facebook post where he did his best to make sure he never worked in this town again. Or at least he never worked in this town as part of the Ghani administration. Losing the head of your country’s domestic intelligence service means you’re going to have to find someone else who has way more pliers in his garage than makes sense for the average homeowner. Which means Ghani has yet another vacancy in his government, and this is one he can ill afford.

The main reason Nabil quit was because of Ghani’s continued push for making peace with the Taliban. Since the Taliban are “good with peace talks” like Jared Fogle is “good with kids,” there’s a bit of a trust gap. Add to that the rumors that his resignation may have been asked for by Islamabad, and there’s more than one bit of intrigue around this.

Now here’s where we get into unfounded speculation and probably some pointless pontification. I can’t say with certainty that any of what happens next is grounded in reality, and I’m basing today’s reading of the chai leaves on a couple of clips from House of Cards and some things I remember from Body of Lies. So let’s break out the salt shakers and get a poorly reasoned explanation for Nabil’s resignation.

He was probably going to get fired anyway

ReservoirDogs

Somehow I see this movie getting a lot of play in NDS facilities.

Ghani’s recent trip to Kunduz resulted in a lot of folks, some of them from Nabil’s department, getting canned. Which is usually the first sign that your job may in jeopardy, that subordinates didn’t warn you of a possible Taliban attack on one what we call “key places you don’t want to lose to the insurgency in Afghanistan.” Which, well, Kunduz would probably be at the top of that list.

Then there was the attack on the Kandahar airport which in some ways was worse than Kunduz. Sure, you didn’t have the US pulling it’s Extreme Makeover: MSF Hospital Edition act, but you did end up with over 50 dead, most of them civilians. Given how long the attack lasted, this was the kind of thing that took significant coordination and long-term planning, so for the NDS to miss that AND Kunduz in the space of a couple months? That’s not the best way to keep your job.

“If someone believes that the president, security council or member of the government dismisses an official at the request of others should be prepared for a hundred-year war, because this is national treason, no foreign country will be allowed to meddle in appointments within the government of Afghanistan.” – Ashraf Ghani

So if you’re the head of the NDS (like the FBI – same cheap suits, less attention to human rights) you put together a Facebook post that guarantees your boss has to ask for your resignation. You loudly declaim Ghani’s policies, particularly toward the Taliban, since you know that kind of thing plays well with the home crowd, forcing him to either fire you or ask you to resign. Then you get folks to spread the rumor that Pakistan asked Ghani to can you, which true or not, means you get to see Ghani having to deny that in the press.

Karzai 2019: Let’s call it a Komeback

Making peace with the Taliban is both the best and worst idea Ashraf Ghani has ever had. It’s the best idea for Afghanistan: since the Americans are never going to commit to the kind of total war that would result in the annihilation of the Taliban as a viable security threat, at some point Kabul is going to have to come to terms with the Boys from Balochistan. It’s the least bad of a lot of bad options.

Politically, it’s the worst thing Ghani could have ever done. It’s a distinctly unpopular stance among those like his CEO who still want to see the Taliban ground into a fine powder. For people like Abdullah Abdullah, “head on a pike” is still figurative, but only just. There’s a lot of good reasons for that, but to chart a course toward long-term stability, pragmatism needs to be the order of the day.

Despite the clickbaitery of the subhead above, this doesn’t automatically equate to Karzai’s return to the throne. It’s one of a few possible scenarios for the country, and an abbreviated Ghani administration seems more likely when people like Nabil start to tap out. It means President Shouty has lost the support of another key element of his security cohort, and that the Americans may have to deal with Karzai 3.0 in the coming years.


Also published on Medium.