Reportage Afghanistan: gen. Cardea, "Pacifying also means stabilizing the borders ..."

(To Giusy Federici)

"With regard to the resolution of the conflict in Afghanistan, the regional actors are many, with varied agendas and interests, in some cases even diverging from each other. Diplomatic pressures are continuing against some countries, where extremists responsible for various attacks are allegedly hiding, so that they take the necessary steps to ensure peace throughout the region. Although the official statements of the representatives of some governments support the peace process, in the light of the results obtained, no concrete progress can be seen. On the other hand, other countries, always along the borders, support the peace process and promote economic development."

Brigadier General Sergio Cardea is the head of the Strategic Engagement Branch, inserted within the directorate Strategy and Policy of the "Resolute Support" mission in Kabul. Paratrooper, former commander of the 183 ° paratroopers regiment "Nembo", the officer has a long experience of operating theaters starting from 1993 with Somalia of "Restore Hope". Then Yugoslavia, Albania, East Timor, Kosovo ... And so much Afghanistan since Enduring Freedom and since he was captain and where he returned several times in the ISAF mission covering various positions, not least the command of the 5 ° battalion paratroopers "El Alamein" - 186 ° parachutist regiment "Folgore" of Siena, in the Taliban Gulistan 2011.

General Sergio Cardea is an Italian soldier to be proud of. Among the awards received, a solemn commendation by the SME chief for the "Stabilise" operation, a US Commendation Medal for the assignment Operational Mentor Liaison Team with the Afghan army, a bronze cross to the value of the Army, in the 2012, for the results achieved by the 5 battalion "El Alamein" in Afghanistan.

In Kabul he deals with the "military to military" relations, the military relations of the Afghan security forces with neighboring countries. His department, in which he works under his personal direction of the United States, Montenegrin and British, analyzes the regional dynamics affecting the country and supervises the resolution of possible disputes along the borders, in particular the Pakistani one. Because the pacification of Afghanistan also runs through the stability of the permeable borders ...

General Cardea, how is the work of Strategic Engagement Branch?

My job is to promote and maintain military relations between Afghan security forces and neighboring countries, through continuous meetings to discuss security issues, share operational information and coordinate efforts. With the term "Engagement", therefore, we mean any form of non-kinetic engagement through the interviews and the confrontation between the parties. In addition, another section of my department analyzes events from a strategic point of view, which can potentially have any effect on our area of ​​operation. In particular, the focus is on everything that characterizes the political, military, economic, diplomatic and social domains to understand the dynamics and support the decisions of our chain of command.

The lines to be adopted as they are defined?

Within RS, the element of connection with the Afghan government is represented by the NATO Senior Civilian Representative, the ambassador Cornelius Zimmermann, with whom we meet and coordinate daily, to have a key to reading from the political point of view. Ambassador Zimmerman is the civilian equivalent of General Miller (commander of Resolute Support, ed.).

Who among the neighboring countries openly supports the peace process of Afghanistan?

Surely a great support comes from the countries along the northern border, Turkmenistan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, which favor not only the peace process but also economic development. Projects of the highest caliber are underway, such as the TAPI pipeline that starts from Turkmenistan, crosses all of Afghanistan, Pakistan and ends in India, which, when it is finished, will generate an annual income of 400 million dollars. Also important is the CASA (Central Asia South Asia) power line, funded by the Central Asian Republics, which will bring 18 megawatt of electricity to Afghanistan and thus facilitate the economic development of the north of the country. And there are plans to develop the railway network to increase trade, in particular the connection from Turkmenistan to the Herat region and another branch that will connect Tajikistan with Mazar i Sharif.

Another state that certainly supports the development of Afghanistan and is among the main "international donors" is India, which is investing large sums of money and carrying out numerous projects. Among other things, an air corridor was also opened to allow the trade of Afghan products directly in India, which could lead to an influx of about one billion USD.

Instead, how is Pakistan moving?

In the past, Pakistan has certainly offered refuge to the Mujaideen who fought against the Soviets. Currently, the United States openly accuse Pakistan of not doing enough to eliminate all the violent extremists present in its territory. As you well remember, in January, US President Trump asked Pakistan for decisive actions against terrorism and a series of diplomatic and economic initiatives were undertaken: the US cut funds to the country, between 700 million and $ 1 billion before to 150 millions now.

On the other hand, it is known that the Pakistani security forces, following violent attacks that have shaken the country, carried out a series of military operations in the provinces along the border, in particular in the Federal Administrated Area (FATA) and in the Baluchistan to eliminate some terrorist organizations

Returning to the issue of the Afghanistan-Pakistan border, General Miller, before settling himself at the head of RS, said that in Pakistan there are hidden terrorists who have to come out ...

The representatives of the Pakistani government have reiterated their commitment to the fight against all forms of terrorism and claim to have eliminated all forms of organized presence, the so-called "sanctuaries", from their territory. However, the perception within the international community is that, despite the military initiatives and the high toll of blood shed by civilians and security forces, there is still much work to be done in this regard.

On the admissions of the Pakistanis themselves, it is not excluded that among the 3 million Afghan refugees in Pakistan, many terrorists or violent extremists are hiding and that some of them also enjoy the support of local "stakeholders".

Today the Afghans accuse the Pakistanis of hosting the terrorists, the latter accuse the former of not controlling the borders. Mutual accusations, however, the two sides are meeting and finally talking to each other, right inside the RS mission, where we have a delegation of the Afghan security forces and one of Pakistani forces with whom we have a very cordial and sincere relationship of effective collaboration, to achieve the common goal of security, peace and development. We meet with them regularly to share information and resolve any issues that arise along the border.

After 17 years, with the work done by Isaf before and Resolute Support now, at what point is peace? Because pacifying Afghanistan also means stabilizing the borders ...

It's like that. There are some projects and the signals are encouraging. During the last holiday of the end of Ramadan, the Taliban accepted the truce proposed by President Ashraf Ghani, proving to be a unitary movement and willingness to enter into peace talks. It is a small step, but also a very important signal. And, of course, border stability is also crucial for stability in the country. There are a number of political, diplomatic and economic initiatives to ensure that the situation along the borders can become more stable and peaceful.

The former cricket champion Imran Khan is returning to Pakistan from the 18 in August (Photo) he was appointed prime minister. During his election campaign he proposed an alternative to traditional parties, promoting the values ​​of transparency and honesty and placing among its main objectives the stability and development of the country, also through the resolution of border issues with India. that with Afghanistan. From the military point of view, the Pakistanis have recently decided to strengthen with other 60 thousand men the army corps deployed along the border to conduct counter-terrorism operations and to build additional fences along the 2.600 kilometers of the Durand Line, (border line between the two countries not recognized by the Pashtuns, ed) to avoid the uncontrolled passage of hostile elements. These are also encouraging signs. Now we have to wait and see how effective they are and above all understand how Prime Minister Imran Khan will play this new game.

Among the borders to be monitored, is there Iran, which borders on the region of Herat (where is our Italian contingent) and to which the USA will apply other sanctions?

Yes, attention is also paid to everything that happens in Iran, without neglecting possible second and third order effects. From next November, further US sanctions targeting Iran will have potential repercussions in Afghanistan. President Ghani himself has asked that Afghanistan be exempted from the application of sanctions against Iran, which in any case is a major economic partner. Currently in Iran the social situation is very particular and a large number of Afghan refugees, due to the economic crisis, have returned to their homeland, aggravating the already precarious socio-economic framework. It should be remembered that, in this period, Afghanistan is also affected by a devastating drought that is compromising the harvests of a large part of the country, aggravating an already complex situation.

Another not-so-minor actor is China, which is penetrating more and more into Afghanistan, with infrastructure and with the project of the new Silk Road. And it is obviously interested in the stability of the area ...

China is building the Belt and Road Initiative, to trade all the goods it exports. It is investing in many countries and among the projects there is, in Pakistan, the China Pakistan Economic Corridor, which allows goods leaving from China to cross all of Pakistan and reach the port of Gwadar, where they are boarded on ships and sent to Europe. Obviously, associated with this, there are numerous infrastructural investments by the Chinese to allow the development of the area, including roads, electricity grids, power plants, etc. In particular, China is investing in Baluchistan, a somewhat depressed area that is already feeling positively affected by these economic influences. And, as far as Afghanistan is concerned, China is exploring the possibility of using a route through the country as an alternative to the Pakistani one. The fundamental requirement for the economic corridor to be achieved is the stability of the area. In short, China is a favorable element in the general geopolitical framework, as it is committed to all levels so that in Afghanistan and Pakistan there is no anarchy and violence.

After all, China has the problem with the Uigur ...

Exactly. And so the Chinese are interested in eliminating terrorism even along their border areas and isolating the most violent extremists.

Afghanistan is the land of the "great game", always, where everyone has a strategic, political, economic interest ...

Surely Afghanistan is the crossroads of all the major traffic that passes along the land route. Suffice it to say that Afghanistan borders to the north with the Central Asian republics, which still today are affected by the influence of Russia, borders to the east, for about 70 km, with China, in the Badashan region, to the east and south with Pakistan and west with Iran. It is clear that in the political agenda of the main regional actors it is essential to be able to exert influence in Afghanistan.

As a demonstration of this, I would like to remind you that last September 4, Russia convened a meeting to initiate peace talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban movement's political representatives, in the presence of Russian, Chinese, Pakistani and US diplomats. The meeting was postponed at the request of President Ghani, who asked to meet with all diplomatic representatives before sitting at the negotiating table with the Taliban.

Another big regional actor is Russia ...

Russia aspires to be a key player in this theater. And certainly wants to emerge as an element of mediation between the Afghan government and the Taliban, also posing as an antagonist to NATO. Among President Putin's priorities, there is certainly the contrast to the expansion of the Islamic State. As you can see, there are many factors that bind and to be able to understand well all the dynamics, we must try to correlate them and read them all together. We do not have two contenders or black and white, but we have the whole iris scale, with several regional actors that are able to influence both one side and the other, according to their national political agendas.

The new generation of Taliban seems to want to get out of illegality and that the Afghan government is willing to listen to them. As Engagement Strategic, will you talk to them one day?

If the reconciliation process is successful, I do not exclude that the RS Command can interact with the Taliban. The next step will be reintegration within the socio-economic fabric, to prevent the danger of resuming hostilities. During the short period of respite at the end of Ramadan, we have witnessed in many Afghan cities situations that open great hopes for the future: many Taliban fighters, including some very young, have peacefully invaded the cities, laying down their arms and joining to the population in festive demonstrations. We saw young Taliban warriors hugging, taking selfies with the Afghan National Security Forces and eating ice-creams together.

It is widely believed that these demonstrations have highlighted a possible rift between the younger generations, those born at the turn of the 2001, who would be in favor of the reconciliation process and those who have gone through the Russian invasion, the next period of anarchy with the domination of the various warlords and the Taliban hegemony in the 1994-2001, who would like to continue the fight. What keeps them together is the ideology that drives them to fight against the Afghan government, but lately they have been condemned by Islamic religious, in Indonesia and Saudi Arabia, against all those who kill unarmed civilians and wage an unjust war. This has certainly challenged the legitimacy of their war.

A series of spontaneous manifestations were born to the fatwas born spontaneously by Afghan citizens, heavily tested by decades of struggle. In the first half of the 2018, official UN sources report that in Afghanistan 1700 civilians lost their lives due to incidents of violence linked to terrorism. At the height of Ramadan in June, a group of Afghans, after yet another bloody attack in the south of the country, traveled about 700 km on foot, without touching food and water during the day, to reach Kabul and ask the Afghan government and to the international community to end this massacre. This group grew as it moved, 3 men from Elmand who have become over 700 in Kabul. It is one of the many signs that the population is tired and wants peace, stability and certainties.

(photo: author / US DoD / MoD People's Republic of China / Kremlin / Resolute Support)