By: Rajesh Kumar Goyal
Give Peace a Chance!
Afghanistan, a country often referred to as the graveyard of empires, has never been in peace. Throughout its long history, the country has always witnessed mayhem, bloodshed and chaos. The Afghan war of 1979 and the US-led global war on terror in the aftermath of 9/11 episode have virtually sent the country back to the Stone Age. Although the United States officially ended war in 2014, the presence of as many as 8400 US soldiers on the pretext of training Afghan security forces is a clear indication that there is no end to this longest and most expensive war in sight. Presently, the war-torn Afghanistan faces both internal and external challenges. Internally, the cancerous ills like rampant corruption, security issues, prevalent nepotism, ubiquitous political instability, an unending wrangling between the parties in US-supported National Unity Government (NUG), ethnic diversity and threats from insurgents such as Taliban and IS are eating up the very fabric of the Afghan society. Externally, the regional players, ostensibly aspiring to bring peace to Afghanistan, are actually trying to pursue their own vested interests, making Afghanistan a hub of terrorism. They have been waging, and are still involved in, proxy wars against their enemies, on the Afghan soil. Looking at the present perplexing scenario, peace in this country still seems a far cry.
US-installed NUG in Afghanistan has miserably failed to bring peace to the country. There is a continuous wrangling between NUG and Jamiat Islami that makes political consensus ever more elusive. The Afghan security forces that have been trained by the US are not strong enough to control the Taliban. And, the members of this militant group are resurgent again and, every now and then, emerge to show that they are more powerful than before. More than forty percent area of Afghanistan is still under Taliban control.
Another lethal terrorist group ISIS is also gaining an increasing influence in Afghanistan. The long-stretched war has rendered the life of Afghans abject and miserable. During the past several weeks, a surge in violence has flared across the country, most recently in August 2018 when the Taliban launched a major ground assault on the southeastern city of Ghazni, killing, at least, 120 people. In another incident, a suicide bombing in Kabul by the IS militia claimed at least 34 lives. Amidst this state of affairs, the Afghan people are braving numerous social and economic issues that further aggravate their problems; rampant corruption, favouritism, ethnic imbalances, poor law and order situation, and internal conflicts are some examples in this regard. The human rights of the Afghans are being violated with impunity. Former US president Barack Obama had decided to end the longest war in Afghanistan by withdrawing his troops. The remaining 8400 soldiers, which were kept there for the purpose of providing training to the Afghan security forces, were to be withdrawn before 2016; but, that never happened. The incumbent president Donald Trump had, during his presidential campaign, announced to withdraw all US forces from Afghanistan but after coming into power, he inexplicably took the decision of raising the number of US troops in Afghanistan from 8400 to 12000 to train Afghan forces and also pressing Pakistan to deny shelter to fighters from the Taliban and Haqqani Network.
Various regional as well as international players have got involved in efforts aimed at bringing peace to Afghanistan and to reconstruct it in such a way that it is put on the path that leads to progress and development. Sensing the futility of war, China, Pakistan and Afghanistan have endeavoured to persuade Taliban for talks. The outcome of their efforts was Murree Talks that were scheduled to take place in 2015, but due to the death of Mullah Muhammad Umar they were postponed indefinitely.
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Another group named QCG (Quadrilateral Coordination Group), comprising the United States, China, Pakistan and Afghanistan, remained active in bringing the Afghan Government and the Taliban to the negotiation table. Five meetings were held in Kabul and Islamabad. This process was also halted due to the killing of Mullah Akhtar Mansour, the then Taliban chief, by the US in May 2016.
Russia also took part in the negotiations. Trilateral talks of Russia, China and Pakistan in December 2016 and Moscow Peace Talks in February 2017 also could not produce concrete results.
The Heart of Asia – Istanbul Process (HoA-IP), an intergovernmental organization formed with the objective of bringing stability and prosperity to Afghanistan, could also not yield desired results. Its Heart of Asia Conferences held in Pakistan, Afghanistan and India remained only talks, and no action. At the 6th Heart of Asia Conference, held on December 04, 2016, in Amritsar, India, both India and Afghanistan, instead of talking peace, spat venom against Pakistan. The trust deficit and blame game between Pakistan and Afghanistan make a big hurdle in effectively fighting against terrorism, and also allow India a room to take advantage of and turn Afghanistan against Pakistan. The strong unholy nexus between India and Afghanistan is creating troubles not only for Pakistan but also for the whole South Asian region. A recent international conference on Afghanistan, which was hosted by Uzbekistan and had participation of all stakeholders, produced the Tashkent Declaration but its implementation in letter and spirit remained only in papers and, thus, remained unsuccessful in bringing peace just like other efforts, e.g. Doha, Oslo, Moscow, Beijing and Murree initiatives.
Looking at the present confused scenario, it is obvious that war is not a solution to Afghanistan issue. Dialogue, democracy, defence and development should be the top priority to make these efforts successful and result-oriented. Talks must be held with the Afghan Taliban and there should also be a power-sharing formula for the future government. They need to be treated as a legitimate political entity; this is the best way to tamp down the violence in the country. US troops must be withdrawn but the US should continue to play its due role in the reconstruction of Afghanistan. Financial assistance in social sector such as education, health, infrastructure, etc. is direly needed to improve the quality of life. India’s role should be limited through international pressure so as to address the grievances of Pakistan. The latter should be encouraged to offer genuine help to Afghan people to improve their situation. All the stakeholders should keep their vested interests and differences aside and play their constructive and proactive role in bringing peace and normalcy to the war-ravaged Afghanistan. We need to realize that peace in Afghanistan will bring prosperity not only to the region but to the whole world. We must understand that and the sooner, the better.