Endgame in Afghanistan and the Future Prospects in the Region
Dr. Farhan Hanif Siddiqi while opening the forum said, ‘The endgame in Afghanistan is not imminent, not even about to happen after the probable withdrawal of American forces expected to take place by 2014. It has to be seen, as to what consequence would emerge the continued clandestine peace talks between the Taliban and the United States. However, the outcome of those peace talks would be crucial for long-term socio-political stability both in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Moreover, President Barack Obama recently won the US presidential election by utilising his apparent success regarding the war on terror for the last four years, including the assassination of Osama bin Laden. These three questions come to everyone’s mind:
What are the future prospects of the Pak-Afghan relation in the region after the Nato troops withdrawal?
Is there any ground for the optimism regarding peace and stability in the region?
What roles the key international, regional and local actors likely to play in the region?
Rameez Baloch, a student of BS-IR was of the view: ‘As the 2014 security transition in Afghanistan approaches, multiple tracks need to be pursued to ensure sustainable peace in the country. A regional solution is often touted as an ideal one for peace not only in Afghanistan in the post-withdrawal era but for the whole region too. But on the other hand, the core interests, policies, and views of Afghanistan’s neighbouring states are still not well understood. Furthermore, we have understood that the regional states have a long history of mistrust and tensions and would likely to remain more concerned about their bilateral equations rather than taking a truly regional approach, thereby choosing to overcome their differences for the sake of peace in Afghanistan. Now we have to see what happens in the near future.’
Syed Touseef Haider, another student of BS-IR focused on Pakistan’s role. He said, ‘A settlement in Afghanistan is not in the hands of the US but in the hands of Pakistan. Because of the fact that Pakistan will be the main beneficiary of any settlement but, first it needs to redefine its relations with the US in order to help the settlement process and to participate in the negotiation with key actors from a position of strength. It also depends upon Pakistan that how she convinces the US to pursue a regional solution of forthcoming endgame in Afghanistan.’
Umair Khalil elaborated a few troubled relationships in the context of Afghanistan. He said, ‘Let me use the two most problematic relationships to highlight the problem: Pakistan-India and US-Iran. There has been constant acknowledgement that Pakistan is the most important external actor when it comes to ensuring peace in Afghanistan. What will get Pakistan to play a constructive role? But this at the minimum requires an active dialogue on development and intelligence issues between the two sides ‘and most likely it might require New Delhi to make significant concessions at the end of the day in order to address the concerns of Pakistan.
Amina Bilgrami looking confident said, ‘As the Nato withdraws from Afghanistan, regional players will begin to expand their influence, acting either toward Afghanistan’s stability or as spoilers based on their own interests. The first of these regional actors, Pakistan has become proactive player in Afghanistan, as can be witnessed by Pakistan’s participation at the Nato Chicago Summit. Pakistan has conflicted interests in Afghanistan, both supporting the Taliban and desiring regional stability. In fact, other major regional actors, including India ‘which has improved its relations with Kabul’ are creating regional tensions for Pakistan. Moreover, China has expanded its involvement in Afghanistan in search of mineral resources and Iran has also maintained a presence in Afghanistan both for pipeline access and to pursue anti-Taliban interests based on regional security concerns. In 2014, Afghanistan will not only be challenged by troop withdrawals, but also by the task of carrying out free and fair elections. In addition, I would also say Nato-led ISAF has returned to a counter-terrorism strategy and generally abandoned its counter-insurgency strategy. This marks a more modest set of objectives in the region by the West.’
Muhammad Qaseem Saeed, another student, was of the opinion that given the broader US policy matrix in the region, one can safely figure out that neither the United States will think of a conclusive “endgame” in Afghanistan nor can it afford to think of exiting from that country lock stock and barrel. In fact, Obama’s exit strategy from Afghanistan is actually a strategy of restructuring the war in which a formidable force of some 128,000 US and Nato troops have come to occupy the country for over a decade. The mounting financial costs and casualties of US soldiers have forced President Obama to do some rethinking to conduct the military operations in a different way. Therefore, he signed a strategic pact with President Karzai which clearly shows that the US will keep its presence in Afghanistan in the future too.
At the end, discussion was concluded by Dr. Shaista Tabsum, the chairperson of the department. She said, ‘After more than a decade, as we are approaching towards the endgame in Afghanistan against a background of uncertain prospects for long-term stability and peace in Afghanistan as well as in the region. Now a question arises in terms of future western military intervention, as tensions rise with Syria and Iran, do the doctrines of the preemptive strike and the responsibility to protect, continue to be applicable? And at a time of great volatility in the Middle East and a shift in the geostrategic balance of power occasioned by the rise of China, what are the lessons of the post-2001 period? With the benefit of hindsight over the past decade, what judgments can be made on what we got wrong and what we got right in our foreign policy? This is the high time for Pakistan to revisit its foreign policy, especially towards Afghanistan as the global scenario has been changed now.’
Dr. Shaista Tabsum concluded the session with the appreciation of the JWT team for conducting such an enlightening discussion forum, speakers for their insight and the audience for their questions and contributions to the discussion.