Endgame in Afghanistan Implications and Way forward

The withdrawal of US forces has special significance for South Asia in general and Pakistan in particular. This article looks at issues from different angles with a logical and prudent solution which, if implemented, would ensure peace and security in the region.

The attack on World Trade Center in September 2001 prompted a bloody era of war, which engulfed both Afghanistan and Pakistan, continued for over a decade. It is however set to end in December 2014 after the withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan by the US and NATO. The hunt-journey of Osama Bin Laden that began from the mountains of Tora Bora ended in his assassination during the Abbottabad operation in May 2011.

The withdrawal of US forces has special significance for South Asia in general and Pakistan in particular. America’s Pak-Afghan policy 2009 was meant to destroy, dismantle and defeat the al-Qaeda but it failed, and now America appears to be trying its face-saving. First, we must distinguish between the al-Qaeda and Taliban (Islamic fundamentalists). Al-Qaeda is a global Islamic militant organization formed by OBL (Osama Bin Laden) in 1988-89 with origin traceable to the post-Soviet war in Afghanistan. The Taliban is a local outfit and its main clout is within Afghanistan and the western border of Pakistan. Al-Qaeda, at present, stands weakened in Afghanistan but the Taliban are still a formidable force to wrestle with. According to Economist magazine, the Taliban power is on the rise and the US government needs to accommodate them if they want peace in Afghanistan.

To have a clear picture of the Afghan scenario, it is better to mention the main players in this endgame and their concerns. The primary stakeholders are the Karzai government, the Afghan Taliban, America and Pakistan and, secondary, the stakeholders: India, Russia, Iran and the Afghan warlords. The Karzai government demands the Taliban surrender weapons, denounce the al-Qaeda and accept the writ of the Afghan government. On the other hand, the Afghan Taliban want their removal from terrorists’ list, release of prisoners and immediate withdrawal of the US troops from Afghanistan. America desires peaceful and pro-American government and an honourable exit from Afghanistan, whereas Pakistan wants peaceful and pro-Pakistan government in Afghanistan with negligible interference by India.

 America’s Pak-Afghan policy 2009 was meant to destroy, dismantle and defeat the al-Qaeda but it failed, and now America appears to be trying its face-saving.
 Without addressing the concerns of key players, the Afghanistan conundrum can never be solved. It must be kept in mind by America that alone it cannot settle the Afghanistan issue. Back in 1989, when the Russians left Afghanistan, it propped up a pro-Soviet regime of Dr Najeebullah and provided it financial help, but he was killed in 1993 and hence the country went to civil war. So America must realize that it has to include all the stakeholders to develop a peace map.

The recent incidents show that America has finally accepted that it has to take a back seat in dealing with the Taliban because its ‘kill and talk’ policy simply does not work. The failure of talks in Qatar corroborates the fact. The Afghanistan Peace Council has devised a roadmap for peace 2015 which underlines that the Taliban will eventually surrender and may be allowed to rule over their majority areas.

Critics suggest that the Taliban may not surrender and will probably wait for America to leave so they can capture the whole of Afghanistan. This is a flawed narrative as described by Cyril Almeida in an English-language daily. He was right in pointing out that the Taliban insurgency is not like the erstwhile Mujahideen’s Jihad during the Soviet war. The Pashtuns consist of only 40-45 per cent of the Afghan population and only 30,000-35,000 of them are Taliban.

Any peace initiative that has the backing of the national and regional parties is bound to succeed. In the eyes of the British Ambassador to Kabul, one of the reasons for failure of the Karzai government is the constitution by the French and forcibly implemented by Americans.

The question arises: will peace plans or initiatives enforced by foreign powers continue to fail? First of all, three circles of negotiations are required. The first one is the intra-Afghan circle, and it will include all the stakeholders in Afghanistan i.e. Pashtun, non-Pashtun (Tajik, Uzbek and Hazara) and the current government. The aim of these negotiations should be to address the concerns of the non-state actors and develop a roadmap ensuring peace and stability in the region.

The second is the regional circle, and it will include Pakistan, India, Russia and China. Pakistan has major concerns with regard to the Indian clout in Afghanistan. India has now won the mining contracts in Afghanistan and is currently investing around 5 billion dollars annually. Quite naturally, Russia and China want peace in Afghanistan because of the spread of war in the southern Russia and support for the East Turkestan movement in China. All these regional players should sit together and chalk out a strategy in which they need to accept that the only solution of long-lasting peace in Afghanistan is to let the Afghan people decide their future.

Pakistan must give up its cliched stance of ‘strategic depth’. And India must not try to increase its military clout under the garb of training the Afghan police. Russia and China must support the Afghan government economically. The third is the international circle, and it will include America and its allies like Pakistan.

Economist estimates that an amount of 4 billion dollars is required annually to run the government and that the international stakeholders should provide financial help to the Afghan government. Moreover America should announce that it has no intention of staying in Afghanistan beyond December 2014 so the Taliban can also join the peace process. Even if some force has to be maintained, it should be under the umbrella of the United Nations. Once these circles develop a strategy, only then all these players should sit together and chalk out a plan acceptable to all these circles.

Peace in Afghanistan is beneficial for all    not just the people of Afghanistan but also those in South Asia and all over the world.

Pakistan needs to understand that it already has 3 million Afghan refugees and if a civil war starts there, more refugees will across over the border. Pakistan has lost 40,000 people and 3500 soldiers in the name of war on terror and it is still fighting militancy on its soil. If there is peace in Afghanistan, at least one front would be closed and only then Pakistan can concentrate on eliminating menace of terrorism from its frontier regions. Therefore, the idea of ‘strategic depth’ should be given up. The distinction between good and bad Taliban should be eliminated. Those militants who kill Americans across the border are as bad as those who kill innocent people in cities in Pakistan. If we condone violence in one area, the same violence will erupt with more force in our area. True to the saying Sun Tzu by ‘The supreme art of war is to subdue the enemy without fighting.’

By: Dr Zeshan Hanif, PAS

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *