The South Central Asian Region (SCAR) in general and the Af-Pak Region (APR) in particular are in a state of strategic flux. The US/NATO/ISAF Combine is egressing and the resultant power vacuum in Afghanistan threatens to suck in competing non-state, local and regional forces into a violent vortex that could eventually destabilize, devastate and destroy the whole region.
The events of the next 12-24 months will thus define the future of the region and its peoples with serious implications for the US and the world at large too.
The US has lost its appetite for any further campaigning in the APR and intends to cut its losses. It seeks to create its desired strategic environment there - prior to, during and after its withdrawal. Regardless, Pakistan will have a cardinal role to play during each phase as the campaign winds down.
As the Afghan campaign comes to a closure the US must not lose sight of the regional scenario. It must take the larger strategic view. It is presently dealing with the Taliban, the Afghans and the Pakistanis as the main parties to this conundrum. However it must consider major regional players like Iran, the CARs, Russia and China (SCO-?) as well. It would be a master stroke in realpolitik if these regional players too are made stakeholders in the peace that follows. Bringing them in will help stabilize the region, kick start its economy, spread individual prosperity and thus contribute towards eliminating militancy. Peripheral India could continue to invest in the Afghan economy. This may lead too, to an early broad based exploitation of the region’s riches as well as an implementation of the New Silk Road Project (NSRP) – subject to Indo-Pak relations. Iran’s influence inside Afghanistan is priceless and it could play an excellent proactive and supportive role in bringing peace and prosperity to this unfortunate region. A regional approach thus has a better chance of succeeding on a broad spectrum of imperatives than an isolated, self-serving, limited, sub-regional one. A regional conference could yield long lasting and multidimensional dividends and must be considered seriously.
Further, in order to create and enforce a mutually desirable strategic environment the US, Afghanistan and Pakistan must first negotiate a cease-fire amongst all belligerents. The CIA, US/NATO/ISAF, the Afghan LEAs, the militants and the Pakistan armed forces must all stop all sorts of military activities against one another. This should include a halt to all terrorist activities in Pakistan and Afghanistan territories, a halt to drone attacks by the US, a stop to military operations by the Pakistan and Afghan armed forces against the militants, a stop to all cross border movement/operations by militants, a cessation of IEDs, raids, ambushes, suicide bombings et al. The militant groups can be divided into those who agree with these conditions and those who do not. The naysayers then should be isolated and defeated piecemeal by coordinated actions by the US/NATO/ISAF, Afghan and Pakistan militaries and local militias. All militant groups must be tackled and either pacified, neutralized or else eliminated. An environment suitable for peace and further negotiations must thus be enforced if it cannot be created otherwise.
Further a “no conflict zone” must be created astride the Durand Line. This may include the whole of Fata up to Chaman and beyond on Pakistan’s side and an equal corresponding area on the Afghan side. This is essential to create some space between the belligerents and keep them apart. No militancy or hostile military operation/activity to be allowed in this specific zone. This no conflict zone must be guaranteed and respected by all parties concerned. Cross border movement must only be allowed through designated check points in a controlled manner. This will also create the conditions for the NATO Supply Convoys to egress orderly, expeditiously and in relative security. The enforcement of this no conflict zone and the peace that ensues in that zone will generate the time and space for all parties concerned to create the atmosphere necessary for further positive moves towards resolving the Afghan imbroglio.
The US must have oversight of negotiations held at four tiers.
The first tier must involve an intra Afghan dialogue and deal with the social, political and economic situation inside Afghanistan. A just, fair, peaceful and truly democratic political dispensation must emerge.
The second tier must involve Afghanistan and all its immediate neighbours in particular Pakistan, Iran and Uzbekistan and deal with issues relating to cross border militancy, local economies, return of refugees, border issues, safe havens on either side of the borders, the drug trade et al.
The third tier must deal with the US and its allies and Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iran. This must then deal with issues related to total elimination/pacification of the militants, the drone attacks, egress of the occupancy forces, the (time bound-?) retention of their bases, the status of forces agreement (SOFA), the Afghan elections, support to the new Afghan Government and generally the strategic environment that they all desire to see prevail thereafter.
The fourth tier must comprise a regional conference as given above. Regional powers must invest in the Afghan economy and take up all the pledges made by donors at the Tokyo and other conferences.
Since neither of these activities can be actualized in isolation the requisite overlap would have to be catered for to ensure a wholesome package to everyone’s and in particular Afghanistan’s satisfaction.
This is not the time for any of the belligerents to hedge its bets. It is the time for far sighted and courageous leadership and bold decision making. Foreign occupancy forces must leave. The loop on militancy in the APR must be decisively and permanently closed. The Afghan imbroglio must be conclusively sorted out!
The author is a retired Brigadier, a former DefenceAttache’ to Australia and New Zealand and currently a Faculty Member at NIPCONS.
The author is a retired Brigadier, a former Defence Attaché to Australia and New Zealand and currently a Faculty Member at NIPCONS. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org