Peace has eluded Afghanistan. The country has been the backyard for powers that have invaded her, plundered her and in the end abandoned her-much like one would an aged mistress! In anticipation of the withdrawal of US combat forces from Afghanistan; without a peace plan to offer a suitable drop-scene to American adventurism, there is a very real danger, in case of an Afghan meltdown that the influx of Afghans from the Durand Line into FATA and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa will be inevitable. From here it will trickle downwards to other provinces. This time, it will be without any checks without USA presence. This added to the already existing Taliban and militancy problem, can only lead to further instability and deterioration of law and order situation in Pakistan.
Turkey’s commitment to a robust and flourishing Afghanistan is laudable. Turkey’s steadfast support to Afghanistan on different levels; levels that attribute positively to the quality of Afghans’ lives, separate it from other NATO members in their eyes. Hence, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s visit to Turkey aimed to co-ordinate efforts for bringing peace to Afghanistan.
Turkey has so far hosted seven meetings of Afghanistan-Pakistan-Turkey Trilateral summits. The Summits have mostly aimed towards strengthening multidimensional cooperation among the three countries in such fields as politics, security and economic development. Efforts by Turkey to improve the lot of Afghans’ extends to many fronts; Kabul's international Afghan-Turkish schools have done extremely well in terms of providing quality education. In 2012, they won a total of 75 medals in the Science Olympiads. No mean achievement if we keep in mind that 1,500 students from 135 countries had participated in the competition.
Turkey has some 1,800 troops in Afghanistan and currently leads two provincial reconstruction teams (PRT): one in the central province of Wardak and the other in Jowzjan, in the north. Turkey has already established a police training centre in Kabul. It is geared to train roughly over 5,000 trainees yearly. On the economic front, though trade between Turkey and Afghanistan is not very high, it did increase by 13 percent in 2012 alone. According to a report, between August 2002 to the end of 2010, the total value of contracts held by Turkish companies operating in Afghanistan amounted to $2.8 billion.
Unquestionably, by all indicators, the input by Turkey is in areas that help nation building. Turkey has never engaged in Afghanistan for any parallel agenda for a proxy war. Countries having big stakes in Afghanistan are; first; India. She has had a good relationship with Afghanistan. The two countries signed a friendship treaty in 1950. A strategic partnership agreement was signed between the countries in October 2011 focusing to cooperate on security besides other issues. Obama’s administration supports assisting Afghanistan as a trade, transportation and energy hub connecting Central and South Asia and enabling free and more unfettered transport and transit linkages. This strategic shift to the Asia-Pacific region makes sense for US to move closer to India. It is also an ideal partner in the region to be used against China. India’s interest in Afghanistan will also be to use the western side of its nuclear neighbor Pakistan in covet operations. Although a Taliban government in Afghanistan may not take a very friendly posture towards India.
China’s interest in Afghanistan is to ensure that extremist ideology and violence does not spill into Xinjiang province. Xinjiang is inhabited by Uighurs of Turkish descent and Muslim faith. There have already been uprisings in Xinjiang. As per a report, 197 people were killed during a riot in Urumqi in 2009. The region is rich in oil and gas and autonomous. China’s strong relations with Pakistan and the fact that both India and China are trying to gain more space for regional influence, automatically places both in opposing camps so far as Afghanistan is concerned. Let us also not forget that whereas India is committed to the Chahbahar Port, China has thrown in her lot with the Port of Gwadar from where goods from Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan (petro-chemicals) and that from Afghanistan (minerals) can be shipped home. In addition, it offers a substitute trade route for the western Xinjiang province.
Iran had supported non-Taliban groups in 1990s and may revert to doing so yet again. To accept a predominantly Sunni regime in the face of Taliban in power may result in a proxy war, supporting the Afghanistan’s Hazara populace that is mostly Shia. Iran’s pursuance of its schismatic policy in Afghanistan will continue to provoke divisions along the fault lines in Afghan society. The Iran funded media in Afghanistan will continue focusing on differences within the ethnic groups instead of focusing on the similarities. According to a report 70 percent of media in the country today is controlled by Iran. Another report by Reuters Iran spends $100 million a year in Afghanistan, much of it on media, civil society projects and religious schools; quoting Daud Moradian, a former foreign ministry advisor, who now teaches at the American University in Kabul. (Published May 24, 2012) The impact of propaganda and one-sided “truth” are immense.
Russia on the other hand is not happy about America’s presence in Afghanistan that restricts Russian regional influence. It also does not want that extremism should spread to Central Asia and Caucasus. It is also a victim of the illegal drug trade from Afghanistan. Pakistan owing to a nonexistent border is physically effected by any development in Afghanistan.
America has not disclosed, that is if it has developed a strategy, as to in what shape it plans to leave Afghanistan in light of many diversified interests of the players involved. The main nexus here will be Pakistan, America…and the Afghan Taliban. Turkey? Definitely. Provided certain pre-requisites are swung in place first. To negotiate a settlement regarding a partial withdrawal from Afghanistan, US will need Pakistan irrespective of nicking it, “an ally from hell,” and her new found love for Pakistan’s arch rival India. Nonetheless, the bottom line is: how effective a role can Turkey play in bringing peace to war torn Afghanistan? The answer would be; not directional to other players-unless Turkey is awarded the responsibility, mutually by the other players involved to play host to a settlement with the Taliban in Afghanistan, facilitating withdrawal of NATO troops and helping Afghanistan develop a blueprint to maintain enduring peace. A role Turkey can play if a representative of the Taliban is onboard with Turkey; with Pakistan’s blessings and accepted by the Taliban to be representing them. The representative is also given a mandate to negotiate. “Afghanistan and the United States believe Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, who has been held in Pakistan since 2010, holds the key to stopping the war in Afghanistan because he is influential enough to persuade his former comrades there to stop fighting,” says a local newspaper quoting Reuters. Will Mullah Baradar be the chosen person?
Whether this peace, if at all achieved will prove to be long term and its possible impact on Pakistan is a discussion for another day.
The writer is a lawyer, academic and political analyst. She has authored a book titled A Comparative Analysis of Media & Media Laws in Pakistan.