The Afghan conundrum

The United States has been fighting an unwinnable war in Afghanistan against Taliban and Al-Qaida for the last 17 years. The irony is that the world power could not bring to knees such weak and disorganised groups in so many years who are engaged in a guerrilla warfare in an unsystematic way with no advance weapons at hands. Around the time the US invaded Afghanistan in late 2001, there were few militant groups operating in this mountainous region. But today it enjoys the ravages of diverse types of militant organisations with more bloodshed and destruction of life. In the presence of a fragile government, only chaos reigns in Afghanistan. Thank you America.

More than that, President Donald Trump urged India in his policy statement to help in (de)stabilisation of Afghanistan that is already immensely involved in Kabul’s affairs to the detriment of Pakistan’s interests. What America wants is a strong and powerful India in the Asian continent to counter the strategic interests of China. Laying siege to the arch-rival Pakistan is supplementary for New Delhi, and it further incentivises its involvement in Afghanistan. The question is, what essential and crucial steps have till now been taken by the US and India to bring a semblance of stability and peace to Afghanistan. Probably, the very opposite is true.

ISIS has already reared its head in the provinces of Nangarhar, Kunar, and Jowzjan, just to name a few. It has been on the warpath and has already carried out numerous suicide and bomb attacks both in Afghanistan and in the neighbouring Pakistan. In addition to that, Islamabad has many other sources of grievances linked to Kabul like TTP, JuA, and Baloch insurgents etc. who are involved in machinations designed to emasculate Pakistan from within with impunity while living in safe havens beyond the western border. This calls for Pakistan’s retaliatory measures which certainly would not converge with Afghanistan’s interests. 

At the same time with coming to light of new elements of instability, the regional powers are also filled with apprehensions. Having a hand in crushing of ISIS in Syria, Russia is fearful that its Afghanistan Chapter, aka Khorasan Province, might wreak vengeance if allowed to be consolidated. To make matters worse, either it is not the concern of the US and NATO forces in Kabul or they lack the ability and expertise to keep ISIS’ advances in check. Implying U.S. involvement, Moscow claims that ISIS is supplied with weapons by mystery helicopters. 

To work against a common enemy jointly, Russia has reportedly reconciled with the Afghan Taliban to keep ISIS at bay. The chaotic situation has pitted the two powers against each other, one fighting with the Taliban, the other allegedly arming them. 

The strategic geographical location is more of liability than an asset for Afghanistan. Because of divergent interests of great powers and regional countries, it has been serving as a battlefield for proxy wars for centuries. The Afghan people have paid a heavy price for rivalries of others and are still witnessing unprecedented atrocities. 

Afghanistan itself has very little to do with its affairs owing to split leadership. Who is at the helm of the government, Ashraf Ghani, Abdullah Abdullah or Donald Trump’s administration? The US sponsored power-sharing deal to form a national unity government has only added to the problems of Kabul. Right now the most important thing which Afghanistan needs is the genuine leadership.

An Afghan led and Afghan owned peace process wouldn’t work unless other actors don’t keep their hands off Kabul’s affairs. But that is not going to happen any time soon. Let the US, Russia, China, and Pakistan take upon themselves to bring peace to Afghanistan. Allow Iran, India, and such other countries to play secondary role in this process. Sincerity and good faith on part of the dialogue partners, which is hard to ensure but not impossible, will be the sine qua non of the peace process’ success. 

The US must acknowledge that the Afghan war cannot be won but it can only be ended with dialogues. It should also realise that bombing, air strikes, and talks cannot go together. Though it’s heartening that direct negotiations between the US and Taliban are ongoing with its two rounds completed in Qatar in the last three months, the use of military should be stopped forthwith because it is counterproductive and instead of building pressure on Taliban it provokes them as is evident from the recent attacks.

The situation could have been very different had the US not scuttled peace talks by killing Afghan Taliban leader Mullah Akhtar Mansoor in 2016. What are you telling your enemy about your moral standards when on the one hand you invite them to negotiating table and on the other hand you bomb them?

To have desired results of the peace process, all the participating states must assume that the others are acting bona fide. Otherwise suspicions and mistrust will never let the negotiations succeed.


The writer is a freelance contributor.


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