With no clear strategy to end the Afghan war and rapidly deteriorating diplomatic relations, the US, Afghanistan and Pakistan find themselves in an uneasy, tight knot. What does the future of Afghanistan look like and if durable peace is the answer, how c
A threatened peace process and rising insecurity warns of an imminent return of the Taliban.
Adecade after the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the United States, Afghanistan is still reeling from violence, with the month of August (2011) being the deadliest since the October 7, 2001 invasion of the landlocked country. Since then, 10,000 Afghans and more than 2,700 coalition soldiers have been killed but the country is still far away from durable stability, one of the key concerns of the United States and its NATO allies.
Taliban, once known as the ragtag militia of untrained, unskilled and poorly armed students of religious seminaries fighting under the command of one reclusive Mullah Muhammad Omar, are now so embold-
ened and strengthened that they don’t even bat an eye to launch attacks in the heart of Kabul, the fortified capital of Afghanistan, guarded by thousands of Afghan and foreign soldiers.
Al-qaeda, the terrorist network that dragged the world’s sole superpower to Afghanistan, is bitterly shaken and whatever is left of its leadership is now scurrying for shelter to avoid arrest by the Pakistani security agencies and a hit by US drones: the most lethal and effective weapon in the war against terror since 9/11.
The euphoria that emerged with the killing of al-qaeda chief Osama bin Laden in Abbotabad on May 2, faded away following a series of attacks and targeted killings culminating with the assassination of Burhanuddin Rabbani, Chairman of the High Peace Council, by the Taliban and their affiliates in Kabul and other Afghan cities. From inside, pressure is building on the American government for a complete withdrawal of forces from Afghanistan with many American lawmakers now calling it a ‘war without a mission,’ while warweariness among the NATO allies is more visible than ever before.
In light of all this, two statements, one from Afghan President Hamid Karzai and another from Gen. Stanley Mcchrystal, are anything but a pointer to the general perception that the Afghan campaign is going nowhere and there seems to be no ending in the near future.
Karzai recently admitted that his government and its NATO allies failed to provide security to Afghans besides saying that ‘they don’t know whom to talk to’ while responding to a question about dialogue with the Taliban. Gen. Stanley Allen Mccrystal, the retired four-star American general who led the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan, said in a recent interview that the Americans don’t understand the war. “NATO forces are barely more than half way towards reaching their goals,” was his remark when asked about the status of war.
One key question is who knows better to talk to whom if not Hamid Karzai? And the second question is how much time is needed to accomplish the job if, according to Mcchrystal, ‘NATO is barely more than half way’ in the past 10 years.
Statements and actions like these, show severe anxiety on part of the governments fighting the war, or many may argue, trying to bring peace and order to Afghanistan. But there is heightened concern among the Afghans who are the direct victims of the unending conflict.
The common Afghans, who once looked at the international forces as their emancipators, now seem widely disillusioned with the international community and are searching for someone to promise them lasting peace. In utter desperation, a vast majority see the Mullah Omar-led Taliban as the alternative to bringing peace despite its harsh and medieval practices in the name of Islamic Sharia from 1996 till 2001. One key reason for the widespread desperation is the sense of insecurity among common Afghans that runs higher ever than before, particularly following the assassination of Professor Rabbani, whose months-long efforts for reconciliation with the Taliban was showing a ray of hope both to the people and government of Afghanistan.
Rabbani’s assassination not only derailed the little progress that was achieved, but also caused a nose dive in the ‘love-hate’ relationship between Pakistan and Afghanistan, besides further distancing US and Pakistan who were already exchanging barbs following the September 13 attack on the US embassy in Kabul. All this forced a desperate Hamid Karzai to rush to India and return with a ‘strategic partnership’ to soothe his countrymen, particularly the leaders of the former Northern Alliance, headed by late Professor Rabbani.
With the US drawdown already underway, tense ties between Afghanistan, Pakistan and the United States, who have been partners in the anti-terror war, would definitely further prolong the stalemate and thus further endanger peace and stability in the highly volatile region with two nuclear armed countries always daggers drawn on several issues.
Though it is not as simple to draw a solution to the 30-year long conflict in a few lines, the best possible way for the key players – the United States, Pakistan, Afghanistan, India and other regional powers – is to understand the sensitivities attached to peace and stability in Afghanistan and develop a synergy for the collective goal – which is peace in the entire region.
To achieve this end, a Loya Jirga of all Afghans needs to be convened in the first place to develop a consensus on future government and peace efforts or reconciliation with the dissidents. A joint call for talks from a truly representative forum would certainly make headway with Omar, Haqqani and Hekmatyar, or at least some of their associates and field commanders.
Secondly, a regional conference asking for an end to all kinds of inter-
ference, both security and diplomatic, in Afghanistan would help ensure the Afghan government and people that they are free to decide their fate.
In the third place, the recently signed India- Afghanistan strategic pact, if converted into an India- Afghanistan- Pakistan strategic agreement, would help promote peace and stability not only in Afghanistan but also in the entire region in the longer run.
However, all this would need concerted efforts on part of the United States and its international partners, who even ten years later are still struggling to bring an end to a post bi-polar world conflict started with the tussle of two superpowers, thirty years ago. The writer is Acting Director at Mashaal Radio, RFE/RLPRAGUE, Czech Republic. As a senior journalist, he has covered the Taliban movement in Pakistan and Afghanistan. He writes for the Christian Science Monitor and Sunday Times.
Peace – an increasingly distant reality