AFGHANISTAN

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

Southasia - - News - By Daud Khat­tak

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

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