Part­ners not Masters

Afghanistan needs a mu­tu­ally re­spect­ful and long-term strate­gic part­ner­ship with the U.S to en­sure re­newed state-build­ing and sta­bil­ity through­out the re­gion.

Southasia - - Front page - By Raza Khan

The re­cently held Loya Jirga (Pashto Grand Coun­cil) of Afghanistan has ap­proved a con­di­tional long-term strate­gic re­la­tion­ship with the United States. Apart from its sym­bolic value in the short run, the con­sen­sus within the Afghan lead­er­ship re­gard­ing close re­la­tions with the US will have pro­found con­se­quences for the re­gion.

The Loya Jirga, con­vened by Pres­i­dent Hamid Karzai charted the road map for Afghanistan-us ties in a post US-NATO with­drawal at the end of 2014. Loya Jirga is a tra­di­tional Afghan mech­a­nism to de­lib­er­ate and de­cide upon is­sues of high im­por­tance and national in­ter­est and mostly draws del­e­gates from across the coun­try. The fore­most rea­son for a strate­gic re­la­tion­ship with the US is to en­sure bet­ter se­cu­rity in Afghanistan. In this re­gard, the Jirga mem­bers dis­played a rare show of po­lit­i­cal ma­tu­rity and acu­men.

In­du­bitably, with­out con­tin­ued US as­sis­tance and proac­tive in­volve­ment in Afghanistan, se­cu­rity can­not be en­sured. The pri­mary rea­son is that the coun­try is faced with a stiff in­sur­gency of Tal­iban, which the US along with In­ter­na­tional Se­cu­rity and As­sis­tance Force (ISAF), manned by per­son­nel from around 40 coun­tries, have not been able to de­feat. The in­sur­gency for the last decade has posed an ex­is­ten­tial threat to the sur­viv­abil­ity of the Afghan state and its in­tegrity.

Although pre­sent­ing it­self as a re­li­gious move­ment, the Afghan Tal­iban, com­pris­ing en­tirely of Pash­tuns, has very much an eth­nic make-up. Im­por­tantly, other eth­nic groups con­sider a Tal­iban re­turn to state con­trol as their vir­tual ex­clu­sion. There­fore, the Afghan govern­ment led by Hamid Karzai, which is yet to hold its own in the face of tough chal­lenges posed by the Tal­iban and af­fil­i­ate mil­i­tant groups, has to con­tinue to de­pend on for­eign forces.

The Afghan govern­ment and its for­eign sup­port­ers are of­ten crit­i­cized by de­trac­tors for not be­ing able to es­tab­lish a se­cu­rity ap­pa­ra­tus, which could look af­ter the se­cu­rity of the state and its peo­ple. Prima fa­cie, this may be valid crit­i­cism to a cer­tain ex­tent but ob­jec­tively speak­ing, Afghanistan has been in a state of war and un­der a civil war for the last three decades. With all ma­jor in­sti­tu­tions col­lapsed, par­tic­u­larly its mil­i­tary, it is

a daunt­ing task for any state to re­vive it­self. More­over, in such a sit­u­a­tion a govern­ment can­not meet the chal­lenge on its own.

On the other hand, Afghanistan needs a long-term strate­gic part­ner­ship with the US be­cause its ter­ri­tory has been a the­ater of com­pet­ing in­ter­est for most of its neigh­bor­ing states. Con­flict­ing in­ter­ests of con­tigu­ous coun­tries have been a cause of much trou­ble in Afghanistan. A long-term Afghan-us strate­gic part­ner­ship would give the Afghan govern­ment the much-needed con­fi­dence to con­duct talks and meet­ings with its neigh­bors on an equal foot­ing.

Although many in­side Afghanistan and its neigh­bor­ing coun­tries dis­ap­prove of the ar­gu­ment that US pres­ence may be a sta­bi­liz­ing in­flu­ence on the war-rav­aged coun­try, the fact re­mains that the con­di­tions in Afghanistan were never bet­ter off be­fore US-NATO troops de­scended on the coun­try. Even Pak­istani of­fi­cials, in­clud­ing then mil­i­tary gen­er­als, have been vi­tu­per­at­ing the US for leav­ing Afghanistan at the mercy of war­lords in the late 1990s lead­ing the coun­try into an in­ter­minable civil war. By that ar­gu­ment, if the Amer­i­cans are now show­ing com­mit­ment to Afghan sta­bil­ity, then few should be ob­ject­ing to it.

How­ever, if a sta­ble Afghanistan and a se­cure Pak­istan is en­vi­sioned, sup­port for a long-term Us-afghan strate­gic part­ner­ship is im­per­a­tive. Is­lam­abad should have lit­tle rea­son to feel threat­ened or ap­pre­hen­sive sim­ply be­cause over the years, Afghanistan has been de­pen­dent on Pak­istan to such an ex­tent that go­ing against the in­ter­ests of Is­lam­abad is not a vi­able op­tion. With­out doubt, many in Afghanistan, par­tic­u­larly in the pol­icy and po­lit­i­cal cir­cles, har­bor deep ha­tred for Pak­istan. But when it comes to re­al­ity this ha­tred can­not be trans­lated into some­thing con­crete.

Although many in­side Afghanistan and its neigh­bor­ing coun­tries dis­ap­prove of the ar­gu­ment that US pres­ence may be a sta­bi­liz­ing in­flu­ence on the war-rav­aged coun­try, the fact re­mains that the con­di­tions in Afghanistan were never bet­ter off be­fore US-NATO troops de­scended on the coun­try.

On the other hand, Pak­istan needs to un­der­stand that the big­gest vic­tim of in­sta­bil­ity in Afghanistan is and will al­ways be, Pak­istan.

In the case of Afghanistan, a sta­ble and se­cure coun­try with a strong mil­i­tary and se­cu­rity ap­pa­ra­tus can never be pos­si­ble un­less it is eco­nom­i­cally strong. Afghanistan has a plethora of min­eral wealth wait­ing to be ex­ploited by national in­dus­tries. A huge quan­tity of min­er­als have re­cently been dis­cov­ered by Amer­i­can ge­ol­o­gists which for the first time ever have in­creased mean­ing­ful prospects for the coun­try to have a real eco­nomic base for de­vel­op­ment. The tap­ping of these re­sources also re­quires pres­ence of Amer­i­can per­son­nel and sci­en­tists in Afghanistan for years to come. Afghanistan and its part­ners would be wise to make eco­nomic as­sis­tance a car­di­nal part of strate­gic re­la­tions with the US.

In the re­cent Loya Jirga, Pres­i­dent Karzai and the Coun­cil mem­bers as­serted that they en­vi­sioned an Afghanistan independent of for­eign in­flu­ence in­clud­ing that of the US, but an­tic­i­pated a long-term part­ner­ship with Washington.

Although the de­ci­sion of the Loya Jirga is not bind­ing and its de­ci­sions have to be pre­sented be­fore the Afghan Par­lia­ment as rec­om­men­da­tions, the lat­ter may find it­self com­pelled to give these rec­om­men­da­tions a green sig­nal. The Loya Jirga is not the de­ci­sion-maker but it is highly in­flu­en­tial.

The meet­ing could cer­tainly be a game changer as Afghanistan pre­pares to ne­go­ti­ate with the US on an equal foot­ing and takes an im­por­tant step in re­viv­ing the Afghan state. The writer is a po­lit­i­cal an­a­lyst and re­searcher on the po­lit­i­cal econ­omy and the Af­pak re­gion. He is also cur­rently writ­ing his doc­toral the­sis on re­li­gious ex­trem­ism-ter­ror­ism in Pak­istan.

Photo cour­tesy: www.pres­i­dent.gov.af

Guar­an­tee­ing a se­cure fu­ture?

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