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.
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.
Guaranteeing a secure future?