Re­solv­ing the Afghanistan cri­sis

Peace re­quires global buy-in, not more bombs

The Washington Times Daily - - OPINION - By Seyed Hos­sein Mousa­vian Seyed Hos­sein Mousa­vian is a Mid­dle East se­cu­rity and nu­clear pol­icy spe­cial­ist at Prince­ton Univer­sity, a former Ira­nian diplo­mat and au­thor of “Iran and the United States: An In­sider’s view on the Failed Past and the Road to P

The U.S.-led war in Afghanistan has not only con­tin­ued un­abated for over 15 years, mak­ing it Amer­ica’s long­est war, but has no end in sight. Since their 2001 over­throw of the Tal­iban govern­ment, Amer­ica and its al­lies have more than strug­gled to put the coun­try back to­gether. By early 2017, the sit­u­a­tion had de­te­ri­o­rated to such an ex­tent that the Afghan cen­tral govern­ment ex­er­cised con­trol over just 52 per­cent of the coun­try, with a resur­gent Tal­iban and now even ISIS dom­i­nat­ing the rest of the war-torn coun­try. The depth of Afghanistan’s vul­ner­a­bil­ity was demon­strated on Satur­day, when the Tal­iban launched their dead­li­est at­tack ever on an Afghan mil­i­tary base, killing more than 140 un­armed sol­diers and in­jur­ing over 60 and lead­ing Afghan Pres­i­dent Ashraf Ghani to de­clare a na­tional day of mourn­ing. More than 6,700 Afghani se­cu­rity forces were killed in just 2016 — about three times Amer­i­can ca­su­al­ties for the war.

While former Pres­i­dent Obama opted for a “surge” of U.S. troops in his first term — with numbers reach­ing a peak of around 100,000 — his at­tempt at a mil­i­tary so­lu­tion to the con­flict proved un­vi­able and by the end of his pres­i­dency U.S. troop numbers had dwin­dled to roughly 9,000. Rather than at­tempt a new strat­egy cen­tered on in­clu­sive diplo­matic so­lu­tions, the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion has seem­ingly opted for re­newed mil­i­tary es­ca­la­tion. Trump Na­tional Se­cu­rity Ad­viser H.R. McMaster trav­eled to Afghanistan shortly af­ter the “mother of all bombs” was dropped to de­liver as­sur­ances of in­creased U.S. mil­i­tary sup­port to the Afghan govern­ment.

Now is the time for global and re­gional pow­ers to im­ple­ment a com­pre­hen­sive plan for peace in Afghanistan. “Ev­ery­where you look, if there is trou­ble inside the region you find Iran,” U.S. Secretary of De­fense James Mat­tis re­cently de­clared. How­ever, he should not for­get that the chief rea­son for the suc­cess­ful 2001 over­throw of the Tal­iban was largely due to Ira­nian co­op­er­a­tion. At the time, in re­sponse, Iran was slapped with the “axis of evil” des­ig­na­tion and the U.S. sought to marginal­ize it from Afghanistan, which only served to con­trib­ute to the coun­try’s de­te­ri­o­rat­ing sit­u­a­tion.

While Mr. Mat­tis trav­eled to Kabul this week to dis­cuss Amer­ica’s new strat­egy in Afghanistan, how­ever, a last­ing peace in Afghanistan can be reached if re­gional and global pow­ers abide by the fol­low­ing 10 prin­ci­ples:

• Afghanistan should not be a proxy bat­tle­ground for out­side pow­ers. For its part, the Afghan govern­ment must main­tain a bal­ance in its for­eign re­la­tions.

• Ex­trem­ism and vi­o­lence in Afghanistan, both in­dige­nous and for­eign-in­spired, for­eign-sup­ported, must be viewed as the main threat to the coun­try’s sta­bil­ity, and the Afghan govern­ment must be strongly sup­ported in con­fronting ter­ror­ism.

• The Ashraf Ghani-Ab­dul­lah Ab­dul­lah unity govern­ment in Afghanistan must be up­held and po­lit­i­cal dif­fer­ences pre­vented from in­ten­si­fy­ing. Out­side pow­ers can play a crit­i­cal me­di­a­tion role, and pro­mote rec­on­cil­i­a­tion and na­tional dia­logue.

• Geopo­lit­i­cal ten­sions be­tween Pak­istan, In­dia and Afghanistan must be ad­dressed by the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity. The In­dia-Pak­istan ri­valry and dis­pute over Kash­mir has long spilled over into Afghanistan, where the two South Asian pow­ers have vied for in­flu­ence. In De­cem­ber 2016, Afghan Pres­i­dent Ghani ac­cused Pak­istan of wag­ing an “un­de­clared war” against Afghanistan and giv­ing sanc­tu­ary to the Tal­iban.

• Afghanistan’s drug and cor­rup­tion chal­lenges, which have served to sti­fle the cre­ation of a strong state, must be se­ri­ously con­fronted. In 2016, the amount of bribes in Afghanistan as­ton­ish­ingly sur­passed the Afghan govern­ment’s rev­enue es­ti­mates. Poppy cul­ti­va­tion and opium pro­duc­tion also rose in 2016 by 10 per­cent and 43 per­cent, re­spec­tively.

• For many neigh­bor­ing coun­tries, Afghanistan is a wa­ter reser­voir. Afghanistan’s wa­ter re­sources and in­fra­struc­ture must be de­vel­oped in a way so that the wa­ter shares of its neigh­bors are not di­min­ished. Ef­fec­tive wa­ter-shar­ing poli­cies will be in­dis­pens­able to en­sur­ing fu­ture peace and sta­bil­ity in the region.

• Afghanistan’s eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment should be viewed in a pos­i­tive-sum way by neigh­bor­ing coun­tries, and ef­forts to make Afghanistan an eco­nomic hub con­nect­ing South Asia and Eura­sia must be re­al­ized. One ma­jor ini­tia­tive in line with this vision is the tri­lat­eral agree­ment be­tween Afghanistan, In­dia and Iran on the de­vel­op­ment of the Ira­nian port of Chah­ba­har, which will give Afghanistan ac­cess to world mar­kets via the Gulf of Oman.

• Hu­man­i­tar­ian as­sis­tance to Afghanistan must be main­tained. For decades, Afghanistan was the world’s largest source of refugees, with Iran and Pak­istan host­ing 95 per­cent of them as of 2013. Iran alone has long hosted an Afghan refugee pop­u­la­tion num­ber­ing more than 3 mil­lion. A ma­jor vol­un­tary repa­tri­a­tion and rein­te­gra­tion strat­egy is nec­es­sary in re­gards to the Afghan refugee cri­sis, with ef­forts fo­cused on over­com­ing the chal­lenges of rein­te­gra­tion.

• Any sus­tain­able so­lu­tion to the Afghan cri­sis must bring peace, com­fort and dig­nity to the Afghan people. As such, the end state to the cri­sis can­not in­clude the con­tin­ued pres­ence of for­eign troops.

• In­stead of dif­fer­ent coun­tries tak­ing mea­sures by them­selves or form­ing dif­fer­ent coali­tions, there should be a co­he­sive, syn­chro­nized in­ter­na­tional ap­proach on as­sis­tance to Afghanistan. The U.N. can act as the ve­hi­cle to co­or­di­nate out­side ef­forts to en­act pos­i­tive change in Afghanistan.

One po­ten­tial over­ar­ch­ing for­mula to ad­dress the Afghanistan cri­sis is through a ma­jor re­gional and global diplo­matic ini­tia­tive that in­cludes the Afghan govern­ment and re­gional stake­hold­ers in Afghanistan, namely In­dia, Pak­istan and Iran, along with the five per­ma­nent mem­bers of the U.N. Se­cu­rity Coun­cil. This diplo­matic process should be aimed at ad­dress­ing the root causes of the con­flict, not just its byprod­ucts of com­bat­ing spe­cific in­sur­gent groups, and re­solve the un­der­ly­ing con­tentions be­tween the main war­ring par­ties. Peace in Afghanistan re­quires re­gional and global buy-in, not more bombs.

Afghanistan should not be a proxy bat­tle­ground for out­side pow­ers. For its part, the Afghan govern­ment must main­tain a bal­ance in its for­eign re­la­tions.

IL­LUS­TRA­TION BY GREG GROESCH

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