No news is good news from Afghanistan. It is always another fateful day where funerals, weddings, protests, political meetings and any event could be attacked and transformed into carnage. The 350,000 personnel strong Afghan National Army, raised with fanfare by the US, has proved just another blotch on Afghan security milieu that remains untrustworthy as ever. The reasons are simple: lack of unity among different factions in the Afghan society. Even the Unity Government is a farce. If Prime Minister Ashraf Ghani wants to win Taliban’s approval for a negotiation with the government, Abdullah Abdullah, the CEO resents the proposal. The partisan appointment of the security personnel, as both the rulers appointed their allies on important positions, made room for more inefficiencies and incompatibilities.
Since January this year, almost 400 people have died in six high-profile attacks in Kabul. The staggering figure of 800 civilian deaths in the last five months exposes the ineffectiveness of the Afghan law enforcement agencies to resist terror-related activities.
During the Peace Summit held on June 6 in Kabul, Ghani’s guns were aimed at Pakistan for waging an “undeclared war” on his country. The theme of this allegation was borrowed from the usual tirade that Pakistan supports the Haqqani Network, which has carried out the attack at the diplomatic enclave in Kabul, resulting in the killing of 150 people. Ghani was equally critical of the role of the international community, whom he castigated for following its own individual paths to restore peace in Afghanistan. Ghani threw anger at almost everyone for sponsoring terrorism other than his own people. If Ghani’s tantrum could be seen as drawn from the escalating violence in Afghanistan, it might also imply that he considers Russia, China, Turkey and Iran hatching conspiracy against his country. Ghani’s blind spot on India, which evidently has been using the Afghan soil to destabilise Pakistan, raises more concern than sympathy for a government that refuses to see its flawed policies aggravating its crisis.
However, looking forward, Ghani invited the Taliban to negotiate, with an allowance to open its office in Afghanistan at a mutually agreeable venue. The Taliban not only rejected the offer but also called the peace summit a sham that serves to endorse and prolong foreign occupation in Afghanistan. Similar dissent came from the US Defence Secretary Jim Mattis, who rejected the option of making Taliban interlocutors and said to the media at Sydney, “We are up against an enemy that knows it cannot win at the ballot box, that is why [it] uses bombs….The bottom line is that we are not going to surrender civilization to people who cannot win at the ballot box.”
The decision of both the Taliban and the US does not align with that of the major regional powers who consider Taliban’s involvement in the political process the only antidote that could revive Afghanistan from its deathbed. Also vis-à-vis the IS, the Taliban presents a better option to deal with because it does not want to expand beyond Afghanistan. China, Pakistan, Iran, Turkey, and Russia are betting on Taliban to both stabilize Afghanistan and decompose the IS. This brings us to an important question as to who is calling the shots in Afghanistan. Is it Ghani, the US or is it India?
Ghani’s threatening speech at the summit raised hackles with Pakistan, but its top brass reassured the Afghan government once again that peace in Afghanistan is as important to Pakistan, as it is to the Afghan people. However, the Afghan government has been advised to end the polarization within before raising fingers at others. This is where the buck stops. Unless the Afghan government takes ownership of this problem, there is little that anyone could do from abroad. If the US has failed in its longest stay, of 16 years, who else could succeed?
It is in the interest of the Afghan government to see Pakistan from its perspective without using the Indian spectacle. India’s hegemonic designs cannot relate to Afghanistan, which is not even standing on its two feet. Keeping itself attached to the notion that all hell that breaks loose in Afghanistan originates in Pakistan would bring no good. Pakistan may have acted spoiler at some point in history, but for the past many years Pakistan is on an aggressive hunt for the terrorists. The 2,900 kilometres border dividing both the countries can only be managed if both the countries develop trust. The first overture has to come from Afghanistan believing that Pakistan is now equally wary of terrorism.
Another area that needs equal attention is bringing cohesion in the objectives of the foreign forces operating in Afghanistan. If India’s presence in Afghanistan is aimed at keeping Pakistan destabilized, and if the US want to encircle China and other regional powers through Afghanistan then the country would ever remain an arena for proxy wars. The Taliban’s condition that all foreign forces leave its country if the government require them to negotiation has merit. Every international presence has used Afghanistan to achieve its geopolitical interest. Even Pakistan cannot be exonerated from using the Afghan soil to strengthen muscles in Kashmir after the end of the Cold War.
The region is changing, and more changes would come by as CPEC develops into a full-fledged economic activity. China is interested in connecting the entire region through economic corridors and Afghanistan, being in dire need of financial strength, can reap benefit from this opportunity to come out of the foreign shackles.
So where should the Afghan government start? It could begin its journey to change from letting the ballot box, and not speculations, reject or accept the Taliban. The Taliban should also be persuaded to let this transition happen under the supervision of the US.
Any governance setup formed from this arrangement would have the approval of the people and the multiple Afghan political groups. In case the Taliban wins, then the ISIS could also be easily routed. And in case the Taliban loses, the US would have the legitimate authority to eliminate both the ISIS and the Taliban, which means neither Russia, China, Pakistan or any other country would support the Taliban either through the provision of arms or providing a haven.
Wars have never achieved peace. Eventually, an inclusive political arrangement will have to be worked out. Let it be now to end the vicious circle of one war leading to the other in Afghanistan.