Analysis & Opinion World

Peace in Afghanistan: Hopes and Hurdles

It was December 2001, when American and ISAF forces invaded Afghanistan on the pretext of 9/11 and winkled out the Taliban government (A movement of Madrassa Students) from power. The Taliban ruled out Afghanistan for five years from 1996 to 2001 till the US invasion. ‘’America is a superpower and the Taliban cannot withstand against her even for a single day’’; these were the most reverberated words of that time. But, the recent situation shows that the Taliban are carrying the day. The seventeen years of resistance replete with passion, and persistence compelled Washington to accept the reality that the solution to Afghan issue is not militarily rather political.

The recent talks between Taliban and American special representative for Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad show that headway could be possible for a pacific settlement of the perennial war. President Donald Trump proclaimed to withdraw half of the American forces deployed in Afghanistan at the end of 2019. This move is appreciated by the top brass of the Taliban while the Afghan government shows severe reservations. The withdrawal of foreign forces was the foremost demand of the Taliban and it seems that White House is ready to hang up its sword without losing dignity.      

The withdrawal of forces is a hearting move to resolve the longstanding war which engulfed half millions of lives and ravaged the whole infrastructure of the country. Taliban appreciated the decision and demanded a complete withdrawal from Afghan soil while the Ghani’s government is little apprehensive that the sudden withdrawal of forces can give space to Taliban fighters and make security situation unstable. The Afghan army and the police are lacking technical and moral abilities against the Taliban. Currently, the Taliban controls more than forty percent of the Afghan soil. They have even support from the general populace in the Pashtun dominated areas.

  The United States unilateral withdrawal without a win-win settlement among all stakeholders could lead the country to the brink of another civil war as happened when the erstwhile Soviet Union withdrew from Afghanistan in 1989. Taliban have never accepted the legality of the Afghan government and always refused to hold talks with her. They considered her the puppet of foreign invaders but their recent demands to Ghani’s government shows that they are stepping back from their initial stance. Taliban presented three demands to Ghani’s government: trial those who supported the US invasion under sharia laws, beg a general amnesty from the people of Afghanistan, and ensure a complete withdrawal of foreign forces. The Taliban acquiesce to hold talks with Ghani’s government is an indication of a possible political settlement.

Pakistan has a deep-rooted cultural, religious, and ethnic relations with Afghanistan; any move without taking Pakistan into confidence and ignoring her apprehensions may intricate the situation.

Pakistan being a key player in Afghanistan can play a constructive role in bringing much-desired peace in the war-torn country. But, any move without taking Pakistan into confidence and ignoring her apprehensions may intricate the situation. Pakistan has a deep-rooted cultural, religious, and ethnic relations with Afghanistan. The role of India in aggravating ethnic rigidities across the Durand Line is causing a serious blow to nascent and fragile relations between Kabul and Islamabad. The US’ last year unveiled new South Asian policy is strengthening the role of India while undermining Pakistan’s endeavors for regional peace in general and Afghanistan in particular. The policymakers in Washington and people saddling the power in Kabul must eliminate Pakistan’s apprehensions for broader regional stability and peace.

Another issue of paramount importance; need considerable attention of all stakeholders is the emergence of ISIS in Afghanistan. According to a report of Russian media: there are more than ten thousand ISIS fighters; came from Iraq and Syria after hard measures taken by the US and her allies. The Russian’s endeavors for a pacific settlement in Afghanistan show the grimness of situation. Russia considers ISIS a potential threat to her strategic interests in Central Asia. While having a long and unsafe border with Afghanistan ISIS emergence is more disastrous for Pakistan. There are many small and scattered extremist groups in Pakistan which could be united under ISIS umbrella. The Chinese officials also showed fierce reservations on ISIS emergence as a potential threat to China-Pakistan Economic Corridor and its influence in the northwest Chinese province, Xinjiang,  which is already disturbed by ethnic rigidities. The Regional stability is heavily dependent on peace in Afghanistan and it is imperative for all the stakeholders to devise a multi-dimensional policy for long-term peace and stability.

The US withdrawal of half of the forces from the war-ravaged country is the first step toward conflict resolution. This decision is welcomed by all stakeholders including the Taliban, Pakistan, China, and Russia. But, the reaction within the United States creates ambiguity and chaos. Many people in the US consider it an urgent and unwise decision that could be more detrimental for an already unstable security situation in Afghanistan and further consolidate Taliban’s position during the negotiation process. Many in Pentagon believe that Pakistan will not cooperate in the peace process if forces are called back. This shows that White House and Pentagon are at cross purpose and this paradoxical approach could blur the ray of hope for much-desired peace in Afghanistan. In this scenario, regional players can play a constructive role by pressurizing the Americans and make them realize that there must be a regional approach toward Afghanistan keeping in mind the apprehensions of Pakistan, China, Iran, and Russia and for this Islamabad needs inducive and bold diplomacy.

The writer Usama Sherazi is an Independent Researcher, based in Islamabad, Pakistan.