Raza M Khan
Afghanistan never posed an existential threat to US freedom and probably it will not in the future, yet it is ironic that this war has taken so long; cost so much and the prospects of peace are so dim. A Congressional Research Service (CRS) report said in 2015, that the war in Afghanistan has cost $685.6 billion and that the cost of keeping a single American soldier there each year is $3.9 million. The CRS report also claims that this war has contributed significantly to the US debt growth. But for the presidential politics that require the projection of strength through military might, this war could have ended much earlier and certainly after the killing of Osama Bin Laden. We shall see in Jan, if there is any change in US policy on the matter; however it appears that the US is willing to continue this war beyond 2017.
Predicting the future of Afghanistan beyond that year is difficult at this time, but we can put forward some possible scenario that may emerge. Achievement of a breakthrough in the peace process, with all dissidents, insurgents and Taliban deciding to join a broad based government after fresh elections could be the most optimistic and desirable scenario for peace in Afghanistan. However, the rulers are not ready for such a transition as yet and a more likely scenario would be a partial success of the peace process, and a continuation of the status quo, with Ghani or his successors remaining in control, while the Taliban make additional gains in terms of the territory that they control in the south and east of the country. Even this situation will depend on the following two essential conditions.
First; that credible new elections are held that includes the participation of all elements of the Afghan society, including the Taliban, and second, that there is continuous and unflinching support from Pakistan and Afghanistan’s other immediate neighbours like Iran, China, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan and Russia. Russia recently warned the UNSC that the US-led international forces and their Afghan partners have not weakened the Taliban but instead created ungoverned areas where terrorist groups like IS have recently moved from Syria and Iraq , posing threats to Afghanistan and all its neighbours.
In the absence of these imperatives, a third scenario could materialize, wherein the new government controls mainly the capital Kabul and the northern, non-Pushtun provinces, while the southern and eastern provinces are governed by a coalition of the Pushtuns and the Taliban. Most Afghan Pashtuns fail to comprehend why some of them with religious motivation and a militant outlook, called the Taliban, are being given greater importance and recognition for political purposes. It annoys them when they see that a small minority of a few thousand people is considered as the representatives of a vast majority of 15 million strong Pushtuns living in Afghanistan. This is clearly considered acquiesce to violence, which could have disastrous effects for the future of Afghanistan. Such policies of appeasement could indeed have negative ramifications for the provinces of KP, FATA and even Balochistan in Pakistan. Since Pushtuns constitute fifty percent of the population of Afghanistan, appropriate and proportionate devolution of power to the Pushtuns, as against the Taliban and other ethnic groups will have an immense and immediate positive impact on the future of Afghanistan.
If there are large-scale defections or desertions from the Afghan Security forces, due to their low pay, poor morale or on account of switching of loyalties, civil war may break out in Afghanistan. This will be the most dangerous post US exit possibility, having the worse impact on the future security environment in the region. As the presence of Western forces is a major underlying cause of the insurgency, violence may be averted if they withdraw and the vacuum created is filled up effectively and immediately by UN peace keeping forces, preferably from Islamic countries. Turkey could probably play the lead role in such an arrangement initially.
It is not too late for a political solution to the conflict in Afghanistan; in fact that should be the focus. Besides, the peace talks must be transparent, Afghanistan led, supported by major stake holders and over seen by the US, UN, China and Russia. A major factor in the quest for peace will be the effectiveness of the provincial governments and the degree of trust reposed in the Pushtun elements of the Afghan security forces to establish the writ of the State in the southern and eastern provinces. Of equal importance will be return of all Afghan refugees and the role of the younger Afghan generation that is inclined towards peace, moderation and development. The US spent $ 5.7 billion on shifting of its forces equipment from Afghanistan to the US in 2014. Temporary transfer of its remaining equipment to the UN peace keepers in Afghanistan could create rational, conducive and cost effective conditions for stability in that country. The world must now realize and recognize that despite heavy odds and significant cost, Pakistan has done all that it can in the quest for peace in FATA and Afghanistan. On its part, Afghanistan must now reciprocate fully, trust Pakistan and cooperate with it for a better future for its people.
Finally, a quote from Dr Joshua White of the US Institute of Peace, who has wisely observed the following on prospects of peace and stability in Afghanistan: ‘The regional stakeholders and NATO may have disagreements on the nature of the political settlement that should be ideal for Afghanistan, but they must appreciate that peace in that country is vital for the interests of the whole region…. Anyone trying to reach a political dispensation that runs contrary to the interests of Pakistan is simply wasting time. Pakistan must be relatively at ease with any political dispensation in Afghanistan; ‘that is a basic political
— The writer, a retired Lt Gen, is former president of National Defence University, Islamabad.
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Source: Pak Observer