Renewed Peace Efforts in Afghanistan
For almost four decades, the Afghans are in a state of war; a war that is never ending. No nation has suffered as much as the Afghans did in the recent history, yet the clouds of uncertainty are looming over the war ravaged Afghanistan. The recent change of heart for Pakistan from Trump administration seeking latter’s help for facilitating dialogue with Taliban has generated some kind of hope in Afghanistan. Are these renewed efforts by US likely to help bring some kind of settlement with Taliban for a durable peace in Afghanistan?
Of course, there is no straight forward answer to this conundrum. However, a viable solution to the Afghanistan issue does warrant a wholesome review of the policies pursued by the stake holders that include global powers, regional players, immediate neighbours and the Afghans.
Let us begin with the United States (US) that claims to be the sole savior of Afganistan over the years. While US after having spent close to $1 trillion has entered into17th year of war in Afghanistan with no end results. US failed to claim a comprehensive victory against Taliban and Al-Qaida despite having the support of 150,000 troops of coalition forces. After drawdown of major forces in December 2016, US is now maintaining a lean presence in Afghanistan through a small force of just 8900 troops under the arrangement of ‘Bilateral Security Agreement’ (BSA). The BSA allows US presence in Afghanistan till 2024 in the name of training and equipping Afganistan national security forces to be able to fight Al-Qaida and Taliban. Despite US presence, the Taliban continues to grow in size and influence in the major parts of Afghanistan. However, there are some signs of weakening of Al-Qaida in Afghanistan; equally worrying news is that Islamic State (IS) is gaining a foothold there in a big way. Although there are conflicting estimates about their strength but for sure their presence is significant.
Ironically, US policy in Afganistan largely remained ambiguous and conflicting. At one point, Pakistan was their most favorite ally in the Afghan war following 9/11 for few years and then they started blaming Pakistan for all their failures. It is pertinent to highlight that US has sabotaged every peace initiative that was against her wishes and interests. Murree peace talk initiative by Pakistan and China is a case in point. Interestingly, Americans have always opted for military solutions in Afghanistan since 2001.
In June 2017, President Trump authorized 3000 thousand troops to Afghanistan as reinforcement with additional air efforts against Taliban. The sole purpose of this military effort from Trump administration was to force Taliban to negotiation table but unfortunately it back fired like their previous military efforts. Taliban’s influence continues to grow in most parts of the Afghanistan. According to BBC report, Taliban now control close to 70% of Afghanistan.
While China being a neighbor and major stakeholder in Afghanistan, is also eyeing for huge economic potentials of the region in view of her heavy investments. She is eager to extending CPEC to Afghanistan and beyond but US and India are the biggest hurdles in her pursuit. Yet China is constantly pursuing mediatory role towards peace in Afganistan through all possible platforms including SCO.
For India, the situation in Afghanistan has been favorable for two reasons. First, the strategic interests of India and US are somewhat aligned in Afganistan being strategic partners. Second, India enjoyed historic relationship with Northern Alliance throughout their struggle against Taliban. Resultantly, India enjoyed full liberty of action in Afganistan after 2001. India also made significant investments and generous donations to Afghanistan. The visible footprint of India all along Durand Line has been a major irritant between Pakistan and Afghanistan.
As regards to Russia and Iran, their major concerns are prolonged presence of US forces and growing influence of Islamic State (IS) in Afghanistan during the recent years. Russia obviously is desirous of maintaining its influence over Central Asian region and US long term presence is not a pleasant sight at all. At the same time, Russia is apprehensive of the growing militancy and narcotics in the region. Similarly, Iran has more or less the same concerns as that of Russia over the US presence and growing signatures of IS at her doorstep. The Central Asian states are generally silent spectators over the Afghan issue due to their in looking approach and domestic issues. Since US is considered a common threat to the Russia, Iran and Taliban; this commonality of interest has brought Taliban closer to both Iran and Russia. The recent ‘Afghan Peace Conference’ hosted by Moscow and the way it was welcomed by Taliban amply prove this assertion.
Finally, coming to Pakistan that has been part and parcel of Afghanistan’s war in one way or the other since long. Pakistan played both as beneficiary and the victim of this long drawn war on its borders. Initially, Pakistan did earn lots of praises from the west particularly USA for its role as front line state in the ‘war on terror’. However, the honeymoon period between USA and Pakistan did not last long. By the end of 2003, USA started blaming Pakistan for a double game. Since then the relations between USA and Pakistan continued to deteriorate with each passing year. The growing influence of India in Afghanistan also added fuel to the deteriorating Pak-US relations. Resultantly, the shadow of deep mistrust between Pakistan and US has gone to the lowest ebb during the recent years.
It is also a fact that no other country wants peace in Afghanistan more than Pakistan. The enormous human and material losses that Pakistan continues to suffer are linked with the unrest in Afghanistan in one way or the other. But it is also a harsh fact that it is more to do with the flawed policies of Zia and Musharraf. However, of late there is visible shift in Pakistan’s policy of no favorites in Afghanistan. Yet it will take some time to overcome the prevailing mistrust between the two neighbours that developed over the last two decades.
The recent initiative of President Trump, asking Pakistan’s help in the renewed dialogue process with Taliban in Doha may be a silver lining in the clouds of doom looming over Afghanistan since ages. At the end of day, what Afghans need to understand is that the answer to question of peace lies within the Afghanistan. The lasting peace in Afganistan will continue to be a distant dream as long as the Afghans continue to playing in the hands of outsiders. At the same time, Afghans must remember that they can always change their friends but they cannot change their neighbours.
© 2019 Ali Sulehria