Ashraf Ghani, the Afghan president, sticks to a policy to save his own saddle; the Taliban believe in military victory; the Americans and their allies focus on completing the withdrawal of forces; the Afghan warlords work on a formula to protect their own skin; Al-Qaeda and Islamic State have their own list of priorities; the UN is just a silent spectator and India is more interested in perturbing Pakistan. These ambiguities give birth to the possibility of another prolonged, bloody war in Afghanistan while threats of a civil war also loom in the distant.
Madiha Afzal in an article in The Washington Post writes, “Afghanistan almost certainly seems headed for greater violence, with embassies rapidly reducing their presence or shutting down altogether due to security concerns, as the Australian embassy recently announced.”
However, one thing is crystal clear that when compared with other countries, Islamabad has a large stake in the Afghan pie because a civil war across the border will directly impact Pakistan’s security, economy, domestic politics, international position and relations with various states, especially the US.
Statements issued by Pakistani leaders, from the prime minister to the national security advisor, all indicate Pakistan’s preoccupation with the Afghan imbroglio.
“There is a lot of fear right now in Pakistan and I assure you that we are trying our level best so there is some sort of political settlement before the Americans leave,” Prime Minister Imran Khan told Reuters in an interview.
“Since the moment the Americans gave a date…to leave Afghanistan … the Taliban feel they have won the war.” Khan also declared that Pakistan had said adieu to decades-long “strategic depth” policy, while it”should not try to do any manipulation in Afghanistan” and be ready to deal with any Afghan government that is voted to power.
In his address to the second conference of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Economic Cooperation, Khan remarked, “it is imperative for the peace of entire region that there should be a peaceful transition in Afghanistan, otherwise 1989-like chaos will occur when Soviet Union’s forces had left and everyone knows what happened after it.”
Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi in his address during a virtual trilateral meeting comprising Pakistan, Afghanistan and China said, “In our view, while the withdrawal of foreign troops from Afghanistan entails serious security challenges, it also offers a unique opportunity for peace and reconciliation in Afghanistan and moving the country from a perpetual internal conflict to an era of peace and stability.”
While National Security Adviser Dr Moeed Yusuf claimed on a private channel, “the United States has assured us that Pakistan will not be made a scapegoat amidst the withdrawal from Afghanistan, but only time will tell whether [it remains as such] as history suggests otherwise.”
All these statements from Pakistan’s top Afghan policy formulators make it quite clear that Islamabad strives for a peaceful settlement of the Afghan tangle. The US dropped Pakistan and Afghanistan like a hot potato after Russian forces withdrew from Afghanistan and even now as there is no actual power sharing or transition formula between the Afghanistan government and the Taliban, if the country suffers from a similar fate, a civil war is imminent.
Unless a miracle takes place within the next few weeks, Afghanistan will return to complete anarchy and chaos because the chances of a broad-based settlement are dim. The Afghan factions need to seize this historic opportunity and display political shrewdness, diplomatic skill and statespersonship, all of which seem like herculean tasks. But they are necessary to prevent more Afghans from shedding the blood of their fellow Afghans and to safeguard the future of their youth, while also to help themselves stay clear of numerous external players that meddle in Afghan affairs to achieve personal objectives.
The Taliban, who emerged as a strong force, would need to give up their rigid stance and display flexibility. The roles of the Afghan president, other political and military leaders are also critical in deciding the course of action for the future.
If they keep pushing, the Taliban may indeed one day ride on battle tanks to cross Kabul’s portal as their military victories against government forces suggest but they should really consider how much they would be able to achieve if they decide to sit on a negotiation table. Whether, they like it or not, eventually Afghan leaders will have to broker a peace deal, would it not be better to stop the cycle of violence now? In addition, whenever the Afghans have failed to put their house in order, it has led to the opening up of Afghanistan to foreign penetration.
Wn case the Taliban succeed in overthrowing Ghani’s government, factions backed by external Afghan players would definitely fight to dislodge them. Afghan leaders, warlords and all other stakeholders must tackle domestic issues, particularly those to do with the power sharing deal, the formation of a new government and a smooth transition of power.
At present the Americans, like the Russians in 1989, are eagerly waiting to catch the first flight from Kabul to home even in the absence of a power sharing formula, which might lead to an internal and external security dilemma.All respective stakeholders should now concentrate on facilitating Afghan leaders in developing an Afghanistan led peace formula, which is necessary to restore durable peace in an Afghanistan ravaged by years of unending war and destruction.