Afghan War: End Or Beginning?

Fast-track efforts are on for the resolution of the conflict that has ravaged Afghanistan for the last so many years. Afghanistan’s President Hamid Karzai, the US Secretary of State, John Kerry, Pakistan’s Chief of Army Staff Gen Ashfaq Parvez Kayani and Foreign Secretary Jalil Abbas Jilani met in Brussels for talks on the situation in Afghanistan.
Just before that the US Acting Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan David Pearce visited Islamabad at the head of a strong delegation and held talks with senior civil and military officials on the existing situation in Afghanistan, the ways and means for acceleration of the process of reconciliation and the post-withdrawal scenario.
David Pearce’s concern was evident from the interest he took in the progress of the process of reconciliation and the state of affairs that would emerge after withdrawal of combatant forces from Afghanistan.
The question of the US leaving residuary power behind has been widely debated but no report has surfaced so far to indicate that an agreement of diplomatic immunity has been reached between Kabul and Washington; and in the absence of such an agreement it will not be easy for the US to leave its forces in Afghanistan.
It remains to be seen whether President Karzai will agree to that or not but for any Afghan, let alone its president, this will be a very tall order to accomplish. And even if it were agreed upon, the Afghans as a nation will not endorse that decision.
Peaceful transition, thus, seems a distant cry unless the US agrees to hand over charge of Afghanistan to the UN, which should raise its force from among non-controversial states. This will hopefully be acceptable to the Afghans and will help in bringing the two warring sides to a meaningful dialogue. Short of that any other proposal to lead to negotiations could be anybody’s wild guess but will certainly not contribute to returning peace to the region.
The question that arises then is: what happens if the agreement is not reached? Will the Taliban have an easy walkover, as generally feared? And will the Afghan nation accept that eventuality? It is fairly difficult to envisage what will happen next except that the Afghans are tired of fighting and want a peaceful solution to their problem. The Taliban are aware of these reservations, which is why they had made it clear that they will not repeat mistakes of the past nor will they allow the use of Afghan soil against others.
In case foreign troops leave Afghanistan without reaching any agreement, will the Afghans resort to violence? Will they start fighting between themselves like they did in the 1990s or will they find some sort of a way out of these difficulties? These are the questions that are troubling everybody.
But those who understand Afghanistan well and are aware of the Afghan psyche think that the situation there will not get out of hand and things won’t turn as ugly as they did before. They think that Afghans, having closely worked with their ‘sympathisers’, know how to use others better than being used by others.
Second, the Afghans are tired of fighting. They want to end the violence if those who matter for Afghanistan make serious efforts to find an honourable way for the two sides to enter into meaningful dialogue. The meeting of the two in Paris some time back is a case in point.
Once the two agree to meet and repose confidence in each other that is when the risk of foreign forces leaving Afghanistan should be taken so that it paves the way for permanent peace to return to the country. In such cases return of peace and normalcy has always been dependent on ‘confidence building’. Afghanistan, where nothing works more effectively than confidence building, will respond positively to this.
To broker such confidence the US and Afghanistan have to first agree to engage a group of neutral parties to help with negotiations between them. This group should initially work quietly – without any publicity. Once it achieves its desired objective then proper publicity should be given to the deal so that it becomes easier for the foreign troops to leave Afghanistan and at the same time assuage fears of more war.
Another proposal could be to form a committee consisting of a representative each of the Taliban, the Kabul government, the US and the two most important neighbours of Afghanistan – Pakistan and Iran – to work together in finding a way to successfully bring about a peaceful resolution of the conflict.
Once the committee agrees on a formula for future dispensation, its blue prints could be made public so that foreign forces start leaving Afghanistan and also assure the Afghans that their country is safe from the horror of infighting.
Many believe that Pakistan and Iran can help a lot by chipping in with some positive contribution to end this conflict. The two countries have a long history of pursuing their interests in Afghanistan. While doing so they have created pockets of influence that could be used for conflict resolution in the emerging scenario.
Neither Chah Bahar nor Gwadar can be used to full capacity without peace in Afghanistan nor can the dream of a gas pipeline project come true until there is a state of normalcy in Afghanistan. Pakistan and Iran, thus, have a choice to either go back to what they have been doing in the past or join hands and work together to bring peace to the region and benefit from its dividends.
On its part, the US has to understand that its continued presence in Afghanistan is not contributing in any sense to the restoration of peace and stability in the country. Its citizens are no longer prepared to give further sacrifices for the ‘unwinnable’ war – declared to be so since long by their own generals.
It will be in American interests to leave Afghanistan as promised and win the war by handing Afghanistan back to the Afghans who are capable and intelligent enough to look after themselves and their country than to be guided or misguided by others.