The road to peace in Afghanistan

If we look at our past efforts in crafting a policy for Afghanistan after the withdrawal of the Soviet Union we are bound to be dismayed because we made a mess of things in that country. In our effort to please those who wanted to avenge Vietnam in Afghanistan, we became complicit in prolonging the agony of the Afghan people. Little did we realize that evil begets evil, that it will come home to roost!

Our assistance in forcing the Soviets to withdraw from Kabul and later in the murderous removal of Dr. Najibullah, we allowed the evils of weaponization and a drug economy to enter our land that ruined the traditional structure of administration in FATA. Prior to this de-stabilization it was managed indirectly through the Maliks and the political agents. The tribal control mechanism collapsed since the power shifted from the Maliks to the Nouveau Riche created by the ISI and the CIA.

These new war-lords extended their influence to NWFP (now Khyber Pukhtunkhwa) and corrupted the governance system from Khyber to Karachi. Our security agencies were pleased that they now had ample supply of Jihadist who could be deployed in the Indian held Kashmir to serve a short sighted foreign policy agenda through proxy warriors. The result is that Pakistan barely survived going under to the the barbaric militants who are now a formidable international nuisance extending their control under an ideological philosophy that combines a Tekfiri-Wahabist interpretation of Islam.

As the US prepares to withdraw a major part of its forces from Afghanistan after the middle of 2011, it is again becoming apparent that history is about to repeat itself in Afghanistan. There will be a change in government in Afghanistan sooner than later because Mr. Karzai will have to leave if the main party to this conflict the Taliban is to be brought around to the negotiation table. The problem here is that many of those in our security establishment who guide Pakistan’s Afghan and Indian foreign policy are dreaming of again influencing policy so that Afghanistan should have a pro-Pakistan foreign policy under the mischievous concept of Strategic Depth!

Surely we must learn from our past. Pakistan should stay away from a future role in Afghanistan at all costs or the impending civil war in the next round will enter our land and then there will be no end to a national spiral nose dive to extinction. But having said that what is the road to peace in that unlucky land?

 Afghanistan is a very difficult country to understand – it becomes even more complicated when the dynamics of Pukhtunwali begin to intercede in the running of the state. I agree that the ultimate solution to the problem lies in sorting out the peoples difficulties connected with governance and security in the first place. But that cannot happen because of the nature of the UN intervention and the Bonn Accord design implemented in Afghanistan post 9/11. I think it is quite flawed as it runs counter to the lessons of Afghan history.

Ever since the time of Amir Abdur Rehman, the first modern ruler of Afghanistan, the country was managed as a loosely administered state. A weak central authority acted as the pivot that connected the state, the foreign subsidies received and directed their flows to regional influentials. The officials delivered services but allowed local factors and traditions to provide the direction.

Since the induction of foreign assistance in the 1960’s when US AID provided funds for the massive Helmand Valley Authority project, Afghanistan has become the victim of unintended consequences. It is another story how the HVA actually led to the creation of the Communists in Afghanistan. But I feel that the Surge, will create another cycle of unintended consequences with disastrous security implications in the region  especially for Pakistan.

Therefore the way forward is not by holding talks with the Taliban, not just yet – they will come later, and also not to place any hope in the surge of forces adroitly sold as a panacea by Gen McCrystal, the ISAF commander in Kabul – but instead to re-shape the future governance structure for Afghanistan before anything else.

As long as Mr. Karzai is President there will never be progress either towards peace or talks with the Taliban; he has too many things to answer for! Pushtun concept of “Badal,” (revenge), will hound him in whatever he chooses to do. He can thus not be an effective interlocutor for peace. The road to peace in Afghanistan lies in making a major governance overhaul that needs to be administered by someone who is acceptable to all the people and who is not tainted as a “collaborator.”

In the existing situation that someone is likely to be from the former King Zahir Shah’s family – that person can craft an exit strategy through which Afghanistan could re-emerge as a peaceful country under a democratic constitutional monarchy working under a parliament! This formulation is likely to be acceptable to the many ethnic nationalities in the country including the Taliban.  Pakistan will do well to encourage such a move though from a distance.

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