The Afghan quagmire

RECENTLY, Peshawar hosted a seminar organised under the auspices of the Centre for Discussions and Solutions, an advocacy organisation created by Qazi Hussain Ahmed of the Jamaat-i-Islami.

The seminar was attended by a cross-section of Pakistanis including politicians, technocrats, analysts and two former DGs of the ISI, Gen Hamid Gul and Gen Asad Durrani.

The seminar was also attended by Afghans, including amongst others the former Afghan prime minister in exile Ahmad Shah Ahmadzai, leaders of the Hizb-i-Islami Afghanistan Qutabud Din Hilal and Dr Ghairat Baheer, and Afghan parliamentarians Meerwais Yaseeni and Waheed Muzda.

The joint resolution issued at the conclusion of the deliberation demanded an early end to every sort of interference in the affairs of Afghanistan and urged that Afghans be allowed to decide their destiny without outside interference. This was considered the only way to conclude more than 30 years of fighting.

Another description of the gathering would be that it included parts of the Pakistani establishment and the religious right that have in the past played a key role in creating the policy of ‘strategic depth’ regarding that unfortunate land and have also led the ‘jihad’ there.

This could be taken as an indication that perhaps Pakistan has begun to change its policy in Afghanistan. However, it is too soon to reach that conclusion just yet.

In his address, Maulana Fazlur Rehman of the JUI-F raised doubts whether that would happen. He emphasised that Pakistan would be perturbed if peace talks in Afghanistan provided more space and prominence to India. Was this a veiled threat? If that is so, then I’m afraid there is not going to be much change in Pakistan’s policy yet.

Ordinary Afghans have a negative attitude towards Pakistan, despite what we say we did when they were welcomed here as refugees. If there is any doubt, then one has only to read carefully the implications of the terms of negotiations stated by the Taliban for the talks in Doha.

The main ones are that the talks will not be held in any country neighbouring Afghanistan, that the talks will not be held in any country allied with Nato, that the talks will be held in a country that has not been hostile to the Taliban during the past 10 years, that no ceasefire will be demanded before, during or after the talks, that the Taliban will not accept any condition contrary to the Sharia and, whenever desired, the Taliban will disassociate themselves from the talks.

Despite the oft-quoted statement that Pakistan has been nurturing, harbouring and helping the Taliban, the first three clauses of the conditions for peace talks clearly imply that Pakistan will be excluded.

What conclusions can be drawn from this? For one, it indicates the lack of success met by the security and foreign policies Pakistan has been following since 2001.

If, after sacrificing so much blood and treasure, Pakistan is unacceptable then we need to have a better policy in Afghanistan, one that is aimed at winning friends amongst all ethnicities rather than focusing on Pakhtuns only.

However, Pakistan made the following gains from this policy:. Pakistan achieved nuclear capability and as such enhanced its security. It added an additional average annual GDP growth of two per cent to its indigenous efforts between 1979 and 1988, as well as from 2002 to 2009 based on assistance from the US in this and other measures such as ease of market entry for textiles.

Also, Pakistan modernised its military capabilities with US equipment and lastly, Pakistan obtained subsidiary assistance from the Saudis and other multilaterals on soft terms.

The downside is the creation of a societal mindset that believes in violence and jihad. The conflict has led to the creation of sectarian organisations and proxy warriors that have weakened the writ of the state.

Organisations such as Lashkar-i-Taiba and Jaish-i-Mohammad have the capacity to undertake independent terrorist operations and could immensely endanger the state. The attack on the Indian parliament in Delhi and the attacks in Mumbai are examples that if repeated will entail devastating consequences.

Given Pakistan’s past involvement in Afghan affairs, how will that change now? It is likely that the US will continue to keep the Pakistan military satisfied by transferring equipment. On the economic assistance side the Gulf states will be coming to the forefront with economic support with US backing.

The recent agreement with Qatar in the energy sector is one sign of this new policy that intends to buy Pakistani goodwill while peace is negotiated in Afghanistan.

In short, Pakistan and the US are together in the endgame in Afghanistan. Yet the issues of internal security are so substantial that the peace talks are going to be extended and involved.

Far more work must be done apart from direct negotiations to get all stakeholders on board. It took about four years of preliminary work before the negotiations between the Maoists and the Nepalese government were initiated. Such preliminary work is a necessary condition for bringing peace to Afghanistan.

The US and the Taliban cannot be the only players in the room. Afghanistan’s neighbours, which include Iran, Pakistan, the Central Asian republics, Russia and China will need to be engaged too. Although an Indian role in Afghanistan is decried by Pakistan, it cannot be ignored.

It would be desirable that a separate India-Pakistan compact be concluded on Afghanistan defining the dos and don’ts during the preliminary spadework pointed out above. Furthermore, President Hamid Karzai must not be ignored. He has a crucial role to play in organising the acceptability of peace amongst Afghans.

Article Published on Dawn

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