Afghan Quagmire: So Much to Nothing

As per news reports, senior officials have said that just recently, meetings were underway between their government and representatives of the Taliban in Turkey, after Doha and Qatar. The reports call these meetings as part of ‘unofficial’ peace talks while Zabihullah Mujahid, the Taliban spokesman, denied occurrence of any talks involving representatives of the group, in a Twitter post. Like before, as the world outcries for peace in Afghanistan, uncertainty surrounds the talks. This time, there is a neutral spot and national stakeholders have sat together, probably for the first time in years but confusion continues to prevail. The news surfaced on social media (twitter) with pictorial and video evidence by an Afghanistan’s private news agency.

The world has been a learned witness of what has happened to the previous official rounds of talks in the years. Following the breaking news of Mullah Umar’s death and the killing of Mullah Akhtar Mansour, regional stakeholders have never really reached a solution. The important development in these reported talks is the newfound role of Hezb-i-Islami as a mediator. As reference, Hezb-i-Islami which was also an insurgent faction brokered the peace deal with the government in 2016.

Another important development is the visit of a top level UN Security Council delegation that included US Ambassador Nikki Haley and other officials from Britain, China and Russia to Kabul, to meet the Afghan authorities. As a reminder, Nikki Haley announced the Washington decision of withholding $255 million worth assistance to Pakistan at the United Nations. Aside from the discussions on Afghanistan’s security situation, President Ashraf Ghani has requested continued UN pressure on neighboring Pakistan, which Kabul accuses of harboring Taliban and other insurgent networks. As Pakistan denies these accusations (like always), the pressure mounts after the administration in the United States advances further and chokes Pakistan’s defence aid.

Another recent development is the recent hosting of NATO Chiefs of Defense (CHODs) Summit in Brussels. As I write, during the two-day session, the chiefs will be discussing Afghanistan, challenging security environment on NATO’s southern flank and the coalition’s contribution to its stabilization. On the first day, as the Afghan Ministry of Defense stressed the need for more military cooperation and training to be provided by NATO alliance to the Afghan security forces, the Afghan government has reiterated its stance to target terrorist safe havens and training camps outside the borders of Afghanistan. While there is so much of hue and cry and concern regarding the situation in Afghanistan, why is it that peace has not prevailed in Afghanistan for so long?

As the US and its allies enter their 17th year of war in Afghanistan, many experts do not think that Afghanistan underwent destruction in the aftermath of 9/11, in fact it started happening nearly 40 years ago. More than two generations in Afghanistan have witnessed nothing but war. Toby Lanzer, the UN Humanitarian Coordinator in Afghanistan said in a statement that “In many parts of Afghanistan, violence continues unabated and people need support more than ever.” It is estimated that armed clashes in the past year were the highest in a decade and civilian casualties remained at near-record levels. More than 2 million people were directly affected by the conflict in 2017, with some 448,000 having to abandon their homes to save their lives. Also, more than 500,000 returned to Afghanistan from Iran, Pakistan and other countries.

With the lack of political consensus and ownership of the crisis, many view the situation as either a stalemate or controlled chaos. And if the US leaves, there will be complete chaos. The US can certainly not entrust any regional neighboring country with the duty for the reason, a) none share common goals/interests with the US and b) they have their own interests to pursue. Left behind with the Afghan administration, for a long time, the country and its people are fed on foreign aid and people in command are cognizant of the fact that ‘occupation brings assistance’. At regional level, Russia and China wants peace to occur in Afghanistan to have a secure neighborhood which is very important for their domestic growth and power status regionally. The security assurance of Central Asian Republics is also important in this regard. Iran being over-stretched in its own region and hate relationship it shares with the US has lesser appeal in aligning its interests with it. And the overly-demanding Pak-US relations (defined by the word ‘more’) that never saw an upturn since 2011; experts have fallen short of break-up metaphors to describe. And now it is to see that what fills the blank after frenemies, divorce and separation.

Distressed and not in a mood to carry the label of failure in Afghanistan, the United States have thought to play double again and give its strategic partner, India a job to do. Considering the philosophy behind ‘enemy of my enemy is my friend’, India has been upto certain plans to materialize in doing the American job in Afghanistan and the popular ‘containment of China’ at the same time. Meanwhile, Communism has waited for long to put up a show and the partners would tread carefully keeping an account of the discreet-est of the details, in this regard. And they are doing it already. But come what may, as strategic pivots hinge upon rebalancing of alliance systems in the region, the situation in Afghanistan stays the same: persistent and unabated. No matter, how fond and determined the world is to bring peace in Afghanistan, on a serious note, Afghanis have to work themselves and strive for peace in their own country.

Article originally published in Pakistan Observer on January 30, 2018.

Disclaimer: Views expressed are of the writer and are not necessarily reflective of IPRI policy

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