THE war in Afghanistan that was started by the US bomb attacks on our neighbouring country in November 2001, under the false pretext of the Taliban government’s unwillingness to surrender Osama bin Laden who was blamed to be connected to the 9/11 events, is far from over. This time together with the US NATO troops got involved and the presence of foreign troops in Afghanistan reached 140,000. The declared goal of the war was the defeat of the Taliban and the death of Osama bin Laden.
While the second part of this was achieved at a very late stage during the war – with or without the interference of the foreign troops – the first part to defeat Taliban has not been achieved until today. On the contrary, since 2004 the Taliban movement that consists of many independent parts commanded by local commanders but connected by a pledge of allegiance to Mullah Omar has step by step reorganized and extended its network by incorporating new Afghans who joined the war against foreign occupation in retaliation that got them united. By the time the US withdrew its main forces in December 2014, Taliban had recovered immensely.
That means the US war against the Taliban that ended in 2014 was lost by the US militarily. But the consequence –complete withdrawal of foreign troops – that is the demand of the Taliban and adjoined Afghan fighters against foreign occupation, did not take place due to US vested interests in the region that will become known after 2018 onward when some unifying treaties will expire in Russian states and a new future alignment of these states will be manoeuvred for or against Russian economic interests. That is why the war did not end but is carried on to achieve the intended end at the negotiation table. Because of the heavy withdrawal of foreign troops, Taliban and their comrades have been extending their gains to large parts of Afghanistan with each day bringing new gains.
The Afghan government and the Afghan army – both inventions of the US and under its tutelage – have failed so far to justify their existence. Bad governance and missing or receding creditability of the Afghanistan government and missing commitment in the Afghan army with thousands of defecting soldiers that are swelling the ranks of the Taliban are a visible sign of situation that peace in Afghanistan will not be delivered on a silver platter by the ongoing perforce efforts involving Pakistan, China or even India in this gimmick. Complete withdrawal of foreign troops is pre-condition of Taliban from day one to start a meaningful dialogue.
Each day and month that is passing by, this process of political erosion is proceeding and at one point they will not be able to carry on. That is the point the Taliban seem to wait and work for. The complete withdrawal of foreign troops will result in the break-up of the foreign supported government and will open the way for a credible government in Afghanistan with Taliban participation. That would be the logical conclusion of the ongoing war from the Taliban point of view.
The US and international donors as well as the Pakistan government by trying to organize peace talks the way they do it right now are closing their eyes on these realties. The US has a point in pressing everybody for those peace talks: they lost the war for the pipelines and natural resources Afghanistan is rich of and now they are trying to save the day for themselves at the negotiating table. But what is Pakistan’s stake in it? Pakistan has suffered from the consecutive wars going on in Afghanistan immensely though not without our own doing.
Now the national security situation, that beyond military aspects, includes economic and social indicators has eroded so much that the very existence of Pakistan is at stake – a word of caution has come from Senate standing committee on foreign affairs which has urged the government to be careful in cooperation with Saudi Arab coalition that would have negative repercussion on our internal situation. Given the geographical, ethnic and historical proximity to Afghanistan, Pakistan needs peace in Afghanistan for its own reasons.
That explains why our government is overstretching itself to try to cooperate in the endeavour. But a clear look at the situation would suggest that the current way will not work. Peace is not only the absence of war; it includes peace of mind of the warring parties. Any agreement that does not include peace of mind will not hold. And in that case foreigners cannot be part of such a peace agreement – it has to be concluded between different Afghan parties. Neither has Pakistan any role, in that Pakistan is as much alien and foreign as US and China are. The only role for a third party could be that of a facilitator and that has to be appointed by agreement of all Afghan parties. Has such a draft for agreement been exchanged with the Taliban? Or is the present puppet government in Afghanistan trying to achieve consensus with the local warring Taliban factions to achieve permanent peace?
All Pakistan can do and is already doing is to improve its relations as much as possible with the Afghan neighbours and try to maintain an as tight as possible border check to secure the good results achieved through Operation Zarb-e-Azb by Pakistan Army. The army brass discussed this situation and urged all concerned to expedite the resettlement of displaced persons in KPK and remove all impediments including release of funds approved in this regard to resolve FATA issues. Therenewal of the boosted agreement between the intelligence agencies of Afghanistan and Pakistan would be a necessary ingredient on the long path to fight militancy. Political realism is the need of the hour in our search for peace any other leverage to bring in fresh issues to further create bitterness among Pak-Afghan brethren will not deliver peace in any case. God Bless Pakistan.
—The writer is a senior columnist based in Karachi.