Recurrent meeting sessions have started between Taliban representatives and US officials. In the Abu Dhabi session, representatives from Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and UAE were also present in the talks. The foreign minister of Pakistan Shah Mahmood Qureshi termed the sitting in Abu Dhabi as “productive meetings” during a media talk in his three-day visit to Kabul, Tehran, Beijing and Moscow. According to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Mr. Qureshi travelled to Iran, China and Russia to take them into confidence on the Afghan peace process.
A policy shift is observed in Washington DC over Afghanistan. According to reports, after pouring about one trillion USD with no significant output, America wants to stop the Afghan mission and withdraw its troops. Initially, the United States is waiting for upcoming Afghan presidential elections, and then it will roll back with a claim that we have attained our goals here. However, in reality, Washington wants a respectable retreat from Afghanistan. That’s why President Trump wrote a letter to Pakistan for help in solving the problem, bilateral talks with the Taliban and above all the respectable retreat. Recent discussions are a part of this particular American plan.
All critical stakeholders including Pakistan are very much optimistic about these talks, but few of them are pensive about the fate of the negotiations as well. Now, it is necessary to not make the recent move a formality, but it should have a solid basis and action. In the realm of International Relations, it is vital to analyse political and strategic culture before examining any political as well as security situation. The values, norms and traditions which are widely shared by the inhabitants of a state have significant and vital effects on socio-political matters.
A book Empires of Mud: Wars and Warlords in Afghanistan written by Antonio Giustozzi a renowned author on Afghan sociopolitical affairs denotes that the social structure and the ethnic composition of Afghanistan is the underlying driving force in the rise of warlordism and lack of power-sharing and fragile institutional mechanism pave the way for anarchy at the state level
Afghanistan is a country portrayed as Terra Incognita- the land of tribes, the home of warlords, and the graveyard of empires. Afghanistan is the society of multiple ethnic groups. Even the national Anthem and constitution of Afghanistan mention its 14 ethnic groups. Strong tribal spirit is rooted in Afghan social structure. The tribal system is often noticed as an agent to challenge contemporary governance system and political structure. As we had observed during the Afghan civil war when the Soviet Union withdrew its forces from Afghanistan in 1989, various tribal leaders including Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, Ahmad Shah Massoud and Abdul Rashid Dostum opened a front against the sitting government in Kabul.
The tribal system has its own values, a way of thinking and the conduct towards different societal developments. In the concept of tribalism, people are generally loyal to their ethnic groups. A famous Arab saying best defines the norms of the typical tribal system. It is said that “I against my brother; I and my brother against my cousin; I and my brother and my cousin against the world.”If we study the history of Afghanistan, we will see that tribal war remained a predominant feature of Afghan society for so many centuries. One of the reasons behind the unrest between different Afghan tribes is the nomadic characteristics of their culture.
Barren land and infecund mountains are not favourable for cultivation and do not offer any charm to inhabitants for clinging to a specific piece of land. So the people roam from one place to other to fulfil their food and water needs. Their primary source of livelihood remained hunting, and rearing cattle herds. Afghan warlords attacked the lands of the Indian subcontinent and grabbed as many resources as they can to carry them to Afghanistan. Tribal system has been practiced since centuries, and that’s why local tribes in Afghanistan consider the modern democratic system a challenge to their sovereignty and have always rejected the concept of central government.
A book Empires of Mud: Wars and Warlords in Afghanistan written by Antonio Giustozzi a renowned author on Afghan sociopolitical affairs denotes that the social structure and the ethnic composition of Afghanistan is the underlying driving force in the rise of warlordism and lack of power-sharing and fragile institutional mechanism pave the way for anarchy at the state level. The fragmented and polarised nature of Afghan society is persistent which leads to various internal struggles. After the US withdrawal the primary challenge for peacemakers is to accommodate the members of the Afghan traditional elite, the religious establishment and the intelligentsia.
To craft a sustainable and peaceful settlement of the Afghan problem, it is necessary to engage all national and international stakeholders. Sudden withdrawal of American troops from Afghanistan could create a vacuum and the country will be the battlefield of regional and global powers. Rushed peace talks with little or no tribal participation will not be fruitful. Priority should be to preserve single and undivided Afghanistan, in which all ethnic groups would live together in peace and harmony. It will be possible by accommodating Afghan tribes that will reduce ethno-politics. A consensus-based federal government with balanced ethnic representation is the dire need of the hour. Similarly, provinces should be restructured to follow racial boundaries at the maximum possible level and provision of provincial autonomy that will help to manage inter-ethnic tensions of the country. For peacemakers, an in-depth understanding of Afghan societal values and domestic politics will be a key for establishing peace in Afghanistan successfully.
The write is an International Relations Analyst based in Islamabad
Published in Daily Times, January 11th 2019.