THROUGHOUT the better part of recorded history, peace has been atenuous concept for the oft – called “Graveyard of Empires”. Afghanistan has been a challenging country to rule, to say the very least.
The country’s geopolitical significance has had a pivotal role over the centuries and continues to have implications for the region to this day.
The years have passed, and the pages of history have turned to conclude yet another ill-fated chapter of invasions, this time on the venture of the United States and her allies.
Suffice it to say, the country has a history of conquests emanating from both within and without.
Located at the crossroads of Asia and Europe, its history is replete with ventures of invasions ranging in laurels of the likes of Darius I of Babylonia, and Alexander the Great amongst many others.
Mahmud of Ghazni, an 11th century conqueror who created an empire from Iran to India, is known as one of its greatest conquerors.
Later history witnessed Genghis Khan making inroads through the region, but it is well into the 17th century that we see the country coalesce into a relatively unified identity on the wings of Islamic ideology.
During the 19th century, history witnessed Great Britain venture into the quicksand of Afghan conflicts under the pretext of either saving its colony from Russian hegemony or perhaps simply to exert its writ upon the territory.
The British tried, abortively to take over Afghanistan which culminated in a series of British-Afghan Wars (1838-42, 1878-80, 1919-21).
Both the merits and the conclusion of the British Afghan war may be debatable; however, one thing is absolute; the disastrous impact of this venture on the imperial forces.
Destiny wrings from the past, our history always has a bearing on our future, it is therefore reasonable to assume it repeating itself in the current Afghan conundrum.
Another historic sequence intrinsic to Afghanistan is the issue of ascendency on the contours of frequent conflicts. This is an all too common and oft recurrent pattern which continued throughout the centuries and well into the Soviet occupation.
Challenging rules were settled brutally, that sometimes resulted in years of civil war. Among the four communist-era leaders, three died brutal deaths and one was exiled.
The Geneva Accord, which laid the basis for the Soviet exit, could not preclude thrusting the country into chaos, nonetheless.
Summoning these events and allowing history to inform on their perspective, Pakistani diplomats who participated in negotiations preceding the Geneva Accord stated that the Soviet Union appeared in a hurry to leave even without meeting the condition of forming any consensus government.
It appeared to many that the legacy most sacred to the Soviets was an intact extrication, one more expeditious than their invasion.
After the Soviet forces withdrew on Feb. 15, 1989, the civil war between the communist led Kabul government and the Mujahideen forces consumed the country up until 1992. The bloodletting persisted even after the Kabul government was deposed.
The infighting precipitated into the surge of the Taliban, which were able to rule Afghanistan for hardly 5 years, before being toppled by the US led forces in 2001.
On Feb 29, 2020, a peace accord was signed between the US and the Taliban during the Doha Summit.
The United States at the time had conceded that it had spent upward of US $ 825 Billion on a war that many experts have only recently begun to state openly, was never destined for victory.
The incumbent POTUS recently declared that the US forces will exit Afghanistan, unconditionally and latest by the 11th of September 2021. A date marked both in symmetry and meaning.
Two decades of America’s Afghan campaign have yielded a resoundingly similar tone to the one the Soviets struck just a couple of scores earlier.
President Joe Biden, perhaps based on his years of experience in Congress, America’s increasing aversion to its longest war or perhaps President Biden’s refusal to be boxed in by the Pentagon into transferring the legacy of Afghan war to a fifth president, has sent an unwavering tone. America will leave, no matter what.
The legacy of chaotic British campaigns in Afghanistan, the hasty withdrawal of the Soviet forces, and the post 9/11 invasion by the US and its now impending extrication from this theatre, have one common denominator.
A mutually assured destruction. The invading forces always lunge based on self-assured victory and almost always end up populating the roster in this graveyard of empires. There is always an air of exigency when it comes to Afghanistan.
It is said that the valleys and mountains of Afghanistan are an eternal lesson on how to hasten the demise of an Empire.
The British empire walked into Afghanistan stronger than it left, the Soviet Union disintegrated owing to Afghanistan and the US is currently facing down internal fissures of cultural and economic divides of its own, that have no small contribution from the spillover effects of America’s longest war.
One question comes to fore now though; who will have control over Kabul after the US exit? Interference by outside powers is an acknowledged attribute during most of Afghanistan’s history. Merely signing agreements and accords does not assure stability, or peace.
Peace in Afghanistan and the regional countries can be achieved only through a consensus-based involvement of its neighbors and regional stakeholders, including the US, Pakistan, Russia, China, and Iran.
Throughout the years, Pakistan has been a proponent for peace and stability in Afghanistan.
Successfully having to pivot its interests without compromising regional stability, is no small feat of achievement.
In the increasingly evolving contours of global power struggle, it is only incumbent upon Pakistan to cultivate regional alliances while staying the course as a bulwark against the tide of terrorism and militancy.
The Pakistani foreign minister, while addressing the 9th Heart of Asia-Istanbul Process, stated that “No other nation could claim to have such immutable bonds with Afghanistan, and thus [be] more desirous of peace in Afghanistan, than Pakistan.”
History stands witness that no external conquests have been able to succeed, perhaps now the world will acknowledge that the solutions of this region will burgeon from within.
An Afghan owned and Afghan led consensus-based initiative is the only way forward for a sustainable future and prosperity that the country deserves.
—The writer is contributing columnist, based in Rawalpindi.