Afghanistan: The cost of living in the past


Afghan leadership has to realize that it cannot attain peace unless the genuine demands of resistance forces are accepted. No amount of dictation from outside forces have worked nor likely to work.

The telephone call by General Bajwa, COAS Pakistan Army to Afghan civil military leadership on the New Year Eve, communicated his best wishes and extending his commitment in resolving the Afghan crisis. The subsequent invitation extended to him by the Afghan leadership for a visit to Kabul has led to optimism in the already stalled relations between the two brotherly countries. As the saying goes, you can change friends but you cannot change neighbors; hence, while formulating foreign policies national leadership takes into account the sensitivities of neighbors. Ideological, cultural and ethnic affinities among neighbors reinforce mutual bond, thus facilitating national leadership in formulating policies leading to a mutual win-win situation. Identical challenges in the way of politico economic stability and security climate further facilitate in developing synergy for domestic and regional progress.

Afghanistan and Pakistan have somehow been less fortunate in exploiting these common grounds for multiple reasons. Can there be some light at the end of the tunnel while projecting into the future? Before venturing into that area, it wouldn’t be out of place to briefly recap the major reasons of the present impasse. One, great powers conflicting interests and tussle in the region using Afghanistan as a playing ground. The geographic proximity of five nuclear powers in its neighborhood, territorial disputes between India and Pakistan and resulting international sensitivities due to nuclear overhang, adds up to the complication. Two, Afghanistan suffers an attitudinal complex of a superior and a fighting race. Historically, through its resilience it though challenged every foreign occupation but at the cost of remaining at Stone Age even in the 21st century. Three, oblivious to ground realities and remaining fixed to its historical linkage with mainland India, Afghanistan continue to prefer India over Pakistan manifested in granting her unlimited access to its territory that she covertly and overtly use against Pakistan’s vital interests. Four, commensurate to its utopian stance of a superior race, while living in the 21st century, Afghanistan failed to reinforce it through superior foreign and domestic policies, hence remained completely dependent on international and regional powers for everything including food. Five, having remained dependent on foreign powers for its internal and economic security, Afghan leadership clearly demonstrated lack of vision and stature in reaching at political settlement with resistance forces with in the country. For its own failures, Afghanistan in connivance with occupation forces and India has been blaming Pakistan while making unreasonable demands on Pakistan to do more. It is equally ironic that a certain segment with in our print and electronic media share this Indo-Afghan stance of blaming Pakistan while joining the mantra and demanding civil military leadership to cave in to their demands, however unrealistic those might be.

Over the last 15 years, a lot has been written and said about a lasting solution to the Afghan imbroglio without much having been achieved on ground despite thousands killed and trillions of dollars spent. The most important parameter for any future success in my opinion would be a miraculous realization and pledge among the stakeholders to keep its individual interests aside and give the Afghan leadership a chance to sort out its mess. Though a genuine, but a highly unrealistic ask, if the study of international relations and its theories are seen as a guide. While remaining with in the ambit of realism, some of the steps leading towards a possible solution are now covered. First, Afghan leadership has to realize that it cannot attain peace unless the genuine demands of resistance forces are accepted. No amount of dictation from outside forces have worked nor likely to work. President Ashraf Ghani either convinces the US to move his way or goes home. Leg pulling and disunity with in the Afghan Unit government has to be addressed for meaningful dialogue with resistance forces. Second, in consultation with all domestic stakeholders, Afghanistan should demand for a UN peacekeeping force acceptable to all for replacing US led coalition force. The force with mutually agreed mandate should stay in Afghanistan for a period pending reaching at the ultimate resolution of the problem. Three, Afghanistan seriously needs to review its foreign policy with its neighbors and distant countries to bring it in line with ground realities. Preferring India over Pakistan with utter disregard to its mutual affinities and ground realities has neither worked in the past nor is it likely to work in the future. The two brotherly countries need to engage taking into account mutual sensitivities and proceed forward. Four, lasting solution to the problem can be easily reached with the help of regional rather distant stakeholders. The recent China, Russia, Pakistan initiative after incorporating Afghanistan, Iran and Afghanistan`s Central Asian neighbors promises greater chances of success. Five, with Mr. Donald Trump getting ready to take charge by the end of the month, the region is keenly waiting for a positive change. In line with his pre-election statements and post-election conversation with Mr. Sharif, there are greater hopes of meaningful initiatives not only for Afghanistan but the region as a whole.

No amount of suggestions for reaching to a lasting solution in Afghanistan can be totally new. Most of the earlier suggestions would be as workable as this effort. However, a major reason for failure have been the pushes and pulls of external forces. It’s high time these powers displayed greater mercy towards Afghanistan in particular and the region in general.