Afghan peace, a new paradigm


Raashid Wali Janjua

AFGHANISTAN is a 200 hundred older geographical and political entity and for those 200 years there has never been a major secessionist movement in the country despite the cut and thrust of monarchical efforts to keep the country under a strong centre. The republican political ideology emanating out of Afghan tribal society has defined the political ideology of Afghan state for two centuries. A monarchy that had kept the federal structure intact, with a social contract celebrating republicanism, had been the dominant political creed that had built Afghan nationhood on solid republican footings. Pakistan on the contrary is a 73-year old country whose political ideology ie a quest for safeguarding the political and economic rights of Muslim minority from the excesses of Hindu nationalism, defined its nationhood.
Now see the difference. One was a society driven social contract while the other was a state driven social contract. The predilection for over centralization in the shape of a unitary state in case of Pakistan and a proclivity for federalism separate the political worldview of both the countries. Unfortunately the same thinking takes centre stage whenever we set about resolving the Afghan conflict on our terms. It is time Pakistan realized that instead of shaping the outcome and cultivating favourites the country would be best served if we do not force the Afghans to genuflect to our perceived strategic interests. Centuries of Afghan infighting have bred a fierce independence and an uncanny ability to play one invader against another. It is precisely for this reason that Afghans regardless of their ethnic and linguistic identity have always united when it came to their territorial integrity and vital economic interests. A propensity to play India against Pakistan while deriving political and economic benefits from both has been a natural concomitant of centuries of Afghan survival struggle in one of the busiest melting pots of history. Pakistan therefore should do well by not trying to get entangled in the Afghan power play. Instead a gentle nudge in facilitative mode towards peace objectives should be the aim of Pakistan. We must realize that it is the peace and not the process or shape of any power coalition that concerns us the most. Pakistan needs to develop a greater confidence in its ability to forge friendly relations with Afghanistan based on a policy of mutual accommodation and inseparable linkages of geography, religion and ethnicity.
Pakistan also needs to be more confident of its ability to leverage its locational advantage for regional connectivity creating stakes for India and Afghanistan in a land corridor linking India, Pakistan and Afghanistan to Central Asia. India is spending $3billion in Afghanistan besides offering generous training opportunities to Afghan security forces and bureaucrats. It has also been offering health and education opportunities on subsidized rates to Afghans to cultivate their support. Pakistan on the contrary has reduced its imprint in Afghanistan due to security related issues. While there should be no compromise on security issues Pakistan must make it very clear to Afghan government that its territory should not be used for anti-Pakistan activities. Both countries should also create economic linkages that further cement our historical and geographical linkages.
The $3billion annual trade between Afghanistan and Pakistan has dwindled to $300 million because of the strictures imposed on the cross border trade and movements. As a result Indians and Iranians have exploited the situation in their favour by creating an alternative trade route with Afghanistan through Chahbahar undercutting Pakistan’s economic leverage over Afghanistan. Pakistan must understand that Afghan peace is interlinked with Pakistan’s relations with other regional countries like India and Iran. Despite the difficulty of a diplomatic thaw with India due to Modi regime’s anti-Muslim and anti-Kashmiri policies an effort must be made to develop economic linkages with India. Pakistan must understand that its flagship development project of a century ie CPEC would not be viable unless there is peace in Afghanistan. The large scale energy projects like CASA and TAPI would also remain a pipedream without the regional consensus amongst India-Afghanistan and Pakistan on economic and development linkages.
Pakistan must see its role in the current Afghan peace process much beyond a journeyman role in the service of USA for brokering a peace agreement between Taliban and Afghan government. Certain realities of the Afghan peace process must therefore be front and centre of our strategic calculations. One reality is the amenability of Taliban to form a broad coalition with rest of the Afghan factions. Despite the war fatigue setting in the Afghan society the Taliban are still caught in the time warp of their grievance of being unfairly deprived of their lawful status as rulers of Afghanistan in 2001. Equally obdurate is the position of the Ashraf Ghani and his political partner Abdullah Abdullah who would now lead the peace process with Taliban. These two have strong pretensions and claims to the political power based on their electoral gains in the last elections.
How would these two competing political positions be reconciled and why would Taliban who have entered peace process secure and smug in the knowledge that they were winning on ground come around to a political accommodation is something Pakistan needs to be concerned with much beyond the short-term presidential election driven US peace horizon. Loya Jirga might offer an ultimate solution as it was that forum that created the position of Afghan CEO for Abdullah Abdullah earlier. Pakistan should remain engaged with all political stakeholders without appearing to dictate the peace process and urge upon the Taliban the need for moderating their demands in the interest of an inclusive power sharing agreement with other small factions.
The de facto political realities based on control of territory by different small groups should be accepted by Taliban besides moderating their behaviour vis-a-vis Shariah compliance and gender issues. The above is absolutely vital if the Taliban wish to ensure future viability of a state which would need generous international aid after US withdrawal. Pakistan needs to display imagination leaving Afghans to decide what system they ultimately choose for their country and should concentrate instead on issues like trade, investment border management, water sharing, refugee settlement and a diplomatic thaw with India to lay the foundations of a lasting peace.
— The writer, a Retired Brig, is a PhD scholar at NUST, Islamabad