Afghanistan — a reality check
THE situation in Afghanistan could at best be described as one is back from fire to frying pan.
The war between US and Afghan Taliban is over, not between Taliban and Afghan Government/other warring factions.
They are scrambling to slug it out to seize maximum position of strength before they have to sit at the table or be able to remain well entrenched in areas they consider necessary to hold their sway.
The Afghan people have grown weary of conflict, spread over more than four decades yet possibility of this, being replaced with their moral and material welfare is remote.
At present, the possibility of intra-Afghan civil strife seems much greater than intra-Afghan dialogue.
The fear is engulfing its landmass like a wild fire. People are in a hurry to find safe refuge at home and abroad. Foreign embassies have been inundated with requests for visas and asylums.
The common flock is stranded with no proper way out.
Afghan Taliban are making rapid inroads in areas where either Afghan security forces are not present or fleeing/ surrendering without fight. It is virtually a no contest walk over however, two things are conspicuous.
One, so far Afghan Taliban has not captured any big city or capital of a province though reportedly, they are closing in on ten cities across the country. It is to be seen how Afghan government reacts to their moves either with force or otherwise.
The probability is that it would particularly along with people being recruited/spurred by Jamiat-e-Islami Afghanistan and other warlords to fight against Taliban. This is the flash point which could ignite civil war.
Amid such an inflammatory situation, only one country is seen unalarmed rather, calm and collected while assessing no unified government in Afghanistan on these presumptions.
Present Afghan government is unlikely to subdue recent surge of Taliban however, it is also unlikely that they would be able to overrun the whole country. As a result, instability would ensue in Afghanistan as well as in region.
This is what the US wanted when seen in context of emerging international rivalry between the US and China. The biggest beneficiary of a stable Afghanistan is China.
The ill intent of the US could also be ascertained from what it did after Doha peace agreement.
It did not make concerted efforts to prevail upon Afghan government to engage Taliban meaningfully to arrive at mutual agreement for an inclusive government, a workable constitution and structure of future government including state institutions. Instead it allowed Afghan government and India to play a role of spoilers.
Prior to its withdrawal, a transition was considered a necessity to leave behind in Afghanistan free of predicable mess in which it in. Contrary to calls of a responsible withdrawal, the US resorted to an abrupt departure.
Besides, the US neither built Afghanistan economically nor militarily and administratively, capable of holding itself at its own during its occupation of two decades.
With above in view, it is a plausibly drawn conclusion that ostensibly, it was a hasty exit but in reality, deliberate to trigger what is being experienced now.
It is realpolitik and China in particular should have sensed it in advance and played a proactive role to ward off its possibility instead of accusing it of rushing to withdraw from Afghanistan and leaving a mess in arrears.
The US has left future of Afghanistan to Afghan people and countries in region while presumably, retaining some ability to meddle in its affairs.
In region, no country holds decisive influence to crack sense or incentives to lure others to have its goodwill.
Though China is considered capable of having such a clout but at present, it falls short by quite distance.
China has to not only wield economic influence but also the political influence. In combination, both work effectively.
At first place, India is not a stakeholder. Secondly, it is a spoiler and is hand in gloves with Afghan government in its ulterior motives.
It is providing arms and ammunition to Afghan forces against Taliban, thus a country of such dubious credentials is no help rather a pain in way of an amicable solution of a conflict.
Pakistan and Iran have some influence but barred with a number of limitations. Russia also has some leverage but for the time-being could be enticed by the US and its effluent allies for something lucrative elsewhere. CARs are of no major weight on the scale.
Afghan government tied with external dependence and tribal/self-seeking bent of mind, is averse to see reason until inescapable.
Afghan Taliban are the victor and may have acquired a streak of stubbornness however, it is being said that Taliban are not of same lot as were in 1990s. If not so, they must have not given face saving to the US to withdraw unscathed.
This prompted their critics to outstretch their imagination with regard to their equation of some sort with the US.
In brief, there is no international/regional peace broker and guarantor. The peace effort is likely to remain piecemeal, strewn with pitfalls and bereft of requisite spice and bite, thus difficult times lie ahead.
It is less than fair if architects of Afghan policy of Pakistan are not complimented. It involved walking over a tight rope over a long haul in difficult times and they did a splendid job.
Now again work is of same gravity but double in magnitude. One is Afghanistan which is our backyard. Other is rivalry between US and China.
The contention is CPEC which puts us on the centre stage. On one side, interests of Pakistan are attached with both. On the other side, both equally need us.
— The writer, a retired Lt Col, is a senior columnist based in Islamabad.