NEWS & VIEWS
MOSCOW conference was scheduled to be held on Sept 04 but the US and Kabul administration turned down the invitation while the Taliban were willing to attend. Russia first conveyed that the second round of the ‘Moscow-format’ meeting will be held on September 4 and invitation had been extended to the Taliban’s political office in Doha. India had accepted the invitation and confirmed participation in a multilateral conference alongside an Afghan Taliban representative. The conference was to be co-chaired by Afghanistan and Russia, being the host country, yet the US refused to attend. It was no surprise, as Washington had refused to attend the first round in 2017 on the pretext that it was not Afghan-led, Afghan-owned initiative. When the Taliban are not willing to talk to the Afghan government, and Afghanistan and the US insist on Afghan-led and Afghan owned initiative, the peace in Afghanistan will remain elusive.
The Russian foreign ministry retorted that American justification that it only takes part in Afghan-led initiatives wasn’t applicable since Washington knows all too well that the Moscow meeting is to be co-chaired by Russia and Afghanistan. Meanwhile Afghanistan continues to bleed; the first six months of 2018 saw 5,122 civilian casualties, which according to the UN was the highest-ever record for the same period in last ten years. More than half of the civilian casualties were attributed to attacks claimed by the ISIS. But the US is least bothered about the casualties in Afghanistan. Anyhow, Afghan officials have claimed that ISIS leader in Afghanistan, Abu Saad Erhabi, was killed last month in a joint operation with US-led coalition forces in the eastern province of Nangarhar, closer to the border with Pakistan.
Afghanistan is facing a precarious security situation and the government has failed to establish its writ in parts of Afghanistan controlled by the Taliban. Some say the Taliban control 30 per cent of the Afghan territory, others reckon 45 per cent. Anyhow, people of Afghanistan raise serious questions about capability of the government, and the controversy resulted in resignations showing stress on Kabul administration. One of the reasons of Afghan government’s refusal to attend the meeting perhaps is that in such a situation presence of Taliban in an important conference on Afghan future would further deteriorate the legality and image of Afghan regime. President Ghani and the US administration need to realize the renewed strength and strong position of Taliban in Afghanistan. Unarguably, the only way forward is to hold a regional conference including Taliban to find solution to the mess in Afghanistan. Any stop gap arrangement is not likely to bring a stability and peace to Afghanistan.
India continues with its vile acts. Reportedly, Indian government has given instructions to its media to propagate that Pak Army/ ISI has sponsored TTA/ LeT’s recent attacks on Ghazni in Afghanistan. In fact, India wants to spoil environment between Pakistan and the US before the upcoming visit of US Secretary of State. In this context, many programs and news items have been seen in electronic & print media. On the recent controversy of telephone call between PM Imran Khan & US Secretary of State Pampeo, Indian media is levelling allegations on Pakistan by propagating that Pakistan is telling lies. It appears that India is weary of likely improvement in Pak-US relations and has stepped up media campaign to sabotage it. The situation in Afghanistan is complicated and getting from bad to worse by the day, and there are differences and contradictions within the unity government.
Last week, security forces had raided the campaign office of Wolesi Jirga member Haji Idrees Ghilji in Jalabad and office of General Jurat advisor to the National Security Council. Eight persons were arrested out of which five were released after investigations. In August 2018, “The National Interest” carried an analysis on Afghanistan by Anatol Lieven who stated that there is no chance of military victory over the Taliban. Nor, without a U.S. commitment to withdraw its troops and accept a major share of power for the Taliban, does there seem any serious chance of a peace settlement.” But the US wants to scapegoat Pakistan. President Trump has many a time alleged that Pakistan has betrayed the US, which is not true. In fact, the US has betrayed Pakistan many a time in the past. Now the US has stopped payment of coalition support fund.
There is a perception that the US will never quit Afghanistan for various reasons. Of course, the first and the foremost reason is maintaining a powerful influence in Afghanistan, because those interests will be jeopardized if the Taliban, which held power 1996-2001 until the US invasion come into power again. The second reason is that Afghanistan is an extremely important geopolitical asset for the US, particularly because it is the Pentagon’s only military base in Central Asia. Thirdly, by staying in Afghanistan the US can oversee Iran, Pakistan, China and various resource-rich former Soviet republics as well as Russia. Last but not the least; it can exploit the mineral resources in Afghanistan. In fact, the US and its allies failed to understand that Afghans have always guarded their independence religiously, and throughout its recorded history no power could subjugate them except for a brief period as in case of British or later Soviet occupation.
—The writer is a senior journalist based in Lahore.