Raza Muhammad Khan
DURING the so-called ‘Kabul Process’ in June, President Ashraf Ghani deviously inquired ‘what Pakistan wanted from Afghanistan,’ though he knew the answer to this question. Our foreign policy objectives on the issue are unambiguous. A peaceful, prosperous and friendly Afghanistan serves Pakistan’s national interests and for the achievements of these goals, it has paid a cost that’s heavier than the one, born by all the states which form part of the many ‘processes’, on the matter.
Addressing this forum, Ashraf Ghani externalised his government’s failures and habitually blamed others for Afghanistan’s own weaknesses. This event was ostensibly meant to find a political solution to the Afghan war, but Ghani used it to convince (read scare) western countries and other donors why they must continue to support the Unity Government’s (UG) misrule and throw more money into the Afghan sinkhole. Like he did in the ‘Istanbul Process’ in Amritsar in Dec 2016, this time too, Ghani relied on his default mode and thoroughly embarrassed and denounced Pakistan for sponsoring terrorists, while our delegation listened in silence. This was seen on the streets of Pakistan as an insult to our sacrifices.
Using its right to reply, Pakistan could have posed the following seven questions to Mr. Ghani: One; why is he so ungrateful and forgot that Pakistan is sheltering millions of Afghan refugees, for the last many decades, despite its own scanty means? Two; Is the UG not deeply divided; was the absence of the Afghan foreign minister, from the Kabul Process not a clear sign of the growing rifts within the UG and how could any peace or development process succeed in such a state of paralyses? Three; what was the need for initiating a new process when the Istanbul or Heart of Asia Process, was working towards achievement of similar objectives? Four; isn’t the rate of casualties being suffered by the Afghan security forces unsustainable and isn’t ineffective and corrupt Afghan leadership, both civil and military, mainly responsible for Afghanistan’s predicaments, as pointed out by the US Special Inspector General for Afghan Reconstruction (SIGAR), in Apr this year?
Five; has the US not spent over $115 b on Afghan reconstruction, which is the largest expenditure to rebuild a single country in US history, and adjusted for inflation, this spending exceeds the funds committed to the Marshall Plan, that helped 16 West European countries recover after World War II’. Isn’t this effort nose-diving, due to the questionable capabilities of the Afghan security forces and pervasive corruption in Afghanistan, as noted by SIGAR? Six; Do you deny the recent Russian accusation at the UNSC that NATO/ISAF and Afghan forces have not weakened the Taliban but instead created ungoverned areas where IS terrorists have moved from Syria and Iraq , posing threats to Afghanistan’s neighbours ? A final matter of grave concern for the world; why does Afghanistan have the dubious distinction of leading the world in opium production, despite commitment of $8.5 b for anti -narcotics efforts by the US?
The Afghan rulers must respond to these questions, hold itself accountable, be honest with its people and the international community and cooperate with Pakistan to minimize its problems. Unless this is done, deployment of additional US troops, the use of drones or dropping heavier and more lethal bombs, will not recover Afghanistan from the path of failure or break the stalemate with the Taliban. Ghani should also know better that it is due to donor fatigue, mission creep, internal fractures within the UG, the sinister role of India and a few others, that there was hardly any meaningful outcome of the Istanbul Process (since 2011), the Kabul or the countless other ‘processes’.
If Afghanistan continues to live in the past, myopically opposes Pakistani efforts to strengthen and improve its control at its western borders, believes in disinformation of Indian and other intelligence agencies, allows the use of its soil for a proxy war in Pakistan and shies away from a political solution to its conundrum, the writ of its government will surely shrink further, with devastating consequences for the region.
While Ghani conceded on June 06 that the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan, (UNAMA) could facilitate ‘a neutral monitoring mechanism’ for the peace talks with the Taliban, ‘verify compliance and resolve disputes’, he wanted this on his own terms and conditions. Instead of threats of reprisals, incentives like releasing key opposition leaders from jails, removing their names from terrorist lists (a`la Hikmatyar’s case ) and giving them the hope of withdrawal of foreign forces from Afghanistan, at an appropriate time, are imperative. Dialogue must not aim at status quo. Change of regime in Afghanistan through credible fresh elections, under the UN and OIC auspices, that includes participation of all elements of the Afghan society, followed by the replacement of US/NATO troops, (a major underlying cause of the insurgency), by UN forces, for some time, may be the only hope for a lasting peace in Afghanistan. Plans must also be drawn for a 50000 strong, rapid response UN contingent under Chapter VII of the UN Charter, to deal with sudden collapse of the Afghan security forces and stability operations. Turkey, being a NATO as well as an OIC member, has the credentials to take the lead role in such an arrangement.
Ghani and all Afghans must remember that Western forces will not stay in their country forever and that a political dispensation that runs contrary to the interests of Pakistan will miscarry. That is a historic reality that Afghanistan and the West can ignore at their own peril. Meanwhile, our foreign policy must shun appeasement, be more assertive, demonstrate greater propensity to defend the Country at deliberations on the Afghan quagmire and, until Afghanistan promises that it won’t play its preposterous blame games anymore, a boycott of such events may suit everyone.
— The writer, retired Lt Gen, is former president of National Defence University, Islamabad.
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