The responsible withdrawal
Absence of violence is merely a negative peace. Positive peace is the absence of the causes that lead to violence. —(Johan Galtung) AFGHANISTAN has not so far found a positive peace as per above definition of Johan Galtung, the father of peace studies.
It still remains on life support system of an aid and conflict sustained war economy
. How strange it is that the entire Afghan peace discourse nowadays is centred upon modalities of a peace process initiated on 29 Feb through Taliban-US agreement.
The fundamental causes that drive the conflict remain buried under a carapace of realpolitik nourished by global rivalries and interests.
The endogenous reasons of the conflict and the role of regional spoilers lie far from the madding crowd of spoilers jousting in pursuit of their own interests.
The causes that fuel Afghan conflict need to be addressed in order to usher in the real and not merely a negative peace.
Afghanistan had remained a stable state under monarchical rule of King Zahir Shah with a decentralized republicanism in the rural areas before the winds of political change deposed him through a coup by his cousin Sardar Daud, who gave way to the Saur revolution by socialist leaning PDPA through Army’s support.
The series of reforms by Saur revolutionaries evoked a negative response from predominantly rural Afghanistan where the reforms adversely hit the socio-political structure of the society that was not yet ready for those changes.
The banning of usury for instance, ostensibly a noble act, fell afoul of a centuries old credit system that sustained rural economy and agriculture.
The restive population rose up in revolt and the Soviet forces entered Afghanistan under Brezhnev doctrine to shore up the socialist leaning Afghan government.
The Afghans resisted this invasion with the US and Pakistan’s help and a decade-long war resulted in victory of Mujahideen (freedom fighters) comprising a motley group of Afghan resistance groups.
After winning the battlefield the US staged a precipitate return without winning a peace field by facilitating a UN-backed Afghan power sharing formula.
The consequent internecine conflict exacted a heavy toll on the Afghan socio-economic structure before Taliban took over the country.
With little international support Taliban regime’s medieval understanding of statecraft resulted in collapse of economy.
That coincided with and arrival of desperadoes and ideological warriors that preyed on the Taliban religious sensibilities and cultural predilections to stay on as guests in Afghanistan.
The scourge of terrorism and war economy thus slowly started gaining hold of Afghan society in the absence of a formal economy supported by a modern governance structure.
The US got involved in its longest war and nation building endeavour as a consequence of 2001 invasion of Afghanistan.
According to a US Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) report the US has spent more on Afghan reconstruction effort ($109 billion) than the amount spent on Marshall Plan ($103 billion).No end to conflict is in sight despite above spending.
The 2500 US troops and the 7500 NATO support troops in Afghanistan were supposed to leave Afghanistan by 1st May 2021 as per the Doha Agreement.
Taliban so far have kept up their end of the bargain by not attacking the US troops after 29 February agreement but they complain that the US Air Force is attacking Taliban positions in support of Afghan government troops.
Taliban also complain that the issue of release of their 5000 prisoners in return for 1000 prisoners of Afghan government is also hanging fire due to the non-cooperation of the Ashraf Ghani government.
The intra Afghan dialogue that had to build consensus on the future power sharing formula in Afghanistan has also been going on in fits and starts.
After a long hiatus of seven months the talks that were to start between Taliban and the Afghan government in March 2020 began on 12 September 2020.
Due to internal and external peace spoilers there is no consensus as yet on the future power-sharing arrangement.
The internal spoilers include the dissenting voices in the Ashraf Ghani government and the government’s own fear of loss of power in a future constitutional structure.
The external spoilers include Al Qaeda, IS (Daesh), and Indian RAW that view the peace in Afghanistan under a consensual constitutional arrangement as a death knell to their strategic interests in the country.
The silver lining, however, is the consensus amongst the regional countries like China, Pakistan, Russia and Iran on the need for Afghan peace.
The US needs to understand the positive role above regional countries wish to play in Afghan peace process along with the negative role the peace spoilers are trying to play.
President Biden in a statement on 23 February has evinced a desire to withdraw the bulk of US forces except a small counter terrorism force to counter resurgence of Al-Qaeda and Daesh.
Biden’s statement is a throwback to his long-held belief that spending US taxpayer money on nation building tasks in Afghanistan was a mistake.
His above belief was quoted by former President Obama too in his book “The Promised Land”.
Laurel Miller, the former senior fellow at USIP writes in the Foreign Policy magazine that the notion of “responsible withdrawal” by USA is not a real option if it means leaving a counter-terrorism force indefinitely in Afghanistan.
The responsible withdrawal by US therefore needs to focus on an intra-Afghan agreement as a top priority preceded by a negotiation of the 01 May deadline’s extension of US troops’ withdrawal.
And that withdrawal not only has to factor in the withdrawal of NATO troops but the 23000 US civilian contractors who are part of Afghanistan’s conflict economy.
The conceptual schism between Afghans about future political shape of the country ie republic versus emirate is another bulwark to peace.
While the Taliban are insisting upon implementation of the peace agreement the Ashraf Ghani’s government is insisting on a conditions based withdrawal.
That withdrawal should leave behind a stable Afghanistan with a sustainable international community backed economy to sound responsible.
— The writer, a Retired Brig, is a PhD scholar at NUST, Islamabad.