Tumultuous Afghan entanglement


S Qamar A Rizvi

THIS is an undeniable truth being equally endorsed by the seasoned diplomats/strategists/politicians belonging to both the advanced and the developing world that there is no sesame solution of the brewing Afghan crisis. Some of the US political analysts while taking a more local view have been holding the opinion, if the current Af-Pak policy—is not replaced with one where Taliban are an essential part of the settlement— this shall have disastrous implications for both Afghanistan and Pakistan, much more so for the latter. With popular support from a vast majority of Afghans and money from petro-dollars already on their side, Taliban will then have a legitimate political power at their disposal which they may essentially expend in furthering their parochial -set ideology. The trilaterally linked and multi dimensionally connected Afghan crisis thereby involving the major role— of three states, US, India and Pakistan— yet seems to dominate the current regional entanglement scenario.
Afghanistan may not bear a deeper brunt than the ones it has in the past in case so happens. Pakistan, however, seems to lick wounds of a war which is being yet fought without any predictable scenario, and a war for it has suffered a lot. With Taliban in an even stronger position than before. It’ll also mobilise the Jihadi factions for here will be there chance to re-emerge, more victorious and all the more virtuous. There have been unwarranted western apprehensions that Pakistan might return back in Zia epoch, essentially made to take a policy shift which will once again legitimise self-proclaimed Jihad.
Nevertheless, if Taliban come down to a settlement where they give up arms and come to participate in a democratic establishment, this ought to be considered pragmatically. US, Pakistan and Afghanistan can work together to create an arrangement where the militant influence be terminated and democratically replaced with a parliamentary participation. If indeed this must be achieved since it may perhaps be the best choice for everyone. However, it may sound a little utopian now. But we can venture hope for better!
India has had a long-standing enmity towards the Taliban, pre-dating 9/11. Furthermore, India has alleged links between the Taliban and the Pakistan’s military and Inter Services (ISI) long before such claims became received wisdom in the West of particular concern. Indian hostility towards the Taliban has created widespread doubt about the existence of any moderate Taliban and scepticism of the extent to which the Taliban can be separated from Al-Qaeda. This has led India to be dubious about Western suggestions of reconciliation or political settlement with the Taliban. While major doubts remain, some Indian opinion formers have argued in favour of the decentralization of Afghanistan’s system of government –were any process of reconciliation to be successful, it would be likely to involve some form of devolved government.
Disturbingly, a division of sympathies between a Tajik-dominated northern Afghanistan and a Pashtun-controlled central government could prove to be a new battleground considering the heated responses to vote tampering in the August presidential election. Accusations have been rampant, especially in the North where support for Abdullah was expected to be high. In the first round of elections, however, Hamid Karzai received what many claim to be a higher than reasonably expected vote total in these predominantly Tajik areas. In many ways, the unity government may have been doomed from the start, analysts say. Even its critics say it was undermined by a hastily forged agreement that split power between two archrivals: Abdullah and Ghani.
This is not to say that a civil war is imminent, but the possibility of violence between a pro-Indian Tajik leadership and a U.S.-backed Pashtun regime should arouse concern for those countries’ vested interests in Afghanistan. India is seeking to develop long-term diplomatic ties and economic arrangements with a stable, popular and pro-Indian regime in Afghanistan, which then enables India to leapfrog Pakistan and build robust strategic and economic ties with the energy rich states of Central Asia. In what Stephen Blank characterizes as a “great game” strategy, India’s goals reflect the desire to control overland routes to maritime ports for Central Asian resources by denying both China and Pakistan the ability to threaten Indian assets in the region.
As politically visualized here, even if its involvement in Afghanistan disconcerts Pakistan, it is highly unlikely that India will curb its diplomatic/political/social activities, anytime soon. This is primarily due to the fact that the interests— of India and the United States in Afghanistan—seem interconnected. Both states apparently seek a peaceful, secure and non-Talibanized Afghanistan but in reality, their practiced policy does not endorse this objective. Much distrust exists between Islamabad and Delhi over their respective activities in Afghanistan. Islamabad perceives New Delhi’s presence and influence as a deliberate attempt to encircle Pakistan and prevent it from attaining the strategic depth it needs in Afghanistan to avoid two ‘hot fronts’ (or borders with rivals).
Pakistan’s government often accuses India’s official and non-official consulates in Afghanistan— of carrying out clandestine operations against Pakistan in its tribal areas and restive province of Baluchistan. Pakistan has claimed, for example, that India arms and funds Baluchi rebels and the Pakistani Tehrik-e-Taliban (TTP), which India denies. Pakistan resents the goodwill of Afghans towards Indians. Set against these notable achievements of the long period of stability, however, the outcome has failed to match several aspects of the aspirations that Afghans and international experts expressed at the start of the crisis period.
Pakistan being the Afghanistan neighbour has been badly implicated by insurgent armed crime because of the large volume of poorly regulated cross border traffic. However, Iran and Russia are also badly affected by the narcotics trade sourced in Afghanistan. But what gives an impending impression that a protracted conflict— which left much of Afghanistan controlled by the Taliban— has increased the scope for regional armed crime, giving extortion and criminal gangs the option to locate some of their activities in the area beyond the reach of state authorities. Nonetheless, a direct Pak- Afghan talk to mend the fences is but a necessity of the day.
— The writer, an independent ‘IR’ researcher-cum-analyst based in Karachi, is a member of European Consortium for Political Research Standing Group on IR, Critical Peace & Conflict Studies.
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