Unravelling the Afghan knot ! | By Khalid Saleem


Unravelling the Afghan knot !

THE signing of the accord between the Ameri cans and the Taliban is welcome news.

It may not bring peace in that troubled area overnight but must be welcomed as a step in the right direction.

Better late than never! A look over the shoulder at the aftermath of the never-ending war should serve to bring home several home-truths.

As a suffering next door neighbour, we in this blessed land rightly deserve to heave a sigh of relief.

The Afghan nation too deserves a much needed respite from strife. So do its suffering neighbours! The trouble with news trickling out of Afghanistan over the years had been that it always gave out mixed signals.

One thing is becoming clear at long last. Major stake-holders have for some time past grudgingly acknowledged what a closer study of history should have brought home to them before they enthusiastically embarked on their adventure: that no invading force has yet managed to subjugate the fierce and proud Afghan race.

It is not territory that has significance per se; it is the people that inhabit it who make the difference.

At this stage a bit of retrospection may be in order. Let us face it, the US/NATO forces in Afghanistan hardly fared any better than the earlier colonial expeditionary forces.

The United States could perhaps be excused for nursing the illusion that its awesome new and untested lethal weaponry would bring the ragged and comparatively lightly- armed Afghan resistance to its knees.

What it had failed to take into account was the indomitable will and raw courage of the Afghan people. The rest, as they say, is history.

A cursory look over the shoulder may not be out of place. It is important to closely study the various stages that the Afghan ‘resistance’ has traversed.

So here goes! In 2011, the departing commander of the British forces in Afghanistan had said he believed the Taliban “will never be defeated”.

Brigadier Mark Carleton-Smith was quoted as having told the Times of London that in his opinion, a military victory over the Taliban was “neither feasible nor supportable”. He indicated that the only way forward was to look for a political solution.

The head of the French military force General Jean-Louis Georgelin – according to AFP reporting from Paris – had backed the senior British military officer’s view that the war in Afghanistan was un-winnable.

General Georgelin had asserted that all initiatives “aimed at encouraging reconciliation among Afghans are good and should be encouraged”.

All to no avail as we well know by hindsight! To top it all, US General David Petraeus had confirmed that attempts were under way to open talks with the Taliban in Afghanistan.

Speaking to reporters at the Pentagon, General David McKiernan, the top US commander in Afghanistan, had not ruled out reconciliation with the former Taliban leader Mullah Mohammad Omar.

Around the same time, a top United Nations official in Kabul had called for a political settlement. The top U.N. envoy, Kai Eide, was reported to have said that the war “has to be won through political means”.

He expressed the opinion that” if you want to have relevant results you must speak to those who are relevant”. He added that, “in my view a policy of engagement is the right policy”. Admittedly, all of the aforesaid represented mere straws in the wind.

Prudence demanded that they not be accepted at face value and not be allowed to become the basis of any hasty conclusions. The situation remained virtually the same as time passed. But the time to ‘wait and see’ finally appears to be over.

Events may, at long last, be moving in a discernable direction. With the benefit of hindsight, it should not prove impossible or even overly difficult for those at the helm of affairs in this country to devise means to ensure that the misjudgments of the past are avoided.

The efforts of this country in this direction appear to be near to producing the desired results. Whichever way the events move, Pakistan, this time, simply cannot afford to be left high and dry.

For far too long we have fallen into the abominable habit of missing the opportunities that fate lets fall in our collective lap. Missing the bus in the current scenario could well prove fatal.

Should the Americans move swiftly and Pakistan does not do its sums right, there is imminent danger that the latter would be left holding the baby. Not a pleasant thing to even contemplate.

Americans can and will secure their vital interests in the region in any negotiated settlement, but for Pakistan the chickens let loose by the infamous U-turn may come back home to roost.

The Taliban, who once led an Afghan regime that was not unfriendly towards Pakistan, may not be that accommodative this time around.

The Northern Alliance leopard cannot be expected to change its spots. What is more, several variables have entered the equation thanks to the vested interests of neighbours.

The result of the recent presidential election in Afghanistan may well result in moving the goal posts to Pakistan’s detriment. We have to be prepared to absorb the resulting shock-wave when, and if, it materializes.

Here’s hoping that the Foreign Office whiz kids are au fait with the turn of events and are busy in drawing up the viable options.

To this may be added the hope and prayer that, when presented with these options, the powers that be will have the gumption and foresight to make the optimum choice.

A tall order but then there is no bar on dreams!
— The writer is a former Ambassador and former Assistant Secretary General of OIC.

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