The Afghan peace

Published: March 5, 2012

The writer is professor of political science at LUMS

Today, signs of positive developments in Afghanistan are not that dim or hopeless. The recently-concluded trilateral summit involving Afghanistan, Iran and Pakistan signified that the Afghan endgame is for real and that each side is willing to talk to the other. There is good evidence of more hopeful signs to come.

Firstly, at no time in modern history has the international community paid so much attention to Afghanistan or invested so much in blood and money as it has done during the past decade.

The western powers, even in the face of setbacks are not likely to walk away from Afghanistan, leaving it in a condition of civil strife. They have shown remarkable resilience in rebuilding the Afghan state, including its security forces, infrastructure and economic life. There is now a foundation for further reconstruction. This has left benign effects on the confidence of the Afghan government and sent a strong message to the Taliban that the world will not allow it to reconquest the country.

Secondly, there is an emerging regional and international consensus on a peaceful, unified and stable Afghanistan. It is still informal, a bit ambiguous, but nonetheless a very strong sentiment. Wars in Afghanistan have caused a sense of statelessness and power vacuum, which have created hubs for militants and regional and international militancy. This lesson is not lost on any rational player bearing the ugly scars of terrorism so obvious on their social milieu. All major states, including Pakistan, India, China and the western powers would like to ensure that Afghanistan will not lapse back to the kind of anarchy that led to the civil war which resulted in the emergence of the Taliban and entry of al Qaeda into the Afghan power game. But much of this consensus will only work for everyone if only the endgame is negotiated in a way that produces peace, stability and order, in which the concerns and interests of the major powers within the region are accommodated.

Thirdly, the overall political and infrastructural capacities of the Afghan state, though still in an evolutionary stage, are better than they were under the mujahideen or Najibullah. Its fledgling defence capacity and the residual attack forces of the United States, in and around the country, may prevent a sudden collapse of the Afghan state — the same manner in which it crumbled under the Taliban attack during 1994 and 1996. But still, it will be too optimistic to bet on the Afghan state to fight and survive against a determined, motivated and ethnically rooted militia, like the Taliban, in a long-drawn scenario. Had that been the case, there was no need for negotiating the endgame. At present, however, the confidence in the Afghan government to defend itself is too shallow and shaky.

Finally, the United States and its allies, for more than one reason want an end to the war — it is costly, has taken too much time and the economic and national outlooks have changed to seek political alternatives to the war. After reviewing and changing Afghan strategies during the two administrations, Washington seems to be settling on negotiating with the Taliban. The indications of change in American policy that surprised many observers began the day US President Barack Obama announced to the Afghans, the Americans and the world that his country would start withdrawing its troops from Afghanistan in 2011 and will complete this process by the end of 2014.

This change of policy removed many ambiguities about American intentions and reset the button on Afghanistan with a clear message to the Afghan government to prepare itself for a greater responsibility. The Taliban have also got the message that Afghanistan will not remain under foreign ‘occupation’.

Published in The Express Tribune, March 6th, 2012.

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Reader Comments (13)

  • Falcon
    Mar 6, 2012 - 1:15AM

    Good article. Few additional dimensions to consider; if US does not deal with Iran and Israel through a carefully orchestrated policy, increased pressure on Iran could manifest itself in the form of increase sectarian violence in Afghanistan. Furthermore, specialized ops post – 2014 moving under CIA is another proposal that is being talked about, which means more covert operations in the region attracting its own counter-dynamics. So, until these things are hashed out, things might not be that hunky-dory.

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  • ajay
    Mar 6, 2012 - 1:21AM
  • yousaf
    Mar 6, 2012 - 1:40AM

    @author:–Sir,this must have been a very difficult article for you to write.It is rife with self contradictory assumptions.Only a professor of political science like you could manage to write the lines you have written which are full of wishful thinking.I am sorry sir but words like “positive development”,”Afghan endgame”,”each(which?)side is willing to talk to other(whom?),”Afghan STATE(is there any?)”,”Afghan government”,’peaceful?,unified?,stable?” and “political alternative to the war” are all but foreign words to the land called AFGHANISTAN.Please do give some workable way-out for Pakistan to save her from the effects of fall-outs of 10+ years of war across our western border

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  • American Desi
    Mar 6, 2012 - 2:10AM

    I do think every country except for Pakistan is trying to stabilize Afghanistan. As far as Pakistan is concerned Afghanistan instability is a goose laying golden eggs on a regular basis. Since Pakistan’s other golden goose bin Laden has been taken out the establishment will strive hard to keep the golden goose the way it is!

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  • Tim Sullivan
    Mar 6, 2012 - 2:16AM

    I think you are wrong. The United States will leave the Afghan people at the mercy of the Taliban.

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  • Asad Baloch
    Mar 6, 2012 - 7:59AM

    no need to worry about future of afghanistan.things will automatically get better there once US leave the country.insurgency and terrorism in Afghanistan is fueled by US millitary presence so get them out and the let peace be established.

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  • Mar 6, 2012 - 8:55AM

    @yousaf:
    I agree. Reports by host of experts on Afghanistan (even of U.S) present very bleak situation. Indicators from NATO and U.S also appear to be negative/hopeless. I was pleased to read an optimistic article unless I read critical questions raised by you.

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  • Mar 6, 2012 - 9:00AM

    @American Desi:
    Why would Pakistan not like stable Afghanistan, when it is in its national interest? Peaceful Afghanistan is essential for prosperity and stability of Pakistan.

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  • dv sikka
    Mar 6, 2012 - 5:46PM

    Why do you want others to impose their ideology on Afghanistan. Let everybody get out and let Afghans decide their future. It will be good if anybody wants to give aid without strings attached to this war torn country to rebuild itself.

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  • yousaf
    Mar 6, 2012 - 10:38PM

    @American Desi:–I would otherwise not like to give a reply to your comment but you used the name “Pakistan” and I being one of the180 million have to say a few words in defence of the poor,wretched and innocent Pakistanies (who have nothing to do with all what you say).Our good neighbour in the west is not a golden-egg-laying goose as you said.If you are from India you should be thankful to us for having borne the brunt of the un-welcome un-wanted,not ever understood and most harmful war in Afghanistan,which is not at all of our making or of any interest to us.As for “golden eggs”, they are aplenty(4.5 million,may be more)come and get them,they are all yours for free,they hatch with a “big bang” and can be used during divali.You also hold that every country “except for Pakistan”is trying to stabilize Afghanistan.For the sake of space I do not desire to go into the details of the historic past of that region,therefore I suggest,before you put blame on Pakistan for all the wrongs happening in our west,please go through the history of that area,since the advent of Alexander the Greek,to the present day.Only after you have read and understood its past history can we have a dialogue.Adsum,always for you

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  • Mar 7, 2012 - 12:05AM

    Dear Asad baloch,

    You are certainly entitled to your opinion, but let’s not forget that the reason we are now able to hope for a bright future for Afghanistan is because of the foundation that has been laid by the U.S. and NATO forces. The job is not yet done, but our sacrifices and those of our Afghan partners continue to make progress towards a stable and secure Afghanistan. The ANSF are fast gaining the capability to independently protect their nation. Could we have imagined such a development under the Taliban’s rule? Our commitment to the region is enduring and we don’t want to leave any loop holes for our enemies. We are committed to providing the nation of Afghanistan with all the tools and training necessary to prevent any of the past atrocities from recurring.

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  • Ulrike Schultz
    Mar 7, 2012 - 12:18AM

    @Asad Baloch:
    “let peace be established” – by whom?
    Think about the dreadful situation in Afghanistan after the Russians had left in 1988. If it is this kind of “peace” you have in mind, when private militias of different warlords slaughter each other and thousands of innocent civilians and millions of Afghan refugees will again be flooding Pakistan – well, good luck and enjoy the repercussions of that future “peace” for Pakistan!

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  • yousaf
    Mar 7, 2012 - 5:34AM

    @ US Centcom:-You have guantanamo and I am an old man,cant tolerate your hospitality there,If allowed I want to ask one question before I shut-up.Why US got killed so many of her young,charming and with bright future youth along with so many innocent Pakistanies who always were keeping you people in high regard.Why US spent billions which otherwise could be utilised through peaceful means without any bloodshed.will it be not better that US being sole super-power should set an example for peace rather than bombing around and bring bad name for herself?

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