Afghans will have to unite to live peacefully

All forces within Afghanistan have to shed their tribal and ethnic egocentrism to make intra-Afghan talks successful

Durdana Najam September 17, 2020

Afghanistan cannot reform unless its citizens own the country in a manner that they condemn disunity among varying tribes and clans. It is because of the Afghans rather than of the US that the country has been falling from one crisis to another with an almost complete erasure of civic sanity and rule of law. Every time there is a friction among Afghans, a vacuum is left to take advantage of by foreign elements. It is to close these gaps that the inter-Afghan dialogue takes precedence among the three points on the agenda upon which the US and the Afghan Taliban have agreed to end the war. Unless this seed of discord is sorted out, all other imperatives such as the withdrawal of US-led forces, disallowing Afghan soil from being used for terrorism, and a complete ceasefire would elude the peace process, long before it bears fruit.

When the US left Afghanistan in 1989, which the former now confesses to being a hasty decision, the latter fell into an unending spiral of ethnic violence that eventually put the Taliban in the saddle. From 1992 to 1996, during the Battle of Kabul, as the fight came to be known, the city was torn apart with incessant bombardment from the heavily armed foreign backed forces. It was not until eyes were cast on a lone unified group, the Taliban, who had a formula composed in Sharia to put together the withering Afghans, that the fires and brimstones fell silent. Hardly had the country settled that a forced compliance with religious norms and values, as interpreted by the Taliban, made life difficult and almost suffocating, for women especially. Education was reformed and made incompatible with the modern technological syllabus of the 21st century. As the social environment struggled to breathe, the country plunged into a new wave of extremism that eventually earned the wrath of the US wounded after 9/11. Although not a single Afghan was involved in the massacre, the very reason that Afghanistan was fanning terrorism and extremism, the plea had been generated successfully to bomb it to extinction. The Taliban were dethroned and the US-led NATO forces occupied the country.

Ironically enough, if the Taliban were unable to unite or develop Afghanistan, the US-led Western forces despite all the wealth and technology at their disposal failed in this regard, even after staying there for almost two decades. In fact, it was under their nose that corruption in Afghanistan got embedded in the system. Today, the economy is burdened with drug money and state institutions are structured on an extractive system of governance that benefits the elite only. The ruling elite of the existing Unity government and before that the government under Hamid Karzai had enjoyed influence and control limited only to their palaces and a few urban cities. The rest, almost 70% of Afghanistan, has fallen into the hands of the Taliban.

That makes unity among the political rivals in Afghanistan extremely important.

It is in this backdrop that Pakistan has hosted the summits of Afghan leaders from different political leanings in June 2019.

Though there was a long list of issues for discussion, one overriding message the conference intended to give was the undeniable composition of Afghanistan’s political landscape comprising representation from diverse ethnic groups. In attendance were Afghan leaders such as Gulbadin Hekmatyar of the Hezb-e-Islami political party; Karim Khalili of the Hizb-e-Wahdat party, the representative of ethnic Hazaras; Atta Muhammad Noor, an ethnic Tajik from Jamiat-e-Islami; Fouzia Kofi, politician and women’s rights activist; Ismail Khan, the warlord; and many others. To exhibit Pakistan’s neutrality and to show that it has no favourites, neither the Taliban nor anyone from the government were invited to attend the conference.

The Lahore Process, as the conference was called, emphasised, besides other things, the importance of an inter-Afghan coordination for any meaningful conclusion of the conflict in their country.

The Taliban had been loath to recognise the Afghan government. For them the power lies with the US and had been insisting to talk to them only. However, after a long persuasion, sanity finally dawned on them leading to an inter-Afghan dialogue in Doha.

Defence experts see Ashraf Ghani getting increasingly irrelevant in Afghanistan’s power equation, and do not see his space in the future political dispensation of the country. Ghani in collusion with India had tried to derail the US-Taliban peace agreement, but Trump’s unwavering resolve to come out of Afghanistan failed them. And in spite of Pakistan’s diminishing influence on the Taliban, the latter had been instrumental in removing communication barriers among them and the US.

To make the inter-Afghan dialogue successful, all the forces within Afghanistan have to shed their tribal and ethnic egocentrism. Zalmay Khalilzad, the US special envoy for Afghanistan, once floated the idea of putting a national government to facilitate peace, but Ghani dismissed the idea.

For long the Afghans have been accusing Pakistan of interfering in the latter’s domestic politics. There could be a reality to this accusation, but the onus of this sin is to be equally shared by the Afghan leadership who had been orchestrating India’s influence in their country in the manner of a power-sharing arrangement. While it meant India’s presence on both the eastern and the western borders, it also meant stretching Pakistan’s military resources to an extent that it might have crumbled under its own weight.

Pakistan’s military under the new leadership is clear about exercising a non-interference policy in Afghanistan. Pakistan has successfully defeated terrorism on its soil and would not allow it to return from its source in Afghanistan. The Afghan government and its stakeholders would have to craft policies that unite rather than divide regional politics. India’s desire to proxy Afghanistan for its regional domination cannot be allowed to materialise.

If the Afghans are serious about bringing their country out of the four decades of quagmire, and putting it on the path of progress, they should not mind losing personal clout for the collective good. It indeed would be an acid test.

Published in The Express Tribune, September 17th, 2020.

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