The Afghans are not good at making their governments. For the last 20 years, the United States has been designing and conducting elections in Afghanistan. Before that, Pakistan, the US, and the Soviet Union intervened on more than one occasion to build governments. Going further back, we find USSR installing presidents of its choice at the helm.
The Afghans have only been good at remaining divided, throwing suspicions on the intentions of one another, making war money, and disappointing their population who want to see Afghanistan free of foreign intervention and terrorism.
From Tanzeemat to the Taliban, the resistance to change and compromise for the larger interest of Afghanistan has refused to leave the psyche of a people who have a history of appending to imperial forces. Today when Afghanistan has a chance to start a journey towards an independent and sovereign country, after 20 years of US invasion, the Afghans are unwilling to let go.
The government of President Ashraf Ghani is frustrated to see the US leave. Ghani does not want the Taliban, but he can tolerate the mass killing of his people from terrorism and US bombing. Had Ghani shown resilience in negotiating with the Taliban, which he later had to do under US coercion, it would have been the Afghan leadership combined in the lead deciding the future contours of government. Even after 20 years of US presence, Afghanistan is unsafe not only for its people but also for the US and its allies. Isn’t it an irony that the very Taliban the US had come to obliterate, along with the Al Qaeda, will ensure that they will not allow the Afghan soil to be used by terrorists?
Isn’t it enough indication that Afghans have the power to be the architect of their fate? Terrorism is only a symptom and does not represent Afghanistan’s polity, be it under the Taliban or the National Unity Government.
It is the war racket that needs to be addressed for any long-term solution to Afghanistan.
In one of his books, the famous US general Smedley D Butler has described a racket “as something that is not what it seems to the majority of the people. Only a small ‘inside’ group knows what it is about. It is conducted for the benefit of very few, at the expense of very many. Out of war, a few people make huge fortunes.” Did extricating the USSR from Afghanistan bring stability to Afghanistan? Did the overthrow of Al Qaeda and the Taliban make any difference? History will keep repeating itself unless this racket of war is stopped, for which Afghanistan would have to dismantle the structure of its self-indulgent corrupt former jihadi millionaires and warlords.
Every stakeholder from Pakistan to the US defense industry and its allies in other countries has minted from the Afghan war racket. However, it was the poor Afghans who had to pay the price.
When the USSR left Afghanistan in 1989, most Afghan villages were deserted from incessant bombing. An estimated 1.5 to 2 million Afghans were martyred, and hundreds and thousands were maimed. Thousands of women became widowed and their children orphaned. Approximately two million people faced internal displacement, whereas five million migrated either to Pakistan or to Iran as refugees. The US has been using Afghan soil to test weapons; the mother of all bombs is one example. The Afghan war continued to cost the US $50 billion annually, still wrapping it was not an easy decision. No doubt the Afghan war has been declared “as a good war where everybody makes money.”
The war will not end even if Pakistan is pulled out of the equation. It would not end by shifting venues for talks from Doha to Moscow or Turkey. The war will haunt back unless Afghanistan changes its outlook about its neighbouring courtiers and build trust on principles rather than fleeting objectives. Opening old wounds of the Durand Line and throwing tantrums over Pakistan’s association with the Taliban will only create space for dissidents and more warring factions.
In his recent interview with Der Spiegel, Ghani has once again accused Pakistan of facilitating the Taliban to have a significant role in the future Afghan power structure. To back his claim, Ghani named the Taliban’s decision-making bodies in Pakistan, such as the Quetta Shura, Miramshah Shura and the Peshawar Shura. The Afghan National Security Adviser, Hamdullah Mohib, in his address to an event shared by the official Twitter account of his office, also read a charge-sheet of Pakistan’s disgruntled citizens — from Peshawar to Balochistan to Karachi — against the state. He alleged that the Pashtuns, Baloch, and Mohajirs are struggling for their identity in Pakistan.
This mindset of mistrust at this juncture — when the US is preparing to pull out, the Taliban are in conversation with the Ashraf-led National Unity Government, and the Pakistani government is trying to extricate an arrangement whereby political stability is ensured to end the war racket — is unfortunate and divorced from reality.
The Afghan government should examine Pakistan’s intention and strategy towards Afghanistan with an impartial mind.
Apparently, it looks that the Pakistani military is working on two fronts: one to stem the possibility of Afghanistan falling into another spiral of civil war for which the US might be expected to keep its presence in some form or the other in the region. Though the talks in Geneva between the US and Pakistani national security experts are still unknown, the speculation is that it would amount to addressing mistrust and delinking Pakistan from Afghanistan’s post-war future. Two, to prevent the Taliban from assuming complete control for which a political settlement among all the Afghan forces is imperative.
It is about time for the Afghan leadership to become the architect of its governments. The first step in this direction would be to stop nagging.
Published in The Express Tribune, May 27th, 2021.