The end-game

Ghani refuses to clear the stables and prepare for curtains to his propped rule

Shahzad Chaudhry July 02, 2021
The writer is a retired air vice marshal and a former ambassador. He tweets @shazchy09 and can be contacted at


Ashraf Ghani isn’t going down alone. He will take the entire house down and the neighbour’s dog. And whatever else he can lay his hands on. It only tells you, he knows he is going down and was in Washington before Joe Biden to find out if indeed it was the case. He invoked the ‘Taliban’ and ‘women’s rights’ and the ‘fear of Sharia’ and ‘Pakistan still acting the bad guy’ and requested Biden to at least keep the drones around to stem the worsening rot for him to hang on, but was told, ‘hereon, he and the Afghans were on their own’. If he also met his landlord in the greater Washington area to find if his lease was still alive, that was a windfall.

Anthony Blinken had told Ghani to clear the stables and prepare for curtains to his propped rule. His letter was an open admonishment of how Ghani and his government had impeded the peace process by stonewalling dialogue with the Taliban when that one element of the agreement underwrote the process to evacuate foreign forces and revert Afghanistan to its people in relative peace and stability. He was told, ‘Give up your damn job held on props; set up an interim government in coordination with the Taliban — as had been agreed between the US and the Taliban; and hold new elections’. Or words to that effect. But no, the lust of power was too much for him and his coterie to give up. Instead they perpetuated disagreement, strife and thus the war to somehow scare the US into staying. US isn’t a superpower for playing up to a proxy’s tantrums. It needed to leave and pivot east; she has left and pivoted east.

If this wasn’t a blueprint to peace in Afghanistan helping create internal harmony and win some peace and stability, what else is? Ghani failed his people and his nation for his lust of power. He failed to seize on the opportunity for peace when the region and the world at large forged one to cease war and find peace for hapless Afghans. He failed to barter personal eminence for ease and stability in the life of his people. He has failed to keep Afghanistan together jolting it with an impending civil war by failing to trade for peace. Pathways could have emerged from combined wisdom of the Afghans to forge an agreed way forward; he has instead preferred abject self-preservation. He and his spewed bile and riled against one and all and clung to power instead and must therefore witness the final rites. He still may have a safe route charted for himself and his dear ones and bolt but he will leave behind a spectacular mess.

It is a matter of time. His re-arguard actions include deflecting the gathering storm and an inglorious end towards Pakistan somehow. As the Taliban rout Ghani’s forces and begin their march to Kabul — much as was expected in the absence of an intra-Afghan settlement towards a stable political order — he and his men are shouting fox on Pakistan for being unable to stop the Taliban if not aid them in their drive. Pakistan is barely seeing the end of its own war against terror sponsored and spawned by Afghanistan and its four-decades old war; why would it entangle itself into another? When Ghani invoked the need for drones in the region as an assurance against the Taliban taking over Kabul, just the thought was crafty enough. The Pakistanis balked, the Taliban were disgusted, and when Pakistan refused to oblige with bases, the Americans were piqued. This was a three-in-one strategic assault. Were Pakistan to have agreed to basing American drones to help prop Ghani in place, Iran, most of Afghanistan, and China would have been forever betrayed and peace lost to the entire region. Pakistan would have found another round of unrest and instability.

When the US with its military might could not overwhelm the rag-tag Taliban, when the Afghan governments faced persistent challenge of an alternate Taliban order, all that was left for the world’s sole superpower and a barely sovereign Afghanistan was to lay the blame at the door of Pakistan. An easy scapegoat. The US dismantled Soviet Union through Pakistan’s enablement via Afghanistan in 1980 and found her way into Afghanistan one more time in 2001 through Pakistan which sustained both, Americans in Afghanistan over the two decades they were there and the Afghans strangled at home by continuous war. Yet bigotry, deceit, doublespeak, the insidious ‘strategic depth’ formulation were all for Pakistan to bear.

No crying, we are dealing with the Afghans here. Facilitation for a landlocked neighbour, sustaining it through counting its need for staples in Pakistan’s economic estimates, easement rights, aside, millions moved into Pakistan to find succor — mostly Pashtuns but Tajiks and Hazaras too. It is possible that many who malign Pakistan sitting at their respective positions of eminence were actually born and bred here. Former president Karzai and indeed his entire family relocated here and operated out of here in these years of plight for the hapless Afghans. Karzai was a Mujahid who fought the Soviets. As was Hikmatyar. As are many more, former and the current lot; of them some Taliban who were born, bred and educated from Waziristan to Karachi. They married here, raised families here, made their houses —some palatial. They find no reason to go back to their country where there is only strife and conflict and devastation.

As we speak, 50,000 Afghans enter Pakistan daily to find work, receive education and find medical treatment for their sick. Many have set businesses here and are thriving; the trucking business is mostly if not entirely taken over by the Afghans at the cost of the local Pashtun. Many revert to their militant role after they re-enter Afghanistan to fight off the foreign forces as they have done forever which Ghani & Co and all of Afghans proudly ascribe to as an honourable tradition — not just now — and many entering take up arms and ammunition and explosives to turn into IEDs and ambush Pakistani state and its security elements on behalf of their Afghan and Indian sponsors. The TTP which targets Pakistan exclusively is housed, nurtured and secured by the Afghan government in connivance with India, and used against Pakistan when she fortifies its defences to thwart seeping insurgency and insurrection from the Afghan soil. Terror with Afghan and Indian footprint, revisited Lahore to dilute Pakistan’s defensive focus and effort on two fronts.

These are the final acts of a desperate order. Ghani has thrust his people into another predicament that may take a while to settle. If it keeps the region and the neighbourhood on a boil that is hardly the bother of someone who is playing ‘double or quits’ in a Faustian bargain.

Published in The Express Tribune, July 2nd, 2021.

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